The Good, The Bad, and the Biased: Job Hunting While Black
The job hunt can be a lot of things, but it’s definitely something else for Black folks.
Joshua Sherrod Mackey
Humans have been hunting for over 2 million years. Since the dawn of homo erectus, dating as far back as 2 millions years ago, humans have been scouring the land for sustenance and opportunity. So you can say that hunting has always been in our DNA. What might not be so inherent is another type of hunt — the job hunt.
Resumes and cover letters being created, one application here turns into 100 more elsewhere, a myriad of networking events to locate the “right connection”, and then there’s the interview to seal the deal. The job hunt, on paper, can seem just as daunting as it is experienced. It can become a second job in its own right. Ultimately becoming physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing on the ever hopeful job hunter.
Granted, if you make it to the other side, you might be able to reflect on the skills and contacts you’ve acquired through the process. Yet, not everyone is afforded that luxury and when you’re navigating the professional landscape as a Black professional, it can sometimes seem like the end of the tunnel isn’t as closely depicted as it seems.
The national unemployment rate is currently 3.6% and the national unemployment rate for Black folks is 5.4%. That 1.8% difference between the national and Black U.S. unemployment rate points to a variety of factors that color the career trajectories and experiences of Black professionals. Let’s take it step by step. So you’ve collected multiple applications, reviewed them, and now narrowed them down to the ones you want to apply to. As you start your applications a few things may come to mind, one in particular might be your name.
A name is one of the basic forms of identity and narrative a person could have. Black folks have turned naming conventions on their heads and have found ways to be creative, political, give homage, and defy cultural norms through naming; yet, for some reason a name that signifies a person being of Black heritage denotes an abundance of stereotypes in a world where Black names were beautifully developed for generations — you can brief yourself on the history here.
Regardless of the meaning, the casual rejection of candidates with “Black sounding” names during a resume review occurs quite often. A study was conducted, in which 1600 applications were sent out via job search sites for entry-level positions around the United States. Amongst those applications, racially-identifiable traits were listed for some and others were essentially whitewashed. Only 10% of resumes with racially-identifiable traits received callbacks in comparison to the 25% of the whitewashed resumes. Seems suspect, right? Let’s dig deeper.
What happens when you actually get beyond the resume review phase? Well, a few things could transpire. Maybe there was a “Sorry to Bother You” moment, code-switching is real, and the hiring manager perceived that you would be more like his colleague Chad, than his colleague Jamaal — since you’re so “well-spoken” and all.
Or maybe in the final round the hiring manager was a bit confused by your short, natural hairstyle in your LinkedIn photo because it doesn’t match up to the braids you had put in the week of the interview. Or maybe you made it to the final round and weren’t given an offer because you weren’t a “cultural fit”. These are just some of the experiences of many Black professionals when it comes to interviewing.
Now if you receive the callback, the next set of barriers to entry can rise up from the ground. Recognizing that professional structures have been historically built by and for a particular archetype (White, male, straight, able-bodied, etc.), it becomes stressful, daunting, and sometimes seems impossible to push through to the other side professionally. However, once you’ve made it through to the other side and have acquired the prized role over hundreds of applicants, it can feel as though you’ve finally tipped the scales.
Finally, you’ve become an outlier from the statistics that say you shouldn’t be here even though you said that deserved to be here. You’re now living out what was once a fantasy. Now what do you do when you come to realize you are the lucky one out of all of the brown faces to have a seat in the room, but not a seat at the table? What does it look like to be the only “freckle” in a sea of white faces without a way to navigate it?
Being the only one in various spaces may feel common place for many Black folks and being the “only one” at work is no different. This type of isolation leaves Black employees out of informal mentorship opportunities, leaves room for microaggressions to manifest, and further isolates talented Black professionals — negatively impacting overall job satisfaction.
On a different note, many organizations talk a good game with diversity recruitment, and they very well may have the diversity in their ranks that they brag about, but ultimately lack in the inclusion department. If diversity is seen as “the invite to the party”, then inclusion is seen as “being asked to dance”. Just because an organization excels at recruiting people from all walks of life doesn’t mean that they treat them well.
Note that treating professionals well means more than a few dollars here and a benefits package there. It means paying women equally (especially women of color), it means giving stretch assignments to Black and Brown folks, and it means giving people of color the tools needed to advance within an industry, and then some. So, if you’re an employer and reading this, you’re probably like “how do we do this right?”. Well let’s discuss.
For my Black professionals out here making moves and looking for that next opportunity:
1. If your organization has Employee Resource Groups, join them
When done right these are great ways for underrepresented employees to locate community, find identity support, and establish mentors who can provide professional and personal guidance. If you don’t have these, look to joining local chapters of Black professional organizations to find this same type of support. Check out these organizations here.
2. Brag about your work everywhere you can
This can be easier said than done, but don’t let someone control your narrative. Write it and promote it. This takes recognizing the value you bring to the table, but once you recognize it make sure everyone else does too.
3. Don’t just keep your head down working
That mentality is outdated and works only in a system based on hard work alone. Strategize about where you want to be. Envision it and reverse engineer how to get there.
4. Believe the narratives of your fellow Black employees
Just because it may not be the same positive experience that you have doesn’t mean that it’s not real (*cough, cough Terry Crews). Anyone who doesn’t identify as a Black, straight, able-bodied man still has plenty of barriers to get beyond. So listen, learn, and support.
5. Look out for each other
There should be no crab buckets in any line of work that we do. Recognizing the pitfalls and barriers we come up against as a community, it’s imperative, better yet it’s our duty to pay it forward and make sure that other Black professionals are able to go just as far or farther. A win for one is a win all when we continuously uplift other Black professionals.
So while your Equal Employment offices or HR teams have an affirmative action plan in place, there are more active ways in which these issues can be managed:
1. Diversity pipeline programs are one way to go about it
In case you didn’t know, HBCUs provide a plethora of talented Black professionals. So leaving these institutions outside of recruitment plans leave you at a disadvantage when developing an applicant pool.
2. Visiting career fairs is something that recruiters may be accustomed to, but I challenge employers to push this a step forward
Target student organizations that are identity-based in order to collect interest from students of color.You not only are able to connect with students of color, but also able to reach out to students who have a varied set of skills beyond being academically stellar only. Most student clubs require students to be engaged in the development of the organization and stay academically sound. Student clubs are an incubator for candidates with leadership, communication, and strong emotional intelligence. Look to these groups to diversify recruitment pipelines.
3. Train you hiring managers to be aware of proper interview practices, HR policies, and implicit bias
This can be put into a hiring manager toolkit that provides access to all of this information throughout the recruitment process, keeping folks aware and interviews fair. Have them check out tools like the Implicit Association Test by Harvard professors Dr. Mazahrin Banaji and Dr. Anthony Greenwald.
4. Create diverse interview committees to be able to provide different perspectives on candidates and mitigate biases where others may not see them
This should be a given, but you need different perspectives to be able to review candidates from all vantage points. Get the feedback necessary to evaluate a candidate’s true potential and provide a fair opportunity for all who want to work for your organization.
5. If your organization has Employee Resource Groups, encourage current employees to join them
Again, when done right these are great ways for underrepresented employees to locate community, find identity support, and establish mentors who can provide professional and personal guidance.
6. Just like how you can use toolkits for hiring, you can use toolkits to establish equitable performance reviews
Provide information to managers on how to become aware of biases and how to mitigate them through objective review guidelines.
7. Pay your employees fairly. Pay your employees fairly. Pay your employees fairly
Did you hear that? Analyze the market value of the roles that you’re recruiting for and observe the pay structures amongst those of different identities, but with the same job. If you find discrepancies, then you should be asking questions and making amends. No one should be paired unfairly.
No one said that this would be like climbing a crystal staircase. It’s a long and arduous road with potholes and detours scattered around for Black employees looking for opportunity. We all know that adage of working twice as hard to get half as far and working double of that to get to equal footing; however, the Black community has always been one of innovation, power, and persistence.
In other words, we make a way out of no way time and time again. That new role, promotion, venture, or business is waiting for you to find it and when you do find the door to opportunity, just remember to make sure to leave it open for the next Black person to come in easier than you did.
This article was published by Joshua mackey on medium.
Joshua Sherrod Mackey