Racial discrimination is not just a black-and-white question

by on January 2, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Race discrimination in the workplace directed against darker-skinned people

If we could only eliminate racial discrimination against African-Americans, South Asians and other people with darker skins, we’d be home free. Right?

Wrong. As a new study points out, people of many races make fine distinctions in judging others by the shade, not just the color, of their skin. And in the employment arena, these distinctions may color people’s chances of being hired or promoted.

This is an important finding for HR pros, because it suggests that even diversifying management and HR itself isn’t enough to ensure equal treatment of all employees and applicants. And the stakes are high, because color bias– like racial discrimination in the workplace – is prohibited under federal anti-discrimination law.

Lighter, higher
The study, done for a masters’ degree thesis in psychology at the University of Georgia, was presented at the Academy of Management.

It showed that when 240 students were asked to rate resumes accompanied by a photo, they consistently gave higher ratings to the lighter-skinned applicants. Each resume had with it a photo of a person with dark, medium, or light skin. The photos were manipulated with software so that the person’s facial features would be consistent, with only the skin tone changing.

Study director Matthew Harrison, who is black, said the study showed that a light-skinned black man with a bachelor’s degree will typically be chosen over a dark-skinned black man with an MBA and managerial experience.

The study referred to other social research indicating that different Asian and Hispanic cultures also value light skin over darker skin.

What to do
For HR people and others involved in recruiting and promotion, the implications are many. Among them:

    · Having minority managers isn’t enough to guarantee fairness. Training may be needed to combat color preferences even for these managers.
    · Considering appearance as a job criterion may lead to bad decisions and even illegal discrimination.
    · Be careful about using photos in recruiting.

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