Could disclosing my ethnicity be used against me?
October 7, 2008 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Can a US employer require a job seeker to disclose race and gender before granting an interview?

I've just applied for a job, and the first contact I've received from the internal recruiters is an email link to a voluntary self-identification form. The form prompts me to indicate my gender and ethnic group(s) and also gives me the choice to not disclose.

I would have no problem disclosing my ethnicity under different circumstances, but really don't like the idea of having to do so so early in the recruitment process. Can't help but wonder if this information will really be kept separate from my application. (Why else would they want this information now?)

I'm concerned about being labeled before speaking with them.
I'm concerned that one of my race checkboxes may be overrepresented in the company and industry.
I'm concerned that my other race checkbox may also be overrepresented, disliked, whatever.
I hope I am just overthinking things.

My question: Should I select my race and take my chances or be a troublemaker and choose not to disclose? Also, how common is this practice? I otherwise respect this well-known company, really want the job, and do want to be as helpful as I can. Thanks!
posted by bumblebeat to Work & Money (15 answers total)
It depends on the nature of the job. If you're an actor, its acceptable for them to require a certain look for a part, for example. A young black woman couldn't play Schindler, you know?

IANAL, but I am a law student and the US cannot [legally] discriminate against you for your race or gender, with few exceptions.
posted by shadowfelldown at 8:11 AM on October 7, 2008

Best answer: You are overthinking things. The form is voluntary which means that the answer to your question is "no they cannot require you to fill out the form" which I think you know. The reason they ask for this information, I suspect, is so that they can indicate to ... someone ... how many people of what races and gender even applied for the jobs. If they are trying to recruit more women/hispanics/whoever, they could use these statistics to figure out if they're doing a decent job. If they're a bigger company, as you say, then this is even more important for them.

It's illegal to require you to do it and also (fairly certain based on reading those other questions and what I know about employment practices personally) illegal for them to put that information in your file with personally identifiable information and bigger companies -- ones that care about doing things legally and appropriately, only you can know if you are applying to such a company -- are unlikely to skirt these sorts of rules and are likely to have HR departments who know what the rules are.

I do not see you as a troublemaker for not wanting to fill out that form. I never fill them out. It's not kept with your application so it won't reflect badly on you whatever you decide to do.
posted by jessamyn at 8:12 AM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, how common is this practice?

Anywhere that political correctness matters, you'll find something stupid like this.

My advice would be not to tell them any more than you're comfortable with. The form is voluntary - they've certainly hired people who have left it blank in the past. And if they're really that concerned with your ethnicity, they'll meet you in person eventually anyway.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:13 AM on October 7, 2008

Companies must file a report on the ethnic & racial composition of their workforce with the EEOC. "[It] must be filed by (1) employers with 100 or more employees, or (2) employers with federal government contracts of $50,000 or more and 50 or more employees." Source. More info.

Basically, even if you refuse to fill out the form, if you were hired there the EEOC would make the company guess at your race by looking at you ("visual survey") and report it.
posted by desjardins at 8:24 AM on October 7, 2008

Best answer: A point of clarification - employers are not required to report the characteristics of job applicants, however, this employer may just want to get the questionnaire out of the way now, or they may have internal reporting to HR. I worked for a large law firm (IANAL) that aggressively recruited minority applicants, and we would have had no way to know how we were doing at hiring/retaining them unless we kept track of how many had applied.
posted by desjardins at 8:30 AM on October 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

The reason they ask these is so that they can check to make sure they're not discriminating in aggregate, it wouldn't be used to actually make any hiring decisions, and they won't use the data to determine who to interview either.

Ordinarily what they'll do is, once a year go through the data and check to make sure there is no systematic discrimination going on.
posted by delmoi at 8:48 AM on October 7, 2008

Anywhere that political correctness matters, you'll find something stupid like this.

What exactly is "stupid" about checking to make sure ethic groups aren't being discriminated against? If you don't collect data, there's no way to know.
posted by delmoi at 8:49 AM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Besides seeing how well HR is recruiting underrepresented groups it is also a way of measuring if certain groups are making it to the interview stage and then not getting offers. IE: A check on potential bigotry by hiring committees.
posted by Mitheral at 8:50 AM on October 7, 2008

Best answer: Yeah, it sounds like the standard EEOC form. I've gotten them frequently in applying for academic jobs, and they almost always come with the "we received your application" letter, well before any interview takes place. Fill it out or don't--it is voluntary, but it's not that unusual.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:55 AM on October 7, 2008

I have never applied for a job that has not included an equal opportunities for asking me to enter my gender, race and whether I have a disability (I'm in the UK.)

They are voluntary so you don't have to fill it in. No one will think you are a trouble maker because no one will know, that information is stripped out of the application. However, I think you should fill it in. As others have said, the point of asking for the information is to help the company monitor whether it is discriminating against certain groups. The fewer people complete the questionnaire the less useful the data is (this is what you see with the recent introduction of sexual orientation monitoring in the UK.)
posted by ninebelow at 9:07 AM on October 7, 2008

(Why else would they want this information now?)

To gauge the diversity of their applicant pool. No reason to suspect anything sinister.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:40 AM on October 7, 2008

Anywhere that political correctness matters, you'll find something stupid like this.

Well, one sector that does this all the time is academia, and I think we can all agree that diversity in academia is a good thing and not stupid at all.
posted by ob at 11:23 AM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

If your potential employer is a government contractor with over 50 employees and doing over 50,000 worth of business or subcontracts (or is insured with the FDIC (all banks)) they are REQUIRED to maintain an affirmative action plan. Part of the plan is maintain demographics of the applicants. If they fail to do so, the OFCCP (part of the department of labor) will ASSUME that they discriminate and make their lives hell. They are also required to maintain affirmative action plans for both veterans and handicapped folks. The affirmative action plan is the cost of doing business with the government. A common misconception is that these plans somehow benefit protected groups, (minorities or women) they do not, and it is in fact illegal to make employment decisions based on race or sex... any race or sex. Hiring a single black mother of three over a more qualified middle aged white dude is illegal. (if you cant prove racesex had no bearing on your decision)
posted by hatchetjack at 1:55 PM on October 7, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. You've knocked the conspiracy theories right out of my head. But I still don't like the form!

I've seen some ugly discriminatory hiring practices in the workplace and have been audience to racial hate speech by those who don't realize I'm "one of them," so I admit to being hyperaware of these things.
posted by bumblebeat at 5:34 PM on October 7, 2008

Response by poster: And too late, but apologies for the misleading lead-in question. I am being required to *submit* a voluntary form to move forward.
posted by bumblebeat at 5:36 PM on October 7, 2008

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