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Live in a ban-the-box state? Beware ‘name’ hiring bias

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

So far, 24 states and more than 100 municipalities have passed laws prohibiting employers from asking applicants about their criminal records early in the hiring process. These “ban the box” laws refer to the box on job applications where candidates are asked about criminal convictions.

But, as such laws have taken hold, an unintended consequence has emerged—some employers are now more likely to steer clear of minority-sounding names in hiring.  

In a recent study, Princeton researchers sent 15,000 fictitious applications to employers in New York City and New Jersey before and after those jurisdictions enacted ban-the-box laws. Some applicants had “white-sounding” names (Scott and Cody), while others had names associated with blacks (Terrell and Darnell).

The experiment found that after the inception of ban-the-box laws, fewer applicants with black-sounding first names were invited to interview than before the laws were enacted.

The practical impact: If your screeners are falling back on biases—conscious or unconscious—that screen out people of color, you’re at risk of race discrimination lawsuits.

Advice: Have a conversation about this risk with hiring managers and others involved in the initial applicant screening process. Remind them of the organization’s commitment to color-blind hiring.

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