March 21, 2021 - This week, I came across a New York Times (NYT) article, “Black women were half as likely to be hired for state or local jobs than white men, a report says,” that really grabbed my attention. As I read the article, I became furious. My first instinct was to take to Twitter and Facebook with those frustrations and email the reporter asking “what were you possibly thinking?” Before doing so, I decided to drill down to make sure I understood where the reporter was coming from.
The article notes that state and local government jobs, which historically have been welcoming to women, Black women in particular, and serving as an entryway to middle class, have been hit hard by the pandemic. Of the roughly 9.4 million jobs lost, approximately 1.4 million have come from state and local government, which already had been shrinking in size, pre-pandemic.
Not only are there less opportunities overall, but given the rampant discrimination, including within hiring practices, the situation is dire for Black women. According to a recent study conducted by GovernmentJobs.com, in 2018 and 2019, eligible Black women candidates were 58% less likely than eligible white male candidates (and overall eligible women were 27% less likely than eligible white men) to be hired!
As if those statistics are not horrible enough, the proposed “solutions” are unbelievable. According to the NYT article:
There are steps that could mitigate bias. The study found that many more Black women were called in for interviews when all personally identifying information was withheld during the application screening process — so recruiters did not know a candidate’s name, race and gender. Using a standardized rubric with specific guidelines for each score also sizably increased the number of Black women called in.
The article concludes with the experience of Penisha Richardson of Newport News, VA. When Ms. Richardson was applying for jobs, she was told to “go by Penny because it’s easier to pronounce.” Sadly, when she heeded this advice, Ms. Richardson got far more responses.
WHAT?!!!! Did I really just read this? Hide your race, hide your gender, alter your name and you will have more opportunities?
Resisting the urge to reach out to the reporter and start posting feverishly on social media, I went in search of the study. First stop, the GovernmentJobs.Com press release. There, they went so far as to refer to the positive benefits associated with removing the personally identifiable information of Black women as “bright spots” in the report. Bright spots? Seriously?
According to the report itself, when the personally identifiable information is removed, Black women were 26% more likely to be interviewed and, as a result of the increased interviews, 33% more likely to be hired.
And by the way, do you know what the personally identifiable information is? EVERYTHING! According to the report, it includes the candidate’s name, race, gender, home address, email address, and school.
Fantastic. So, then what?
The Black woman, hiding in anonymity, still must attend the interview with the very folks that needed all information that could possibly indicate she was anything other than a white man out before they were willing to call her in. And then, even assuming she can overcome the initial bias and is hired, what will the workplace be like for her? That bias will permeate every facet of the job – assignments, expectations, mentorship, sponsorship, pay, promotions, the list goes on.
These are not solutions. The GovernmentJobs.com report is nothing more than further evidence of systemic racism and gender inequality. Only when the personally identifiable information is removed and the screener has no idea what the race and gender of the applicant is will the Black woman be considered solely on merit? How can this be explained as anything but evidence of systemic racism and misogyny? There is nothing “bright” about this.
Looking back at the NYT article, I realized that it is possible that the reporter intended to illicit the kind of response I had. For example, the race of Ms. Richardson is never mentioned. Also, closing with such an upsetting story, with no elaboration, leads me to believe that the reporter gets it. That the pervasive conscious/unconscious bias, systemic racism and misogyny, are seriously hurting women and holding us back.
If that, in fact, is the case, the NYT reporter was subtle. Unfortunately, there is no room for subtlety in the fight against gender inequality and systemic racism. We need to call out every instance of discrimination and bias. In grocery stores. In factories. In legal and medical professions. In sports. Everywhere.
But that alone is not enough. The decisionmakers, the people and entities with the power, need to be held accountable. There must be ramifications for the continued discrimination.
For example, just this week we saw how differently men and women basketball players are treated at the respective NCAA tournaments – the women had virtually no training facilities, poorer quality food (really?!), inferior Covid testing, etc. And this clear violation of Title IX, in the NCAA’s own words, was called out loudly – first by the coaches and players and then by all of us. That is the perfect first step – calling out discrimination clearly and loudly. There was nothing subtle about the public outrage.
However, it cannot end there. Yes, major corporations stepped up and supplied equipment, and the NCAA apologized. But for what? Getting caught? There needs to be consequences for the NCAA and the executives making the decisions. We cannot stop there and forget about this after the tournaments end.
There needs to be consequences for the employers discriminating against women.
To force consequences, we must call out every instance loudly and not be silenced, including by non-disclosure agreements and mandatory arbitration agreements (a topic for another day). And we need to spread the word and keep the dialogue in the forefront.
If we don’t, we will not win the fight, and Penisha will have to go by Penny to get a job in a workplace biased against her from the outset.
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