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Whitened Resumes: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market

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Using interviews, a laboratory experiment, and a résumé audit study, we examine racial minorities’ attempts to avoid anticipated discrimination in labor markets by concealing or downplaying racial cues in job applications, a practice known as “résumé whitening.” Interviews with racial minority university students reveal that while some minority job seekers reject this practice, others view it as essential and use a variety of whitening techniques. Building on the qualitative findings, we conduct a lab study to examine how racial minority job seekers change their résumés in response to different job postings. Results show that when targeting an employer that presents itself as valuing diversity, minority job applicants engage in relatively little résumé whitening and thus submit more racially transparent résumés. Yet our audit study of how employers respond to whitened and unwhitened résumés shows that organizational diversity statements are not actually associated with reduced discrimination against unwhitened résumés. Taken together, these findings suggest a paradox: minorities may be particularly likely to experience disadvantage when they apply to ostensibly pro-diversity employers. These findings illuminate the role of racial concealment and transparency in modern labor markets and point to an important interplay between the self-presentation of employers and the self-presentation of job seekers in shaping economic inequality.
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Administrative Science Quarterly
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DOI: 10.1177/0001839216639577
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Whitened Re´sume´s:
Race and Self-Presentation
in the Labor Market
Sonia K. Kang,
1
Katherine A. DeCelles,
1
Andra
´s Tilcsik,
1
and Sora Jun
2
Abstract
Using interviews, a laboratory experiment, and a re
´sume
´audit study, we exam-
ine racial minorities’ attempts to avoid anticipated discrimination in labor mar-
kets by concealing or downplaying racial cues in job applications, a practice
known as ‘‘re
´sume
´whitening.’’ Interviews with racial minority university stu-
dents reveal that while some minority job seekers reject this practice, others
view it as essential and use a variety of whitening techniques. Building on the
qualitative findings, we conduct a lab study to examine how racial minority job
seekers change their re
´sume
´s in response to different job postings. Results
show that when targeting an employer that presents itself as valuing diversity,
minority job applicants engage in relatively little re
´sume
´whitening and thus
submit more racially transparent re
´sume
´s. Yet our audit study of how employ-
ers respond to whitened and unwhitened re
´sume
´s shows that organizational
diversity statements are not actually associated with reduced discrimination
against unwhitened re
´sume
´s. Taken together, these findings suggest a para-
dox: minorities may be particularly likely to experience disadvantage when they
apply to ostensibly pro-diversity employers. These findings illuminate the role
of racial concealment and transparency in modern labor markets and point to
an important interplay between the self-presentation of employers and the self-
presentation of job seekers in shaping economic inequality.
Keywords: re
´sume
´whitening, self-presentation, racial discrimination, racial
minorities, diversity statements, labor market inequality, stigma
Employment discrimination is a critical process through which organizations
can shape the extent and nature of economic inequality in society (Bielby and
Baron, 1986; Pager, Western, and Bonikowski, 2009; Rivera, 2012). Despite
the proliferation of equal opportunity and diversity initiatives in organizations
(Kalev, Dobbin, and Kelly, 2006; Kaiser et al., 2013), discrimination on the basis
of race, in particular, remains pervasive in North American labor markets.
Re
´sume
´audit studies—field experiments that send matched re
´sume
´pairs in
1
University of Toronto
2
Stanford University
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response to real job postings—consistently show evidence of race-based dis-
crimination. Re
´sume
´s containing minority racial cues, such as a distinctively
African American or Asian name, lead to 30–50 percent fewer callbacks from
employers than do otherwise equivalent re
´sume
´s without such cues (Bertrand
and Mullainathan, 2004; Oreopoulos, 2011; Gaddis, 2015). Given the crucial
role of hiring in occupational attainment, this form of discrimination substan-
tially contributes to labor market inequalities by blocking racial minorities
access to career opportunities (Pager, 2007).
Though the audit literature demonstrates persistent employment discrimina-
tion against racial minorities, it provides little insight into how job seekers adapt
to this discrimination. By focusing on the demand side of the labor market, this
literature does ‘‘not reveal the extent to which [minority] individuals change
their behavior to avoid experiencing discrimination’’ (Blank, Dabady, and Citro,
2004: 112; see Pager and Pedulla, 2015). Thus the nature and consequences of
the actions that racial minority job seekers might take in anticipation of discrimi-
nation remain incompletely understood.
Previous studies have highlighted minority job seekers’ use of informal job
referral networks (Smith, 2005) and their attempts to cast a relatively wide net
in their job search to reach at least some fraction of non-discriminatory employ-
ers (Pager and Pedulla, 2015). But the literature has largely overlooked a dis-
tinct and potentially critical action that minorities might take to try to avoid
anticipated discrimination: changing how they present themselves—especially
in relation to racial cues—when applying for jobs. Five decades ago, Goffman
(1963) observed how racial minorities attempt to conceal or downplay their
minority status in the labor market and beyond. Popular accounts suggest that,
even today, minority job seekers might try to avoid discrimination by omitting
or strategically presenting race-related information in their job application mate-
rials (Yoshino, 2006; Luo, 2009a; Tahmincioglu, 2009). A 2009 article in the
New York Times, for example, pointed to a phenomenon colloquially known as
‘‘whitening the re
´sume
´,’’ whereby black job seekers concealed or ‘‘dialed
back’’ racial cues on their re
´sume
´s (Luo, 2009b). For instance, the article dis-
cussed Yvonne Orr, a black woman searching for work in Chicago, who deliber-
ately removed a position at an African American nonprofit organization from her
re
´sume
´to increase her chances of getting job interviews. Although such
actions have been observed anecdotally, systematic research on the nature
and consequences of this phenomenon in contemporary labor markets is prac-
tically nonexistent.
We investigate re
´sume
´whitening by combining qualitative and experimental
approaches. First, we qualitatively explore how and why individuals engage in
re
´sume
´whitening by conducting in-depth interviews with racial minority univer-
sity students who are about to enter the job market. The interviews shed light
on why minority job seekers engage in re
´sume
´whitening at the earliest stages
of the job application process before their minority status would become obvi-
ous to employers (e.g., at an in-person interview). Second, we build on our qua-
litative findings by conducting a laboratory experiment to examine how job
seekers change their re
´sume
´s in response to different job postings. Third, we
report results from a re
´sume
´audit study that explores how employers respond
to whitened and unwhitened re
´sume
´s. These three approaches are comple-
mentary. The interviews provide fine-grained qualitative insights into the nature
of re
´sume
´whitening. The lab experiment, conducted with a distinct sample,
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allows us to observe variation in re
´sume
´whitening in a controlled setting.
Finally, our audit study provides insight into the labor market consequences of
re
´sume
´whitening.
RACE, STIGMA, AND SELF-PRESENTATION
Goffman (1963) noted that racial minority status can be a form of ‘‘tribal
stigma,’’ a collective stigma based on real or imagined attributes associated
with a racial group. This, in turn, leads to ‘‘discrimination, through which we
effectively, if often unthinkingly, reduce [a person’s] life chances’’ (Goffman,
1963: 5). Goffman, however, emphasized that stigmatized individuals might
attempt to mitigate the negative impact of stigma by managing the information
they convey about themselves. This basic insight provides a basis for concep-
tualizing how, through self-presentation, people might attempt to ‘‘dodge . . .
stigmatizing processes’’ (Link and Phelan, 2001: 378).
According to Goffman, one form of self-presentation by stigmatized individu-
als involves attempts at concealing the stigma to ‘‘pass’’ as a member of the
dominant, non-stigmatized group. Historians have observed numerous
instances of racial passing—from the antebellum era to the twentieth
century—but they have focused on light-skinned African Americans and multi-
racial individuals who could pass as white in virtually all interpersonal interac-
tions (Hobbs, 2014). Although this kind of passing is not an option for most
racial minorities, Goffman (1963: 74) noted that there are situations in which
temporary passing can be an option even for individuals whose racial minority
status would be immediately revealed in an in-person interaction:
. . . the individual will occasionally be in a position to elect to conceal crucial informa-
tion about himself....blackskinned [individuals] who have never passed publicly
may nonetheless find themselves, in writing letters or making telephone calls, pro-
jecting an image of self that is [only] subject to later discrediting.
This type of selective, temporary passing may be particularly relevant for the
job application process in modern labor markets, as it often involves an initial
re
´sume
´-screening phase (and sometimes a phone interview), with in-person
interviews conducted only at a later stage.
Another way of managing a stigmatized identity is what Goffman (1963)
called ‘‘covering.’’ When covering, individuals attempt neither to completely
conceal a stigmatized characteristic (such as their racial minority status) nor to
appear as members of the non-stigmatized majority group. Rather, the goal is
to downplay the salience of characteristics that foster stigmatization. Thus
‘‘persons who are ready to admit possession of a stigma (in many cases
because it is known about or immediately apparent) may nonetheless make a
great effort to keep the stigma from looming large’’ (Goffman, 1963: 103).
Covering does not render a disfavored identity invisible, but it makes its most
damaging aspects less prominent and thus perhaps signals conformity to the
non-stigmatized mainstream (Yoshino, 2006). Covering often involves restrict-
ing information about the aspects of one’s identity that would be most likely to
become a basis for discrimination, and this may be an important ‘‘assimilative
technique’’ for racial and ethnic minorities (Goffman, 1963: 103): ‘‘. . . the intent
behind devices such as change in name . . . is not solely to pass, but also to
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restrict the way in which a known-about attribute obtrudes itself into the center
of attention. . . .’’ Thus, in the context of race, covering involves ‘‘toning down’’
rather than hiding one’s minority status, perhaps to send reassuring signals of
conformity to the white majority.
Though Goffman’s classic insights into passing and covering are instructive,
little is known about how these behaviors operate in modern labor markets,
the conditions and motivations under which they occur, and their conse-
quences for employment outcomes. We explore each of these issues in turn,
using interviews, a lab experiment, and a field experiment.
STUDY 1: INTERVIEWS
In the first phase of our investigation, we explored re
´sume
´whitening through
interviews, focusing on black and Asian university students who were actively
searching for jobs or internships.
1
This approach offered several advantages.
First, the interviews provided an opportunity for an in-depth exploration of the
subjective interpretations that shape re
´sume
´whitening, allowing us to identify
the issues that were most salient to active job seekers. Second, the focus on
job-seeking university students illuminated re
´sume
´whitening at the first, criti-
cal point of entry into relatively highly paid job tracks—an important mechanism
in economic stratification (Rivera, 2012). Third, the focus on black and Asian job
seekers was informative because, although these groups experience different
challenges in North American labor markets (Zeng and Xie, 2004; Pager and
Shepherd, 2008), scholars have documented employment discrimination based
on racial cues in re
´sume
´s against both groups (Bertrand and Mullainathan,
2004; Oreopoulos, 2011; Gaddis, 2015). These two groups are certainly not the
only minorities to experience discrimination in the labor market, but by focusing
on these two groups, we could gain deeper insight into our research question
within a group targeted mostly by negative racial stereotypes (i.e., black job
seekers) and a group subject to a more mixed set of stereotypes (i.e., Asian job
seekers; Fiske et al., 2002; Lin et al., 2005).
Data Collection
In 2013, two trained research associates conducted 59 in-depth interviews with
29 black and 30 Asian university students who were actively searching for jobs
or internships. Given the racially sensitive nature of the subject, we employed
one black and one Asian research associate and matched the race of the inter-
viewer to that of each respondent. Participants were from two large, selective,
private universities located in a major North American metropolitan area.
Using electronic mailing lists of campus residence halls, we recruited black
and Asian participants (55.9 percent women) for a study of minority job see-
kers’ experiences. Participants were undergraduate students in their junior or
senior year (95 percent of the sample) or were enrolled in professional degree
1
Following our participants’ lead, we use the label ‘‘black’’ rather than ‘‘African American,’’ and the
label ‘‘Asian’’ rather than ‘‘Asian American.’’ Although our respondents occasionally used the terms
‘‘African American’’ and ‘‘Asian American,’’ they typically did so to describe organizations rather
than themselves or other people (e.g., ‘‘African American Students’ Association’’ versus ‘‘the
employer would know that I am black’’). In accordance with standard ASQ style, we do not capita-
lize the words ‘‘black’’ and ‘‘white’’ but capitalize ‘‘Asian’’ and ‘‘Hispanic.’’
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programs (5 percent). Every participant had a recent experience applying for
jobs or internships. The sample represented a range of targeted career fields,
the most common ones being finance (16.9 percent), science and medicine
(13.6 percent), law and government (13.6 percent), consulting (10.2 percent),
education (8.5 percent), and information technology (5.1 percent).
Each interview started with a discussion of informed consent, including con-
fidentiality protections, and questions to confirm that the participant fit the
study criteria (i.e., being a full-time student at one of the two study sites and
having had a recent or ongoing experience with submitting a re
´sume
´to apply
for jobs or internships). The second and main phase of the interviews followed
a semi-structured protocol and was tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim.
Finally, the interviewers recorded basic information about each participant’s
background, program of study, and employment history and aspirations. The
interviews typically lasted between 30 and 50 minutes and took place at a time
and location chosen by the participant.
To introduce the main phase of each interview, the interviewers explained
our interest in the experience of minority job seekers and how they present
themselves when applying for jobs. Participants then responded to a set of
mostly open-ended questions, which allowed them to focus on issues they
deemed important. First, interviewers asked participants about their general
thoughts and feelings about any steps that someone might take to make it
more or less likely that his or her race is revealed when applying for a job.
Next, participants discussed whether they or someone they know had ever
taken such steps, and the reasons for (or for not) doing so. Finally, they dis-
cussed factors that they might consider when deciding whether to include
information on their re
´sume
´that could potentially reveal their race.
To allay concerns about interviewer bias, we did not share any prior assump-
tions about re
´sume
´whitening with the interviewers. Of course, it is always
possible that interviewers may subtly influence the tone or direction of inter-
views. Within each of the two racial groups, however, respondents expressed
highly divergent opinions about the rationality and acceptability of re
´sume
´
whitening, so it seems unlikely that interviewers were leading them in a partic-
ular direction. Moreover, interview transcripts indicate that the key theme that
was most consistent across respondents (i.e., engaging in re
´sume
´whitening
to a lesser degree when targeting pro-diversity employers) emerged sponta-
neously in response to broad, open-ended questions.
Data Analysis
We started our analysis by inductively developing a list of first-order codes for
the text of the interview transcripts. As we continued to review the transcripts,
we organized our first-order codes into second-order conceptual categories.
Finally, we organized these second-order categories into two aggregate theore-
tical dimensions: (1) different types of re
´sume
´whitening techniques that
respondents described using; and (2) their reported reasons for choosing to
whiten or not whiten their re
´sume
´s. We resolved discrepancies in coding
through discussion.
In addition to these steps, we created a role-ordered matrix (Miles and
Huberman, 1994) for organizing the coded segments by racial group. This
matrix allowed us to detect convergence and divergence in the emergent
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themes across racial lines. There was a high level of convergence in emergent
codes and patterns across racial groups; when describing our findings, we note
any significant differences by race that we observed.
Whitening Techniques
Thirty-six percent of interviewees (31 percent of black respondents and 40 per-
cent of Asian respondents) reported that they personally engaged in re
´sume
´
whitening. In addition, two-thirds of all interviewees reported knowing others
(typically friends or family members) who whitened their job application materi-
als; thus awareness of this phenomenon was common even among those
respondents who said that they did not personally engage in it. These propor-
tions did not seem to vary substantially by gender, race, or intended career
field. There were, however, clear differences between those who routinely
whitened their re
´sume
´s and those who did not, particularly in their perceptions
of the threat of employment discrimination.
In what follows, we present (1) findings about the types of whitening tech-
niques that job seekers reported; (2) their motives for using these techniques;
and (3) reasons they provided for not using these techniques. A summary of
our inductive coding scheme, as well as additional supportive quotations,
appears in table 1.
Job seekers described two main types of self-presentation techniques for
whitening their re
´sume
´s: techniques that involved changing the presentation of
their name and techniques that entailed modifying the description of their pro-
fessional and, especially, extra-professional experiences. Job seekers’ focus on
these aspects of the re
´sume
´is not surprising. Names can be a strong signal of
racial minority status and a basis for discrimination (Bertrand and Mullainathan,
2004; Oreopoulos, 2011). Extra-professional experiences (such as volunteer
work) can signal both human capital and demographic affiliation and thus play
an important role in hiring decisions in many (elite and non-elite) white-collar
occupations (Rivera, 2011; Tilcsik, 2011).
Presentation of names. Of the participants who reported personally enga-
ging in re
´sume
´whitening, nearly one-half indicated that they had changed the
presentation of their first name on their re
´sume
´. Among Asian respondents, a
frequent change was to adopt a first name that was different from their legal or
preferred first name, often primarily for the labor market. Echoing a common
theme, a Chinese-American college senior—who has lived in the U.S. since
she was a toddler—described switching to a more ‘‘American-sounding’’ name
on her re
´sume
´when applying for finance jobs. This change was consistent
with advice she received from career advisors at her university:
Freshman year in my re
´sume
´I put my legal name, which is very Chinese-sounding.
And then I went to Career Services, and they told me put my American nickname on
it instead. . . . It wasn’t like ‘‘Oh you definitely need to do this.’’ It was just like ‘‘Oh
this is just a suggestion.’’ I think it’s just more relatable if you’re more American-
sounding.
This interviewee noted a substantial increase in the rate of callbacks from
employers after the change: ‘‘Before I changed it, I didn’t really get any
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interviews, but after that I got interviews.’’ The majority of Asian respondents
mentioned that this practice was widespread among their Asian friends and
was seen as an imperative in some industries. A Korean-American female col-
lege student remarked, ‘‘A lot of my friends, especially the ones who started
Table 1. Thematic Coding Analysis
Second-order categories First-order codes Representative quotes*
Whitening techniques
Presentation of name Altering first name ‘‘A friend of mine changed her name from a traditional Chinese name to
a more American-sounding name, like Sarah, when she was applying
for jobs. . . . She’s using that name primarily when doing job stuff.’’
(Asian, male; finance)
Using additional name ‘‘On the re
´sume
´, I have both my Korean name and my English name,
so it kind of compensates for the foreignness. Makes it less foreign.’’
(Asian, female; law)
Presentation of
experience
Omitting experience ‘‘I was involved with the National Society for Black Engineers but then
obviously if a company is looking at my re
´sume
´and it has that, they
would automatically know that I am or I could be black.’’ (black, male;
investment banking)
Changing description
of experience
‘‘I’m in student leadership for the [University] Black Christian
Fellowship, and on my re
´sume
´instead of putting [University] Black
Christian Fellowship, I actually just write [University] Christian
Fellowship.’’ (black, male; education)
Adding ‘‘white’’
experience
‘‘We have [mostly white campus social clubs] here so I was thinking
about putting the club that I was in on my re
´sume
´. . . . [That signals]
having a strong connection to an organization that’s affiliated with
white America.’’ (black, male; management consulting)
Reasons for and against whitening
Motives Foot in the door ‘‘It always goes through my head that I have not got an interview
because I put on my re
´sume
´that I worked for a black organization.
. . . Me and a couple of friends, we decided to just not put it, just
give yourself an even playing field.’’ (black, male; finance)
Signaling assimilation ‘‘Ultimately you want to do as much as you can to be familiar, relatable
to [employers].’’ (Asian, male; finance)
Deterrents Human capital value
of experience
‘‘I can’t take that [experience] off because it’s an integral part of my
re
´sume
´. I couldn’t take that out of my re
´sume
´.’’ (black, female;
medicine)
Screening employers ‘‘If blackness put a shadow over all [my re
´sume
´] then it probably isn’t
the job I want to be in.’’ (black, male; fine arts)
Identity-based
objections
‘‘I have considered [whitening my re
´sume
´], except for I feel that my
Japanese and Chinese backgrounds are really valuable to my
identity.’’ (Asian, female; education)
Belief in meritocracy ‘‘If you’re smart . . . I think that’s what they [i.e., the employers in
which I am interested] want. So in that sense I don’t think it’s logical
for someone to try to hide their racial characteristic if they’re a
minority.’’ (Asian, female; financial services)
Assumption that
the targeted
employer values
diversity
‘‘I think diversity is becoming more and more of a [positive] factor in
selection processes these days because the workplaces [I am
targeting] are becoming more diverse, and employers are putting
much more value in those who [are] culturally and ethnically diverse.
(Asian, male; information technology)
*We report each quoted respondent’s race, gender, and targeted industry in parentheses.
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professional schools like business school or law school recently, they took on
like American names just because they’re like, ‘I just have to for my profes-
sional career’.’
Several other Asian respondents reported using a ‘‘white’’ or ‘‘English’’ first
name but noted that they used this name in addition to their ‘‘real’’ name rather
than to replace it. Thus these job seekers simultaneously displayed both first
names on their re
´sume
´, with one of the two names typically placed in parenth-
eses. A Korean-American college student explained, ‘‘My freshman year, when
I was applying [to internships], I just put my full name, but now I put my
[English] nickname first and then my real name in parentheses.’’
Though modifying first names was most common among Asian respon-
dents, several black participants also reported altering their first name on their
re
´sume
´, albeit in different ways. The most common technique that these inter-
viewees reported was to use their middle name, rather than first name, if the
former sounded more ‘‘white’’ or ‘‘neutral’’ than the latter.
Presentation of experience. More than two-thirds of participants who
reported some form of re
´sume
´whitening mentioned changing the presentation
of their professional or extra-professional experiences. These changes took
three forms: (1) omitting experiences that might signal minority status or might
be associated with negative racial stereotypes; (2) altering the description of
such activities to make them seem more race-neutral; and (3) emphasizing
experiences that signaled whiteness or assimilation into ‘‘white culture.’’
Omitting experience. The omission of experiences that could provide racial
cues was particularly common among black respondents. In some cases, these
omissions allowed job seekers to pass—that is, to appear white or at least not
necessarily black—on their re
´sume
´. As one black female college student
explained, ‘‘I’ve been involved in a lot of black [campus] groups and even
though I’ve had leadership in them . . . [I] would take them off my re
´sume
´and
you really couldn’t tell that I was necessarily a black person.’’
More frequently, however, participants reported omissions that, rather than
allowing them to appear white, made their race less salient by ‘‘toning down’’
racial signals. A black female college senior explained:
When I was looking at education, so like teaching things, to send my re
´sume
´out to,
I was concerned because I’m very involved in black organizations on campus. So I
had like Association of Black Women, Black Students’ Association, Black Christian
Fellowship. I was a little hesitant about having so many black organizations on my
re
´sume
´, especially a lot of the activity I have done at school have been targeted
toward black children. So I did take off a couple of black organizations. . . . I think to
me it was just trying to tone down the blackness, for lack of a better word.
Several respondents emphasized that ‘‘toning down’’ race was particularly
important for re
´sume
´items that might signal an interest in racial identity poli-
tics or ‘‘black causes.’’ According to a black college senior with an interest in
science, re
´sume
´items indicating surface-level (i.e., demographic) diversity
could be helpful, but items that employers might see as ‘‘racially controversial’
were to be avoided:
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I’ve been told to take some things on a re
´sume
´off before because they sound like
they don’t fit the corporate image. . . . [My re
´sume
´] says I’m the president of a black
campus group, so I am in some way bringing ‘‘diversity’’ to the front, which is seen
according to America as a good thing, like at least PR wise. However, I work with
middle school kids twice a week through [a program named after an outspoken black
abolitionist], not something I mention in job interviews. Additionally, we teach the
kids life skills. In the wake of Trayvon Martin, we had a seminar dealing with author-
ity. And that’s something that I was told by a black guy at Goldman Sachs to remove
from my re
´sume
´becauseofhowcontroversialitcouldlook....Iguessitjustgoes
to show you, like, that I very much embraced that idea that, to get ahead, some parts
of our race need to be only talked about at certain times. Some parts of my racial
identity need to be squashed or held back.
Although the removal of race-related re
´sume
´items was most common among
black respondents, some Asian participants described similar actions. Several
Asian respondents, for example, reported removing involvement in Asian stu-
dent groups from their re
´sume
´and described how they concealed ‘‘stereotypi-
cally Asian activities.’’ Such omissions affected not only extra-professional
activities but work experiences as well. As a female college student of Chinese
descent noted, ‘‘If I’m applying for a position in the Attorney General’s Office,
I’m not going to bring up the fact that I worked in Chinatown.’
Across racial groups, an important feature of the reported omissions was
that they implied the concealment of potentially relevant human capital. A black
business school student, for example, concealed his involvement in a nationally
recognized professional society for black engineers. Likewise, in many of the
above-described examples, college students reported concealing leadership
roles in campus groups, even though these experiences represent a critical
human capital signal for graduating job seekers. One respondent, a black col-
lege senior planning a career in education, even omitted a prestigious scholar-
ship from his re
´sume
´:
I also did [a career coaching program for minority students] for a little bit. ...Onmy
re
´sume
´previous to joining the program it listed that I was a Gates Millennium
Scholar, but then my coach [at the program] told me not to put that because many
employers, they see that and depending on who’s looking at your re
´sume
´they may
see that and say ‘‘oh, this is a black kid, he was able to get a scholarship from Bill
Gates,’’ and this could hurt, you know, my ability to get a job. And so, I no longer put
that I’m a Gates Millennium Scholar on my re
´sume
´.
Changing the description of experience. Though omitting activities from the
re
´sume
´meant concealing some aspects of the applicant’s human capital, parti-
cipants also reported techniques for removing racial cues without completely
discarding the associated experiences. A black male college senior with a
career interest in medicine noted, ‘‘When you’re whitewashing your re
´sume
´,
you can phrase racial activities in ways that are still conducive to you getting a
job....[It]issomethingyoucanspinanyway.Typically, this type of ‘‘spin-
ning’’ involved changing the description of experiences to render them racially
neutral. A female college student of Korean descent who had applied for gov-
ernment jobs explained, ‘‘For some of my volunteer work, it’s been like exclu-
sively with Korean organizations, so like the Korean healthcare whatever or
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Korean community services. And actually sometimes I’ve noticed I take out the
word ‘Korean’ and just put the generic [organization name] on my re
´sume
´.’’
Respondents explained that these more generic or race-neutral descriptions
of activities would seem ‘‘more prestigious’ or ‘‘more official’’ to employers.
For example, an Asian college student described her rationale for using a ‘‘gen-
eric English name’’ of an art center on her re
´sume
´, rather than the center’s offi-
cial, Chinese name:
I list this art class that I took in Chinatown in New York City. But it seems to me it
seems less official or less substantial if people recognize it as like, ‘‘Oh, it was just
like this person who went in to Chinatown every week to take classes for two
hours.’’ I feel like they think it’s more official if it’s like, I don’t know, like an official
class, like a white person needing the class or something. So yeah—I wouldn’t list it
on my re
´sume
´[with] the Chinese name for it. I just called it the [abbreviation] Art
Center . . . .
Adding ‘‘white’ experience. Although most reported techniques involved
omitting or changing the description of certain experiences, several respon-
dents also mentioned trying to change the ‘‘feel’ of the re
´sume
´by adding
‘‘white’’ or ‘‘Americanized’’ extra-professional experiences and interests. A
male college student of Bangladeshi descent, who was born and grew up in
the U.S. and had work experience in a federal government agency, explained:
There’s the lower, miscellaneous or interest category of a re
´sume
´that a lot of people
have, a lot of the times that’s where you want to kind of Americanize your interests.
You don’t want to be too multicultural with your interests there. So a lot of people
will put, you know, hiking or snowboarding or things that are very common to
America or Western culture. . . .
A female college student of Chinese descent similarly emphasized the
‘‘interests’’ section of the re
´sume
´: ‘‘So I kind of want to distinguish myself and
not just be the perfect cookie-cutter Asian. ...Soinmy‘interests’ section I
say that I’m really into wilderness stuff or like travelling.’’
Reasons For and Against Re´ sume´ Whitening
Motives for whitening. All respondents who reported using whitening
techniques said that they did so to improve their chances of getting a job by
avoiding anticipated discrimination. Yet job seekers varied in how they described
the process through which their whitening actions could accomplish this out-
come. Some participants reported that their goal was to ‘‘even the playing field’’
or to ‘‘get their foot in the door’’ by removing all racial cues in their re
´sume
´s.
Therefore the objective was to pass as white at the re
´sume
´-screening stage in
an attempt to ensure that their race would not surface until they reached the
interview phase of the application process. For others, the primary purpose of
whitening was to signal assimilation or conformity to the white majority and
therefore to avoid triggering negative stereotypes associated with their racial or
ethnic group.
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Foot in the door. Approximately one-third of participants who reported
some form of re
´sume
´whitening mentioned that one key motivation for doing
so was to attempt to conceal their racial minority status during the re
´sume
´-
screening stage of the job application process. These respondents described
whitening techniques as a means to getting their foot in the door. Although
employers would almost certainly learn of their racial minority status at the
interview stage, these job seekers felt that a re
´sume
´that did not reveal their
race could help them at least receive an invitation for a job interview. As a black
law school student explained:
If I have an African name or if I’m like president of the African American Society or
something, if that’s on my re
´sume
´, they automatically know my ethnicity. And
because of that, if I have the same credentials as someone of another race, let’s say
a white person then they would get a callback over me. So if from the beginning they
don’t know my race . . . then I’m more likely to get a callback.
As a result, this respondent found herself in situations ‘‘where I had an inter-
view and they did not know my race and I showed up—they were surprised,
but I guess they got over that.’’ Thus some job seekers saw re
´sume
´whitening
as a way to appear white on paper and thereby level the playing field at the ini-
tial stage of the application process.
Signaling assimilation. Over three-quarters of participants who reported
re
´sume
´whitening noted that an important motivation for doing so was to signal
assimilation to the racial majority and prevent their minority status from loom-
ing large or ‘‘sticking out.’’ These respondents emphasized that, to avoid dis-
crimination, minority job seekers needed to signal an ability to ‘‘fit in’’ with
white employers and coworkers. In particular, Asian respondents noted that a
primary reason for re
´sume
´whitening was to signal their assimilation into
‘‘white American’’ or ‘‘Western’’ culture, while black participants emphasized
the need to project an image of a conformist, non-political black employee who
is uninterested in racial causes.
Asian respondents who made this argument stressed that their goal was, as
one such participant put it, ‘‘to fit a more American or Western friendly kind of
persona.’’ A female respondent of Korean descent explained that this need to
fit in exists because Asians are seen as culturally different from the white
majority: ‘‘I think they do perceive me as an other despite the fact that my
English is perfect. Like, I grew up in America. I am a U.S. citizen. . . . But there
is—it’s still like very stigmatizing to be Asian.’’ Thus these respondents argued
that whitening helps them appear more familiar and relatable to employers. As
another Asian respondent explained:
...alotofpeoplewhowillbelookingatyourre
´sume
´or will be looking to hire you
have an easier time identifying or relating to things that are typically, you know,
Western culture or typically white culture as opposed to something that might be
completely foreign to them. And so I think that’s a huge driving force of, you know,
trying to whiten your re
´sume
´or whiten the job application, is you want them to be
able to relate to you.
This notion of making it easier for employers to relate to the re
´sume
´and under-
stand the experiences of the applicant was a common theme among these
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respondents. A college student of Taiwanese descent, aspiring for a job at a
think tank, noted:
I do think maybe some people might look at [my re
´sume
´] and think it’s too un-
American in a way, it’s a bit too foreign. . . .You know I’ve done Asian-American dan-
cing troupe—it’s not something I would put on my re
´sume
´. . . . Taiwanese Cultural
Society is something I do because I do like to be involved in the community. But . . .
I don’t want to be identified as too much Taiwanese. I want them to see me as
American first.
As an Asian college senior interested in investment banking summarized, ‘‘My
last name is Asian. It’s pretty much like if you look at my re
´sume
´you can tell
I’m Asian. So then I guess it’s a question of preferring whether I’m a really
Asian Asian or whether I’m a whitewashed Asian.’
Like Asian respondents, the majority of black participants who described
engaging in re
´sume
´whitening emphasized that an important reason for doing
so was to signal their ability to fit in with white employers and coworkers and
therefore to remove racial cues that might trigger negative stereotypes.
Whereas Asian respondents were concerned about being seen as ‘‘too Asian’’
or ‘‘un-American,’’ however, black job seekers were concerned that they might
be perceived as radical, outspoken people involved in racial identity politics. A
black college senior explained:
In the real world I think people . . . want to have like an awesome black worker but
they want one who they feel like fits within a certain box and like very much will con-
form and like lay low and just kind of do what’s expected of them and they’re not
necessarily looking for the outspoken like political radical person. . . . So I feel like to
say that you’re part of [or] a member of the minority business and entrepreneur
group is a different thing from saying like, ‘‘oh, I’m the political action chair of the
Black Students Association.’’
Thus, as this respondent elaborated, a common purpose of re
´sume
´whitening
is to avoid being seen as a person whose race is ‘‘sticking out’’ too much:
[There are] different things and aspects of our personalities that are really important
to us but . . . once you get older, I have a sense that it’s okay to, like it’s time to com-
pact all of that, pretend to just be a square and like don’t really express yourself and
just kind of like fit in. I feel like race is just one of the many aspects where you try to
just like buff the surface smooth and start over and pretend like there’s nothing stick-
ing out.
Consistent with this account, several black respondents reported using whiten-
ing techniques to downplay their involvement not necessarily in all ‘‘black activi-
ties’’ but primarily those that involve identity politics, race relations, or other
‘‘racial causes.’’ As a black college student with an interest in management
consulting put it, ‘‘Because the companies want to know that you’re diverse,
they want to be able to fill that quota. They want to be able to put you in a box.
...Soit’s more about avoiding racial causes . . . than it is like necessarily avoid-
ing [black] activity entirely.’’
Thus many participants across racial minority groups were concerned about
their re
´sume
´s activating negative stereotypes that could make employers think
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that they would be too different from the dominant cultural white majority to fit
in well. Whereas removing all racial markers from the re
´sume
´was not an
option for some job seekers (for instance, if their last name clearly signaled
minority status), applicants felt that it was still possible to influence whether
their re
´sume
´sent a strong signal of racial affiliation or a muted one that indi-
cated assimilation.
Deterrents to whitening. We found five primary deterrents to re
´sume
´
whitening: (1) the view that the human capital value of an experience was too
great to omit from the re
´sume
´; (2) the belief that the presence of minority racial
cues on the re
´sume
´could screen out discriminatory employers; (3) identity-
based moral objections to whitening; (4) a belief in the generally meritocratic
nature of labor markets; and (5) the assumption that a particular targeted
employer values racial diversity.
Human capital value of experience. Several respondents stressed that
whitening their work or volunteer history might require concealing potentially
important aspects of their human capital. As a black male college student put
it, ‘‘I think that [the omission of certain activities] definitely becomes proble-
matic because these are real things that I have done, that I have accom-
plished.’’ As a result, whitening might lead to a significantly sparser re
´sume
´.A
black college senior used an example from her own experience to highlight this
issue:
[I am in] essentially a black choir, we sing spiritual music for the past four years so
it’s my main extracurricular on campus or one of my main extracurricular activities
along with the [University] African American Students’ Association. So in a sense I
can’t take those off my re
´sume
´because if I do then I’m not doing anything else on
campus or it doesn’t look like I’m doing anything else on campus.
Screening employers. Others noted that the removal of racial cues might
deprive them of the opportunity to screen employers—that is, to signal their
race up front and avoid having to interact with or eventually work for discrimina-
tory employers. A black male college student explained, ‘‘I wouldn’t consider
whitening my re
´sume
´because if they don’t accept my racial identity, I don’t
see how I would fit in that job.’’ Thus, by including racial cues on their re
´sume
´,
some participants felt they could find a less-biased employer and better fit at
their job.
Identity-based objections. Though the accounts above emphasized instru-
mental deterrents to re
´sume
´whitening, others rejected the practice on
identity-based moral grounds. According to an Asian male college student, ‘‘for
people to exclude their racial or their ethnic background or any organization
that’s affiliated with that, I personally find that to be shameful. Everyone should
be proud of whatever background they’re coming from.’’ Similarly, a black
woman, with plans to enter medical school, emphasized that pride in her racial
background was an important factor in rejecting the practice: ‘‘You can show
that you’re proud of your culture and involved with part of your ethnicity or in
touch with part of it, and I think that’s something you should be proud of.’’
Others argued that whitening by anyone who cares about racial equality is
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downright hypocritical. A participant of Chinese descent, interested in a career
in law, explained:
A lot of the work I do is legal work and in particular civil rights work. And so I feel
like it’s almost hypocritical for me to be like, I want to be advocating for people’s
rights and helping people gain representation and a voice and at the same time in
the same breath be like I’m going to somehow whiten myself and change myself
to conform. And so I feel like it’s almost slapping myself in the face in what I’m try-
ingtodo.
Belief in meritocracy. Yet another reason for rejecting whitening is the belief
that these techniques make little sense because discrimination against racial
minority job applicants is rare in most labor markets. A black college student
majoring in economics summarized this position:
I mean in today’s society I cannot think of a situation in which it will make that much
of a difference. . . . Because I feel like today we’ve progressed to the extent in which
[hiring] is based more on qualifications rather than racial identifiers and then there’s
few instances where racial identifiers are indicative of whether or not you’ll get the
job.
This argument reflected a great deal of confidence in the fair and meritocratic
nature of the hiring process. Respondents who embraced this argument
expressed little anxiety about the threat of discrimination, emphasizing that hir-
ing decisions were mostly based on human capital considerations and had little
to do with race.
Assuming that the targeted employer values diversity. The majority of parti-
cipants reported that the characteristics of the targeted employer were an
important factor in deciding whether to engage in re
´sume
´whitening. In par-
ticular, a critical reason that a job applicant who might otherwise engage in
re
´sume
´whitening would not do so is his or her perception that the targeted
employer highly values diverse employees. A black student with business
experience in the retail sector illustrated this point by explaining the condi-
tions under which her re
´sume
´would include her experience in a black stu-
dent organization:
If the employer is known for like trying to employ more people of color and having
like a diversity outreach program then I would include it because in that sense they’re
trying to broaden their employees but if they’re not actively trying to reach out to
other people of other races then, no, I wouldn’t include it.
A Taiwanese-American respondent described a similar approach, noting that
she chose not to conceal her minority status when applying to a job at a think
tank because—even though she perceived racial discrimination to be pervasive
in the industry—this particular employer’s job posting ‘‘did say that they
wanted people from different regions’’ and created an impression that ‘‘the
organization’s big on getting diversity.’’ Thus employers’ messages played a
crucial role in decisions about whitening. As an African American informant
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noted, ‘‘. . . if a company’s description let people know that diversity was
appreciated or even looked for, then [you] would make sure to include items
that would let an employer know that [you] were diverse.’’ Consistently, when
targeting employers that appeared to value diversity, job seekers believed they
had less reason to worry about discrimination and reported engaging in little, if
any, re
´sume
´whitening.
STUDY 2: LABORATORY EXPERIMENT
Our interviews revealed a variety of whitening techniques but also indicated
that not all job seekers engage in re
´sume
´whitening and that those who do
whiten do not do so all the time. With regard to situational variation, minority
job seekers reported engaging in less re
´sume
´whitening when applying for jobs
at organizations with a pro-diversity image. Related research shows that racial
minorities are highly attuned to subtle cues in the language and imagery of
materials that employers use to present themselves (e.g., corporate brochures)
and rely on such cues when assessing an employer’s likely treatment of minori-
ties (Purdie-Vaughns et al., 2008). Combined with our interview results, this
suggests that a potentially important situational factor affecting the likelihood
of re
´sume
´whitening is whether organizational statements and other cues
affirm the focal employer’s commitment to racial diversity. To examine this
possibility—and thus provide insight into the conditions under which re
´sume
´
whitening is more or less likely—Study 2 experimentally manipulated cues to
employers’ approach to racial diversity in job postings and measured the result-
ing effect on job seekers’ whitening behaviors.
Participants and Procedure
To facilitate the experimental manipulation of job postings, we conducted this
study in the controlled setting of a laboratory but designed several features of
our experiment to preserve a degree of external validity. First, we recruited par-
ticipants from a population whose members make decisions about re
´sume
´
items on a regular basis: undergraduate business students, who regularly apply
for full-time jobs, part-time positions, and internships. Second, participants used
their own re
´sume
´s to complete a task based on job ads that were very similar
to those that they would normally target in their actual job searches. Third, parti-
cipants were unaware that re
´sume
´whitening was the focus of our research.
We recruited participants for a ‘‘re
´sume
´workshop’’ lab study described in
generic terms. Before coming to the lab, participants were asked to submit a
copy of their re
´sume
´via e-mail to a research assistant and to indicate the busi-
ness field in which they were most interested (finance, accounting, marketing,
or consulting). No participant was excluded from the experiment or the analy-
ses, except that—given our focus on racial minorities—we did not analyze data
collected from white participants.
2
Our sample included 119 undergraduate
business students (41 men and 78 women; 87 East Asian, 18 South Asian, and
14 black participants) who received a payment or course credit for their
2
Due to logistical concerns and institutional review board guidelines, it would have been difficult to
exclude white participants from participating in the experiment. While at the lab, all participants
completed a standard demographic questionnaire to indicate their age, gender, and race; we did
not analyze data from those who indicated they were white.
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participation. All participants were enrolled at a large North American university,
different from the two institutions in which we conducted interviews. On aver-
age, participants reported 2.8 years of (full-time, part-time, or internship) work
experience.
3
Once at the lab, participants were given an envelope containing a hard copy
of their re
´sume
´and a job posting, which advertised a position that matched
their selected field. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two condi-
tions. In the treatment condition (N = 62), the job posting included a statement
and an image that presented the employer as an organization that valued diver-
sity; in the control condition (N = 57), the posting included a more generic
image and did not mention diversity. Participants prepared a tailored re
´sume
´
for the job posting by typing information into a standard re
´sume
´template in
Microsoft Word on a computer. Participants had unlimited space to include as
much as they wished in their tailored re
´sume
´.
Materials
To make the job postings realistic, we drew on information from the websites
of employers that regularly recruited from our subject population. To ensure that
our results were not idiosyncratic to a single type of employer, we randomly
assigned participants to see a job posting from one of two firms: Accenture, a
multinational professional services firm, or The Parthenon Group, a strategy and
private equity consulting firm. Both firms offer positions of potential interest to
the subject population. There were no significant differences between these
firms, so we collapse data from them when presenting results.
All job postings included the job title, the company logo, and a detailed
description of the position. The postings described an identical set of hiring cri-
teria that reflected the language of typical job ads relevant for the study popula-
tion (e.g., ‘‘strong organizational and analytical skills’’ and ‘‘proven ability to work
independently and as a team member’’ in ‘‘a high-performance business’’). The
position was full-time and based in the area; salary was ‘‘to be negotiated.’’
In the treatment condition, the job posting included the following statement:
‘‘Accenture/The Parthenon Group is an Equal Opportunity Employer, and
strongly values fairness, diversity, and justice.’ Consistent with this statement,
a small image of a diverse group of four people (two women and two men; two
white persons and two racial minorities) appeared next to the company logo.
Neither this statement nor this picture appeared in the control condition, which
featured instead a standard image of a jigsaw puzzle with a pencil on top and
simply noted that the employer ‘‘values high performance and efficiency,’’ a
3
Although this sample was drawn from a relevant population of job seekers for whom creating a
re
´sume
´is a natural and realistic task, we acknowledge that the sample—as in most laboratory
experiments—is not representative of the broader population. The goal of this experiment, how-
ever, was not to draw inferences about the level of re
´sume
´whitening broadly but to isolate how an
experimentally manipulated factor affects the likelihood of whitening.
4
A manipulation check confirmed that participants rated the employers as placing greater value on
diversity in the treatment condition than in the control condition (significant at the p<.05 level).
Moreover, the conditions did not differ in the mean rating on the perceived prestige and competi-
tiveness of the job. This indicates that the manipulation successfully and uniquely shaped partici-
pants’ beliefs about the organization’s openness to diversity but did not affect beliefs about other
features of the employer or the position.
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generic statement similar to the phrases that we used in the non-manipulated
parts of the job postings.
4
To ensure engagement in the task, we matched job advertisements to parti-
cipants’ indicated area of interest. Those who indicated an interest in finance or
accounting saw a job advertisement for a Client Financial Management Analyst
position; those who indicated an interest in marketing saw an advertisement
for a Marketing Analyst role; and those who indicated an interest in consulting
saw an advertisement for a Consulting Development Program Business
Analyst. Aside from the job title, a few bullet points related to the specific area
of interest, and our treatment versus control manipulation, the advertisements
were identical in every way. Our results did not vary across the different job
titles.
Results
The primary goal of this experiment was to test whether minority job seekers
react to employers’ pro-diversity signals by constructing more racially trans-
parent (i.e., less whitened) re
´sume
´s. Therefore we examined how the treat-
ment and control conditions differed in the proportion of participants who
excluded racial minority indicators that were initially present in their original
e-mailed re
´sume
´s from the tailored re
´sume
´s they created during the experi-
ment. We constructed a variable to capture this outcome in several steps.
First, a research assistant who was blind to the experimental conditions
coded the name, education, and experience fields of all original re
´sume
´sfor
the presence or absence of racial minority indicators. Then a research assis-
tant blind to the conditions coded the same fields of all re
´sume
´s created dur-
ing the experiment. We combined these codes, defining re
´sume
´whitening
as an instance in which a minority racial cue was present in the original
re
´sume
´but not in the revised one. This occurred, for instance, when an
Asian first name was replaced with an English name or when all indication
that an experience was associated with a racial minority group was omitted.
5
Finally, we constructed our dependent variable as a binary measure capturing
whether a participant engaged in re
´sume
´whiteninginanyre
´sume
´field
(mean = .29, standard deviation = .46).
Table 2 summarizes our results. It shows that in each of the three re
´sume
´
fields, the proportion of those who engaged in re
´sume
´whitening was about
1.5 to 2 times lower when the employer was presented as an organization that
values diversity. It is not surprising that some degree of re
´sume
´whitening
occurred in both conditions; as our interviews indicate, when purposely tailoring
are
´sume
´to a particular position, a non-trivial proportion of minority job seekers
consider omitting or altering racial cues on their re
´sume
´. What our experiment
tested, however, was the hypothesis that minorities would engage in signifi-
cantly less re
´sume
´whitening when targeting a job posting with pro-diversity
signals. Consistent with this hypothesis, though nearly 39 percent of partici-
pants engaged in some form of race concealment in the control condition, only
21 percent of participants did so in the treatment condition. This difference
5
Very few participants (4 out of 119) included a racial minority indicator in a field in their second
re
´sume
´that was not present in the original re
´sume
´.
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was statistically significant (z= 2.11, p<.05, two-tailed test of proportions),
supporting the hypothesis that pro-diversity signals lead minority job applicants
to construct less whitened re
´sume
´s.
6
STUDY 3: RE
´SUME
´AUDIT STUDY
To explore the consequences of re
´sume
´whitening in the labor market, we con-
ducted a randomized re
´sume
´audit study (Bertrand and Mullainathan, 2004;
Correll, Benard, and Paik, 2007; Tilcsik, 2011; Gaddis, 2015). This field experi-
mental method, also known as a correspondence study, involves sending appli-
cations from fictitious but realistic job seekers in response to actual job
postings. Researchers then examine how randomly assigned re
´sume
´content,
such as the name or an experience, affects the probability that an applicant is
contacted for a job interview. Though an interview callback does not guarantee
a job offer, it is an important outcome to examine. The re
´sume
´-screening stage
of the employee-selection process powerfully shapes individuals’ subsequent
access to opportunities and can serve as a major barrier to employment for
racial minorities (Pager, 2003; Pager, Western, and Bonikowski, 2009). One cru-
cial advantage of the audit method is that it generates data about real employers
who believe that they are making real decisions about real applicants. In addition
to enhancing external validity, audits offer a greater degree of control and more
reliable causal evidence than do observational studies (Pager, 2007).
In this audit study, we sent re
´sume
´s in response to advertised vacancies in
U.S. metropolitan areas using a 2 ×4 (race ×degree of whitening) between-
subjects factorial design, with one re
´sume
´per employer.
7
As in our interviews,
we focused on black and Asian job seekers. Because the interviews revealed
two main types of whitening—changing the first name and modifying the
description of experience—the degree of re
´sume
´whitening in the audit study
Table 2. Differences in Re
´sume
´Whitening by Employer Description
Control:
Generic employer
description (N = 57)
Treatment:
Pro-diversity
employer (N = 62)
% Participants who engaged in re
´sume
´whitening, by re
´sume
´field:
Name 7.0 4.8
Education 19.3 11.3
Experience 15.8 8.1
% Participants who engaged in any re
´sume
´whitening 38.6 21.0
6
One possible concern in interpreting our results is that some participants may have whitened their
re
´sume
´before initially submitting it to us. This, however, would reduce the proportion of re
´sume
´s
for which whitening could be observed during the experiment and thus work against our finding a
significant effect of the experimental conditions on whitening. Further, because participants were
randomly assigned to conditions, between-participant differences in possible ‘‘pre-experiment’’
whitening would not account for the observed differences across conditions.
7
Though some audit studies send a pair of re
´sume
´s to each employer, sending one re
´sume
´mini-
mized the time burden on each employer (a major concern of our institutional review board) and
reduced the risk of detection (Weichselbaumer, 2015).
18 Administrative Science Quarterly XX (2016)
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was either (a) no whitening, (b) whitened first name, (c) whitened experience,
or (d) whitened first name and whitened experience.
Experimental Materials
Our fictitious applicants were recent college graduates with a degree comple-
tion date in May 2015, two months before the launch of the audit study. We
developed a baseline re
´sume
´using templates provided by undergraduate
career services offices. Table 3 summarizes items included in our baseline
re
´sume
´. These items were identical across all conditions. Because employers
might ignore job seekers applying from outside their region, we created a local
phone number for each city and used a university located in the focal employ-
er’s geographic area. These items were constant across all re
´sume
´s within a
metropolitan region.
8
We used a web-based telephone service to create phone
numbers with area codes that matched the employers’ metropolitan area and
set up voicemail boxes to record messages. Using a free e-mail service, we
also created an e-mail account for each treatment condition. Re
´sume
´audit
studies of racial discrimination in the U.S. have not revealed significant gender
differences (Bertrand and Mullainathan, 2004; Gaddis, 2015), so we used a
male first name across all conditions.
For the black applicant’s unwhitened re
´sume
´, the name appeared as ‘‘Lamar
J. Smith.’’ We chose Lamar as the first name because it is distinctively African
American but does not send a strong signal of low socioeconomic status
(Gaddis, 2015). For the last name, we used Smith because it is a common sur-
name among both whites and blacks in the United States (U.S. Census
Bureau, 2014) and therefore does not independently send a strong racial signal.
The black applicant’s unwhitened re
´sume
´also listed involvement in two college
organizations whose name contained a racial cue: ‘‘Vice President, Aspiring
African American Business Leaders, [University], 2013–2015’’ and ‘‘Peer
Counsellor, [University] Black Students’ Association, 2012–2014.’’ The names
Table 3. Summary of Baseline Re
´sume
´Items
Education
nBachelor of Arts (with honors) in Economics; minor in History
nDean’s List for Academic Excellence for 5 semesters
nDegree completed in the spring of 2015
Experience*
nIntern, Prometheus Asset Group (New York, NY), Summer 2014
nResidence Coordinators’ Team Leader, University of [. . .], 2013–2015
Skills
nData analysis and presentation: Microsoft Excel and Access, STATA, PowerPoint
nWeb design: Java and HTML
*On the actual re
´sume
´s, each of these experiences was described in detail with several bullet points, identical
across all conditions.
8
For the applicants’ undergraduate institution, we selected state universities that were ranked in
the 30–80 range in the U.S News ranking of national universities and were located in, or close to,
the employer’s metropolitan area.
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of these activities are similar to those that our interviewees mentioned, and
similar organizations are common on college campuses. Like the other experi-
ence items on the re
´sume
´s, each of these activities was described in detail
with several bullet points (e.g., ‘‘Gathered and coordinated student volunteers
for ‘Give Kids a Smile’ Day’’ and ‘‘Organized and managed first-year student
orientation events’’). These bullet points did not contain any racial cues and
were identical across conditions.
As several black interviewees noted, one whitening technique is to use the
middle name rather than the first name if the former is more race-neutral than
the latter. Thus, when the black applicant’s name was whitened, it appeared as
‘‘L. James Smith’’ rather than ‘‘Lamar J. Smith.’’ Also consistent with the inter-
view findings, we whitened the experience section by removing the words
‘‘African American’’ and ‘‘Black.’’ Thus ‘‘Aspiring African American Business
Leaders’’ became ‘‘Aspiring Business Leaders,’’ and ‘‘[University] Black
Students’ Association’’ became ‘‘[University] Students’ Association.’
On the unwhitened re
´sume
´of Asian applicants, the name appeared as ‘‘Lei
Zhang.’’ We selected this name from a list of common Chinese male given
names and surnames that Oreopoulos (2011) used in a recent audit study. The
Asian applicant’s unwhitened re
´sume
´listed the same two college activities as
the black applicant’s, containing the racial cues ‘‘Asian American’’ and ‘‘Asian,’
respectively.
We whitened the Asian applicant’s name from ‘‘Lei Zhang’’ to ‘‘Luke
Zhang,’’ reflecting the common whitening technique of adopting an English first
name. We chose Luke in particular because, like Lei, it is a one-syllable first
name that starts with the letter ‘‘L,’’ and because it is a very common non-
Hispanic male first name starting with that letter in U.S. cohorts born in the
1990s (i.e., our applicants’ cohorts) (U.S. Social Security Administration, 2015).
Procedure
From July through September 2015, we applied to positions through two of the
largest online national job-search websites.
9
Our overall sampling frame included
entry-level job ads (one per employer) for college graduates, posted in the past
30 days, in 16 geographically dispersed U.S. metropolitan areas. We did not
include jobs that required specialized training or certification (e.g., nursing,
computer-aided drafting, or advanced foreign language skills). Table 4 shows the
distribution of jobs across metropolitan areas, job types, and industries.
Because our interviews and lab experiment suggested that employers’
claims of diversity friendliness affected the likelihood of re
´sume
´whitening, we
implemented a randomized block design that allowed us to examine whether
ostensibly diversity-friendly employers did indeed discriminate less than their
peers against minorities’ unwhitened re
´sume
´s. To do so, we sampled an equal
number of job postings from each metro area with and without explicit pro-
diversity language, and then we randomly assigned vacancies within each of
9
In a recent survey of large firms, companies attributed a quarter of their external hires to job-
search websites. Nearly 90 percent reported at least one hire in the previous year from one of the
two websites used in this study, and more than 80 percent reported at least one hire from the other
website we used (Crispin and Mehler, 2011; see Gaddis, 2015). Even as early as 2006, nearly two-
thirds of surveyed 18 to 28 year olds reported using websites like these for job searches, and that
number is likely to have increased since then (Gaddis, 2015).
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Table 4. Distribution of Submitted Applications across Metropolitan Areas, Job Types, and
Industries in the Re
´sume
´Audit Study
Category % Applications
Metropolitan areas
Northeast
Boston 5.0
New York City 20.0
Midwest
Chicago 5.0
Columbus 5.0
Minneapolis–Saint Paul 5.0
South
Atlanta 5.0
Charlotte 5.0
Dallas 5.0
Houston 5.0
Nashville 5.0
Washington 5.0
West
Denver 5.0
Phoenix 5.0
Los Angeles 10.0
San Diego 5.0
San Francisco 5.0
Job type
Administrative Assistants and Coordinators 14.8
Analysts and Consultants 6.6
Customer Service 14.9
Human Resources 9.8
Managerial Trainees 10.0
Sales and Marketing 43.8
Industry (2-digit NAICS codes)
Accommodation and food services 1.9
Administrative and support, waste management, and remediation services 13.0
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 0.5
Construction 0.6
Educational services 1.4
Finance and insurance 13.6
Health care and social assistance 6.8
Information and cultural industries 3.0
Management of companies and enterprises 0.1
Manufacturing 5.25
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 0.1
Other services (except public administration) 6.8
Professional, scientific, and technical services 29.8
Public administration 0.2
Real estate and rental and leasing 2.3
Retail trade 12.1
Transportation and warehousing 1.8
Utilities 0.5
Wholesale trade 0.4
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these blocks to one of the eight experimental conditions. To identify ads with
an explicit pro-diversity statement, we first searched the text of job postings in
each metro area for word roots and variants of the words ‘‘diverse’’ and ‘‘inclu-
sive.’’ Then, with the help of a trained research assistant, we manually checked
each search result to avoid false positives. For example, while a passage
emphasizing that ‘‘minorities are strongly encouraged to apply’’ because the
employer ‘‘promotes and celebrates diversity and is committed to building a
diverse and inclusive workforce’’ would be coded as containing a pro-diversity
cue, a job description focusing on the firm’s ‘‘diverse portfolio of services’’
would not be.
10
Pro-diversity passages typically stated that diversity was a cen-
tral part of the employer’s culture and provided reasons why a diverse work-
force was essential to the firm’s success (e.g., because it enriched the
workplace or helped connect with a diverse customer base). Most of these
statements also emphasized a commitment to fairness in hiring and encour-
aged ‘‘diversity candidates’’ or ‘‘underrepresented minorities’’ to apply.
Given these criteria, we were able to sample 80 job ads (40 with explicit pro-
diversity language, and 40 without such language) in each metro area, except
for Los Angeles and New York City, where we had a larger number of matching
postings (160 and 320, respectively). In total, we responded to 1,600 job post-
ings, of which 800 contained explicit pro-diversity language.
11
We recorded
whether each application led to an invitation for an in-person or telephone inter-
view (i.e., a callback). Following common practice in audit studies as well as
guidelines of our institutional review board, when an applicant received a call-
back, we e-mailed the employer to decline the invitation (Correll, Benard, and
Paik, 2007; Tilcsik, 2011).
Results
In total, 267 (or 16.7 percent) of the 1,600 applications led to a job interview
request.
12
Callback rates by condition across all job ads are depicted via the
white bars in figure 1 (for black applicants) and figure 2 (for Asian applicants).
10
There was little systematic variation in the frequency of pro-diversity statements across indus-
tries and job types, except that these statements were less common than average in the construc-
tion industry and in the transportation and warehousing industry, and more common than average
in the information and cultural industries and the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry. To
account for any such variation, as we show below, our results were robust to industry, job type,
and location fixed effects. In addition, supplementary analyses (available on request) show that our
conclusions were robust to dropping these four industries from the analyses.
11
Each metro area was randomly assigned to a week of the study period. During that week, we
identified all job ads in the area that (a) fit the basic sampling criteria and (b) included a pro-diversity
statement. We then randomly selected as many of these postings as possible in multiples of 40
and randomly sampled an equal number of postings that fit the sampling criteria but had no pro-
diversity statement. Thus the total number of sampled job ads in each area was a multiple of 80.
This ensured that the number of observations was equal across the eight experimental conditions
within each area and that we had at least ten observations for each condition per area.
12
The callback rates were 10.9 percent by e-mail, 4.7 percent by phone, and 1.1 percent by both.
Among those who received a callback, there were no significant differences in the mode of contact
across conditions. Our overall callback rate was roughly 4 percentage points higher than in Gaddis’s
(2015) audit with similar baseline re
´sume
´s. This difference may partly reflect the higher level of job
creation during our study period (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015); when the supply of positions is
relatively high, employers might interview more applicants to compensate for a potentially lower
yield.
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There is a clear pattern across both groups: whitened re
´sume
´s led to more call-
backs than unwhitened re
´sume
´s. For blacks, the callback gap between unwhi-
tened re
´sume
´s and those for which both the name and the experiences were
whitened was 15.5 percentage points (a ratio of roughly 2.5 to 1). This is a sig-
nificant difference in proportions (z= 4.06, p<.001). For Asians, the callback
gap between these conditions was 9.5 percentage points (or a ratio of roughly
1.8 to 1). This gap, too, was statistically significant (z= 2.58, p<.01).
With regard to the effect of partial whitening, black applicants who whitened
their experiences but not their first name received more callbacks than those
Figure 2. Callback rates for Asian applicants.
11.5
18.0 16.5
21.0
11.0
18.0 20.0 22.0
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
No whitening Whitened
first name
Whitened
experience
Whitened first name
and experience
All job ads (N = 200 in each condition)
Subsample of job ads with pro-diversity language (N = 100 in each condition)
Figure 1. Callback rates for black applicants.
10.0 13.0
18.0
25.5
11.0
15.0
20.0
25.0
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
No whitening Whitened first
name
Whitened
experience
Whitened first name
and experience
All job ads (N = 200 in each condition)
Subsample of job ads with pro-diversity language (N = 100 in each condition)
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who did not whiten at all (18 percent versus 10 percent, z= 2.31, p<.05). For
Asians, the size of this difference was 5 percentage points but not statistically
significant. Whitening the name only (versus not whitening at all) did not make
a statistically significant difference for black applicants (13 percent versus 10
percent) but led to a marginally significant increase in callbacks for Asians (18
percent versus 11.5 percent, z= 1.83, p<.10).
Thus figures 1 and 2 reveal just how effective re
´sume
´whitening was at
closing the callback gap between observably white and non-white applicants.
Consider, for example, a job seeker who has a re
´sume
´that displays a distinc-
tively African American first name and also lists two ‘‘black’’ extracurricular
experiences. Figure 1 suggests that if this person whitened the experience
section of his re
´sume
´, he would receive about 1.8 times as many callbacks. If
he whitened both his first name and the experiences, he would receive 2.5
times as many callbacks as he would with the original, unwhitened re
´sume
´.
Though the boost from whitening is slightly smaller for Asian job seekers, it is
still of a similar order of magnitude as for black applicants. Figure 2, for exam-
ple, implies that whitening both the first name and the experiences on the
re
´sume
´could nearly double the callback rate for Asian applicants.
We next examined the subsample of job postings that contained explicit
pro-diversity language (see gray bars in figures 1 and 2). Despite the diversity
rhetoric, the main patterns in this subsample were similar to those observed
across all job ads. As in the full sample, there was a particularly prominent call-
back gap between unwhitened re
´sume
´s and those for which both the first
name and the experience section were whitened. The size of this gap was 14
percentage points (z= 2.58, p<.01) for black applicants (figure 1) and 11 per-
centage points (z= 2.10, p<.05) for Asians (figure 2)—similar to the gap in
the full sample.
To provide a more formal test, the linear probability models in table 5 exam-
ine whether discrimination against unwhitened re
´sume
´s was attenuated when
the focal job posting contained pro-diversity language. Models 3–5 separately
include an interaction between pro-diversity language and each whitening con-
dition; model 6 includes all the interactions. A significant negative coefficient
on these interactions would suggest that there was less discrimination against
unwhitened re
´sume
´s (the reference category) when the targeted job posting
contained pro-diversity language. In fact, however, most of these coefficients
are positive and, without exception, statistically indistinguishable from zero.
Thus we do not find evidence that employers using pro-diversity language in
their job postings discriminate less against unwhitened re
´sume
´s.
Further, the linear probability models in table 6 indicate that our main results
displayed in figures 1 and 2 were robust to location, job type, and industry fixed
effects. As these models show, re
´sume
´s with whitened first names and
experiences led to more callbacks than the unwhitened re
´sume
´s (the reference
category), and this was true for both black and Asian applicants and in both the
full sample and the subsample of pro-diversity job postings.
13
13
In supplementary models, we explored geographic variation but found few significant and sys-
tematic patterns. One exception is that in the Midwest, the callback penalty for unwhitened
re
´sume
´s was somewhat larger than in other regions. Our main results remained robust even when
dropping all observations in the Midwest.
24 Administrative Science Quarterly XX (2016)
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Table 5. Testing for Interactions between Pro-diversity Language in Job Ads and the
Experimental Conditions: Linear Probability Models Predicting the Likelihood of Callbacks*
Model 3 Model 4 Model 5 Model 6
Conditions (ref.: No whitening)
Whitened first name and experience .14
•••
.13
•••
.13
•••
.13
•••
(.04) (.03) (.03) (.04)
Whitened experience .07
••
.04 .07
••
.04
(.02) (.03) (.02) (.03)
Whitened name .05
.05
.05 .04
(.02) (.02) (.03) (.03)
Black (ref.: Asian) .00 .00 .00 .00
(.02) (.02) (.02) (.02)
Pro-diversity language (ref.: No diversity language) .03 .01 .02 .01
(.02) (.02) (.02) (.03)
Interaction terms
Whitened first name and experience ×Pro-diversity language .02 .00
(.05) (.05)
Whitened experience ×Pro-diversity language .05 .05
(.04) (.05)
Whitened name ×Pro-diversity language .00 .02
(.04) (.05)
Constant .10
•••
.10
•••
.10
•••
.11
•••
(.02) (.02) (.02) (.02)
p<.10;
••
p<.05;
•••
p<.01.
*Robust standard errors are in parentheses. N = 1,600.
Table 6. Linear Probability Models with Job Type, Industry, and Metropolitan Area Fixed
Effects Predicting the Likelihood of Callbacks*
Model 7 Model 8 Model 9 Model 10 Model 11 Model 12
Applicants: All Black Asian All Black Asian
Job ads: All All All Pro-diversity Pro-diversity Pro-diversity
Conditions (ref.: No whitening)
Whitened first name and experience .12
•••
.14
•••
.09
.12
••
.14
.11
(.03) (.04) (.04) (.04) (.05) (.05)
Whitened experience .07
••
.08
.07
.09
.09 .11
(.03) (.04) (.04) (.04) (.05) (.05)
Whitened name .06
.04 .09
.06 .03 .10
(.03) (.04) (.04) (.04) (.05) (.06)
Black (ref.: Asian) –.01 –.02
(.02) (.03)
Constant .12
••
.11
.12
.12
.12 .12
(.04) (.06) (.05) (.06) (.09) (.08)
Observations 1,600 800 800 800 400 400
p<.05;
••
p<.01;
•••
p<.001.
*Standard errors are in parentheses. Area, job type, and industry dummies are included in all models, with New
York City, Human Resources positions, and the professional, scientific, and technical services industry (NAICS
code: 54) as the reference categories, respectively. Logit and probit models led to identical conclusions as the
models reported here.
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Finally, beyond our primary results, it is worth noting that the difference
between our ‘‘whitened first name and experience’’ and ‘‘whitened experi-
ence’’ conditions (i.e., the columns on the right-hand side of figures 1 and 2)
has been the focus of previous audit studies. For black applicants, this is a com-
parison of two job seekers who have identical, racially neutral experiences and
last names but differ in the racial connotations of their first name—James ver-
sus Lamar in this case. The callback gap between these applicants (a ratio of
1.4 to 1) is very similar to the gap that Bertrand and Mullainathan (2004) and
Gaddis (2015) observed. Likewise, the fact that the gap between Luke Zhang
and Lei Zhang—when listing racially neutral experiences—was not significant
(21 percent versus 16.5 percent, z= 1.15, p= .25) is in line with findings by
Oreopoulos (2011). In addition, the result that the Asian re
´sume
´with a whi-
tened first name and experiences led to roughly twice as many callbacks as the
unwhitened Asian re
´sume
´is also broadly consistent with prior work. Though
existing studies have not examined this specific callback gap directly, and little
work has examined callback discrimination against Asian job seekers in the
United States, research in Canadian labor markets shows that callback rates
are approximately three times higher for a re
´sume
´with a white name and
Canadian education and experience than for an otherwise similar re
´sume
´with
a Chinese name, education, and experience (Oreopoulos, 2011). Thus while
our field experiment extends the audit literature by directly focusing on the
effects of re
´sume
´whitening, its results are broadly consistent with previous
findings.
GENERAL DISCUSSION
Our multi-method research illuminates the phenomenon of re
´sume
´whitening
in modern labor markets. We find that while some minority job seekers reject
this practice, others view it as necessary and use a variety of techniques to
attempt to eliminate explicit racial markers or project an image of a minority
applicant who conforms to the perceived expectations of employers. We also
find that when targeting an organization that presents itself as valuing diversity,
minority applicants engage in significantly less re
´sume
´whitening than other-
wise, even though our re
´sume
´audit study shows that pro-diversity employers’
statements are not actually associated with reduced discrimination. These find-
ings suggest implications for understanding self-presentation in labor markets,
racial inequality in employment, and stigma management.
Bringing Job Seekers Back In
Social scientists have focused a great deal of attention on the role of employers
in shaping hiring outcomes and patterns of employment discrimination
(Bertrand and Mullainathan, 2004; Pager, Western, and Bonikowski, 2009;
Oreopoulos, 2011; Rivera, 2012). In contrast, we know less about how job see-
kers respond to anticipated discrimination. Our study shifts the focus to job
seekers, building on the notion that ‘‘people in stigmatized groups actively use
available resources to resist the stigmatizing tendencies of the more powerful
group and . . . to the extent that they do, it is inappropriate to portray them as
passive recipients of stigma’’ (Link and Phelan, 2001: 378).
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We find that the use of techniques for concealing or downplaying one’s
racial minority status remains a potentially important response to anticipated
racial discrimination in employment. Moreover, we find broadly similar
responses among black and Asian job seekers, even though members of these
minority groups are faced with different challenges and stereotypes in labor
markets. Clearly, racial ‘‘passing’’ and ‘‘covering’’ have a long history in North
America (Yoshino, 2006; Hobbs, 2014), yet such practices are still very much
alive today. Employment outcomes therefore do not simply reflect a one-sided,
employer-driven process but, rather, the joint influence of the decisions of
employers and the actions of job seekers who attempt to influence employers’
decisions through self-presentation.
One important implication is that signals of racial assimilation and conformity
may be critical variables in explaining labor market inequalities. Many of our
respondents emphasized that what matters in getting a job is not one’s racial
minority status itself but, rather, the degree to which that status is salient and
the type of racial minority that one is perceived to be (e.g., ‘‘a really Asian
Asian’’ versus a somewhat ‘‘whitewashed’’ one; or a black worker who ‘‘fits
within a certain box’’ versus a potentially outspoken black worker who cares
deeply about racial issues). Although these distinctions were salient to a sizable
group of job seekers, they are usually excluded from analyses of workplace dis-
crimination and inequality, in which the typical comparison is between a white
worker and an otherwise equivalent racial minority worker. What our respon-
dents suggested, however, is that two equally qualified racial minority job see-
kers might fare very differently in the labor market, depending on how
effectively they prevent their race from ‘‘sticking out.’’ Capturing such differ-
ences in future research will require that we do not measure race in the typical
binary fashion but as a continuous or multidimensional construct (Saperstein
and Penner, 2012) that taps into the differing degrees to which minority work-
ers signal assimilation to the white majority. Doing so can reveal processes that
shape the distribution of labor market opportunities not only between but also
within racial groups.
At the same time, though manipulating the display of these signals could
help some racial minorities in the labor market, doing so may come at a cost.
Projecting an image of a black employee who will ‘‘lay low’’ or an Asian appli-
cant who is deeply assimilated into American culture might imply, as one inter-
viewee put it, having to ‘‘squash’’ certain aspects of one’s identity, which may
exact a psychological toll (Yoshino, 2006; Pachankis, 2007; Hobbs, 2014).
Re
´sume
´whitening sometimes also means having to conceal relevant aspects
of one’s human capital. Doing so may contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy
whereby—in response to being seen by employers as less qualified than white
applicants—minority job seekers hide racial markers and thus submit re
´sume
´s
that are indeed sparse in comparison with the re
´sume
´s of white applicants
(Jussim et al., 2000). Whitening, it seems, presents a dilemma rather than a
solution.
The Paradox of Diversity Statements
Our findings suggest that minority job applicants engage in re
´sume
´whitening
to a lesser degree when targeting organizations that signal a commitment to
racial diversity and equality. In this sense, re
´sume
´whitening may be as much
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about the self-presentation of employers as it is about the self-presentation of
job seekers. In Goffman’s (1959) terms, job applicants present themselves to
an audience of employers, but at the same time, we show that the applicants
themselves are an audience for the self-presentation of employers.
The finding that minority job seekers are more likely to submit racially trans-
parent re
´sume
´s to ostensibly pro-diversity employers highlights an important
paradox, because our audit study suggests that employers that adopt pro-
diversity statements are in fact just as likely to engage in discrimination against
unwhitened re
´sume
´s as employers that do not display such statements. Thus,
paradoxically, given that minority job seekers respond to these statements with
greater racial transparency, they may be most likely to experience disadvantage
when applying to seemingly diversity-friendly employers. Our audit study sug-
gests that, if an applicant usually whitens his name and experiences on the
re
´sume
´except when applying to ostensibly pro-diversity employers, then he
would receive significantly fewer callbacks from seemingly ‘‘diversity-friendly’’
employers than from those that do not declare their commitment to diversity.
This paradox shares parallels with the ‘‘paradox of meritocracy,’’ whereby
managers’ beliefs that their organization is meritocratic and demography-blind
make them more likely to make prejudiced decisions (Castilla and Benard,
2010). The paradox that we point to also arises because of the belief that a par-
ticular organization makes employment decisions fairly and on the basis of
equal opportunity. In the present case, however, this belief is held not by a
firm’s managers but by prospective job applicants who, lulled into a false sense
of security, may make themselves particularly vulnerable to discrimination.
Why employers that explicitly declare their commitment to diversity still
engage in discrimination against minority applicants with unwhitened re
´sume
´s
is a question for future research, but existing studies do suggest relevant
insights. Research shows that what employers say about their hiring practices
and what they actually do can diverge radically (Pager and Quillian, 2005) and
that managers may in fact make more biased evaluation decisions when their
company’s core values emphasize fairness and meritocracy (Castilla and
Benard, 2010). Moreover, there is evidence that many organizational practices
aimed at promoting workplace diversity have limited efficacy (Kalev, Dobbin,
and Kelly, 2006). In fact, some of the most popular organizational initiatives that
are assumed to reduce discrimination actually activate it, while some of the
truly effective interventions are rarely used (Dobbin, Schrage, and Kalev, 2015).
Thus many organizations that appear (and assume) to be taking steps to pro-
mote diversity might achieve limited success in practice. Yet their diversity
rhetoric can lead minority job seekers to let their guard down and open them-
selves up to discrimination.
Discrimination at the re
´sume
´screening stage is, of course, just one step in
the production of labor market and workplace inequalities (Fernandez and
Fernandez-Mateo, 2006; Rivera, 2012). For example, employers’ bias at the
interview stage and in performance evaluations, pay decisions, and promotions
can all have a powerful effect on the opportunity structures and career trajec-
tories of racial minorities (Blank, Dabady, and Citro, 2004; Castilla, 2012). Our
study results are also bounded by empirical considerations—they apply to
entry-level positions and those in the private sector. Thus investigating the
potential effect of racial self-presentation on other employment and workplace
processes is an important task for future research. In addition, beyond the
28 Administrative Science Quarterly XX (2016)
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formal job-seeking channels, many job seekers rely on informal networks and
referrals, and scholars have documented various network mechanisms that can
isolate minorities from good job opportunities (Smith, 2005; Fernandez and
Fernandez-Mateo, 2006). Our study focused on one common avenue for get-
ting a job—applications through formal channels—but the nature of race-related
self-presentation may be different when, for example, candidates are referred
through social networks. This is an empirical question, and answering it might
help refine our conclusions.
Stigma Management
More broadly, our research advances theories of stigma and stigma manage-
ment (Paetzold, Dipboye, and Elsbach, 2008). First, though scholars have long
noted the use of self-presentational techniques by stigmatized individuals
(Goffman, 1963; Link and Phelan, 2001), stigma theory has not fully specified
the conditions under which these techniques are more or less likely to be used.
One important insight from our research is that the self-presentation of evalua-
tors is key to understanding the self-presentational choices of stigmatized indi-
viduals. We show, in particular, that stigmatized individuals’ use of passing and
covering techniques is contingent on how evaluators present themselves.
Second, we introduce the idea that the selective application of self-
presentation tactics can disadvantage stigmatized individuals. If the audience of
evaluators is less accepting than it appears, stigmatized individuals may let their
guard down and consequently experience greater disadvantage when interact-
ing with seemingly accepting evaluators. Our research opens the door to exam-
ining this paradox in other domains as well. For example, anecdotal evidence
suggests that a similar paradox might arise in the case of mental health stigma
(Yasgur, 2015) or sexual orientation stigma (McNaron, 1997) in seemingly sup-
portive environments.
Third, we advance stigma theory by highlighting significant variation in the
degree to which a stigmatized racial identity is disclosed. Though the impor-
tance of the degree of stigma disclosure has been discussed in prior theoretical
work (Ragins, 2008), it has mostly been acknowledged with regard to conceal-
able stigmas, such as minority sexual orientation. In contrast, our study shows
that the degree of disclosure has implications for economic attainment and
inequality even when the stigmatizing mark is visible in face-to-face interac-
tions. Further, while prior work (e.g., Corrigan and Matthews, 2003; Ragins,
2008) has focused on how people disclose their stigma to varying degrees
across different life domains (e.g., the workplace versus a non-work domain),
we show that individuals disclose their stigma to varying degrees even within a
given life domain and that this variation can powerfully shape the distribution of
opportunities (e.g., in this case, interview callbacks) in that domain.
Finally, while much research and theorizing have focused on how different
evaluators perceive stigmatized individuals (Link and Phelan, 2001; Wiesenfeld,
Wurthmann, and Hambrick, 2008), our interviews suggest that stigmatized indi-
viduals also vary in the extent to which they experience a given attribute (e.g.,
their racial minority status) as a stigma. What seems to predict the likelihood of
passing and covering behaviors is not simply membership in a stigmatized
group but feeling more or less stigmatized. For example, in addition to situa-
tional variation, the interviews also pointed to the possibility of stable individual
Kang et al. 29
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differences, as some job seekers never whiten their re
´sume
´s while others fre-
quently do. Although no major differences emerged along demographic lines,
there was a clear pattern in respondents’ anticipation of adverse outcomes:
those who tended to engage in whitening were highly concerned about the
threat of discrimination and employers’ negative reactions, and those who
never whitened were not. This suggests that perhaps one source of variation in
whitening may be individual differences in the tendency to expect and worry
about potential adverse consequences in uncertain life domains (Gray and
McNaughton, 2000; Hirsh, Mar, and Peterson, 2012). Interestingly, as these
concerns may lead stigmatized individuals to be cautious about self-
presentational choices, they may provide a degree of protection from
discrimination.
Conclusion
Racial minorities are well aware of the discrimination that they face in the labor
market and selectively disclose their identities in response to the signals that
they receive from employers. At the same time, organizations are increasingly
recognizing the importance of embracing diversity, and many have adopted
explicit pro-diversity statements in an attempt to signal their commitment to
reducing labor market inequalities. Adopting such statements does not, how-
ever, guarantee any change in discriminatory hiring practices. To the extent that
pro-diversity statements encourage job applicants to let their guard down and
disclose stigmatized aspects of their identities, these merely cosmetic changes
may be doing more harm than good. Future research should continue to exam-
ine how the interplay between supply-side and demand-side processes—the
self-presentational choices of both job seekers and employers—shape labor
market inequality.
Acknowledgments
This paper has benefited greatly from the comments of numerous colleagues. We are
particularly grateful for extremely detailed comments from Roberto Fernandez, Emilio
Castilla, and Sameer Srivastava. We also thank Matthew Bidwell, Isabel Fernandez-
Mateo, Eunmi Mun, Kim Pernell-Gallagher, and audience members at the 2014 EGOS
Symposium, ‘‘Sustaining Inequality? The Impact of Organizational Practices on Individual
Employment Outcomes.’’
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Authors’ Biographies
Sonia K. Kang is an assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resource
management at the Institute for Management and Innovation at the University of
Toronto Mississauga. She is cross-appointed to the Rotman School of Management,
University of Toronto, 105 St. George Street, Toronto, ON M5S 3E6, Canada (e-mail:
sonia.kang@rotman.utoronto.ca). Her research explores stigma, identity, and the chal-
lenges and opportunities of diversity. She received her Ph.D. in psychology from the
University of Toronto.
Katherine A. DeCelles is an associate professor of organizational behavior and human
resource management at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto,
105 St. George Street, Toronto, ON M5S 3E6, Canada (e-mail: katy.decelles@rotman
.utoronto.ca). Her research focuses on the intersection of organizational behavior and
criminology and includes topics such as prison work, inequality, power and selfishness,
and activism and aggression. She received her Ph.D. in organizational behavior from the
University of Maryland.
Kang et al. 33
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Andra´s Tilcsik is an assistant professor of strategic management and a Lee-Chin
Institute Fellow at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, 105
St. George Street, Toronto, ON M5S 3E6, Canada (e-mail: andras.tilcsik@rotman
.utoronto.ca). His research focuses on organizations, occupations, and work. He
received his Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Harvard University.
Sora Jun is a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford
University, 655 Knight Way, Stanford, CA 94305 (e-mail: sorajun@stanford.edu). Her
research focuses on power and politics, hierarchies, and race and organizations.
34 Administrative Science Quarterly XX (2016)
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Although stigma has been studied extensively in psychology and sociology, there has been little research on stigmatization in organizational settings. This special topic forum, which includes four articles, builds on previous social science research and expands its coverage both to individuals within organizations and to organizations themselves. As we note here, these four articles provide an opportunity to examine not only the harm caused by stigma but its potential benefits as well.
Article
Stereotype research emphasizes systematic processes over seemingly arbitrary contents, but content also may prove systematic. On the basis of stereotypes' intergroup functions, the stereotype content model hypothesizes that (a) 2 primary dimensions are competence and warmth, (b) frequent mixed clusters combine high warmth with low competence (paternalistic) or high competence with low warmth (envious), and (c) distinct emotions (pity, envy, admiration, contempt) differentiate the 4 competence-warmth combinations. Stereotypically, (d) status predicts high competence, and competition predicts low warmth. Nine varied samples rated gender, ethnicity, race, class, age, and disability out-groups. Contrary to antipathy models, 2 dimensions mattered, and many stereotypes were mixed, either pitying (low competence, high warmth subordinates) or envying (high competence, low warmth competitors). Stereotypically, status predicted competence, and competition predicted low warmth.
Article
Social science research on stigma has grown dramatically over the past two decades, particularly in social psychology, where researchers have elucidated the ways in which people construct cognitive categories and link those categories to stereotyped beliefs. In the midst of this growth, the stigma concept has been criticized as being too vaguely defined and individually focused. In response to these criticisms, we define stigma as the co-occurrence of its components-labeling, stereotyping, separation, status loss, and discrimination-and further indicate that for stigmatization to occur, power must be exercised. The stigma concept we construct has implications for understanding several core issues in stigma research, ranging from the definition of the concept to the reasons stigma sometimes represents a very persistent predicament in the lives of persons affected by it. Finally, because there are so many stigmatized circumstances and because stigmatizing processes can affect multiple domains of people's lives, stigmatization probably has a dramatic bearing on the distribution of life chances in such areas as earnings, housing, criminal involvement, health, and life itself. It follows that social scientists who are interested in understanding the distribution of such life chances should also be interested in stigma.
Article
While existing research has documented persistent barriers facing African-American job seekers, far less research has questioned how job seekers respond to this reality. Do minorities self-select into particular segments of the labor market to avoid discrimination? Such questions have remained unanswered due to the lack of data available on the positions to which job seekers apply. Drawing on two original data sets with application-specific information, we find little evidence that blacks target or avoid particular job types. Rather, blacks cast a wider net in their search than similarly situated whites, including a greater range of occupational categories and characteristics in their pool of job applications. Additionally, we show that perceptions of discrimination are associated with increased search breadth, suggesting that broad search among African-Americans represents an adaptation to labor market discrimination. Together these findings provide novel evidence on the role of race and self-selection in the job search process.
Article
Racial inequality in economic outcomes, particularly among the college educated, persists throughout US society. Scholars debate whether this inequality stems from racial differences in human capital (e.g., college selectivity, GPA, college major) or employer discrimination against black job candidates. However, limited measures of human capital and the inherent difficulties in measuring discrimination using observational data make determining the cause of racial differences in labor-market outcomes a difficult endeavor. In this research, I examine employment opportunities for white and black graduates of elite top-ranked universities versus high-ranked but less selective institutions. Using an audit design, I create matched candidate pairs and apply for 1,008 jobs on a national job-search website. I also exploit existing birth-record data in selecting names to control for differences across social class within racialized names. The results show that although a credential from an elite university results in more employer responses for all candidates, black candidates from elite universities only do as well as white candidates from less selective universities. Moreover, race results in a double penalty: When employers respond to black candidates, it is for jobs with lower starting salaries and lower prestige than those of white peers. These racial differences suggest that a bachelor's degree, even one from an elite institution, cannot fully counteract the importance of race in the labor market. Thus, both discrimination and differences in human capital contribute to racial economic inequality.
Article
We develop a model to explain the process by which corporate failure leads to professional devaluation of individual elites. We envision that corporate failure evokes a stigmatization process, in which society's arbiters engage in constituentminded sensemaking to interpret the conditions surrounding the failure, including the characteristics of the individual elite, and arrive at judgments about the person's blameworthiness. We discuss implications of this research for the study of stigma and stigmatization, as well as "settling-up" in managerial labor markets.
Article
This article presents culture as a vehicle of labor market sorting. Providing a case study of hiring in elite professional service firms, I investigate the often suggested but heretofore empirically unexamined hypothesis that cultural similarities between employers and job candidates matter for employers' hiring decisions. Drawing from 120 interviews with employers as well as participant observation of a hiring committee, I argue that hiring is more than just a process of skills sorting; it is also a process of cultural matching between candidates, evaluators, and firms. Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but also culturally similar to themselves in terms of leisure pursuits, experiences, and self-presentation styles. Concerns about shared culture were highly salient to employers and often outweighed concerns about absolute productivity. I unpack the interpersonal processes through which cultural similarities affected candidate evaluation in elite firms and provide the first empirical demonstration that shared culture-particularly in the form of lifestyle markers-matters for employer hiring. I conclude by discussing the implications for scholarship on culture, inequality, and labor markets.