I was 8 months old when I contracted polio, a disease that is the reason I use a wheelchair today. My parents made the difficult decision to move our family from Mexico to the United States so that I could have access to better treatments and, ultimately, better opportunities in life. Growing up, they told me that my body may not be as strong as others but that with my mind, I could do anything.
Today, as a Long Beach city councilwoman, I am the first Latina who uses a wheelchair ever elected to office in this country. Being an American has opened many doors for me. I’ve also had to pry open a few along the way. Even recently, I’ve applied for jobs and found myself unable to make it past the screening process, despite knowing that I am a highly qualified candidate.
Research suggests that my experience is far from unique. A 2017 study found that white job applicants received, on average, 24% more invitations for an interview than Latinx applicants, and 36% more callbacks than Black applicants — all of whom submitted the same resume. A 2015 study found that applicants with disabilities received 26% fewer callbacks than those without disabilities. And a 2018 analysis found that among companies in California’s tech industry, nearly a third had no women of color in executive roles. A handful were made up of more than 83% men. Black employees made up fewer than 6% of workers at Salesforce, Facebook, Slack and Twitter.
“Resume reviews, employee referrals, cognitive testing and recruiting from only a few universities are all tactics proven to discriminate against women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals and people with disabilities.”
Bias is deeply ingrained in our hiring culture, and it’s completely legal. Resume reviews, employee referrals, cognitive testing and recruiting from only a few universities are all tactics proven to discriminate against women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals and people with disabilities. But as long as employers can demonstrate that a hiring method is “job-related,” they are free to use it under the law.
To be clear, many of the aforementioned companies have committed to doing better regarding diversity in the future. But as the COVID-19 pandemic is making painfully clear right now, this isn’t good enough.
Consider Los Angeles County. More than one in five residents here are now unemployed. In some of our lowest-income communities, the rate is closer to one in three. L.A. County is home to the congressional districts with the highest unemployment rates in the state, and all have Black and Latinx populations of roughly 70% or higher. These numbers reflect a worrying trend playing out across our nation.
“If we truly want to put Los Angeles on a road to a more equitable economic recovery – one that puts people first and explicitly addresses discrimination – we should demand transparency from the companies making hiring assessment tools.”
In this new job market, the stakes for candidates have never been higher. Meanwhile, employers are making hiring decisions almost entirely remotely. Many have pointed out that this has likely resulted in more companies turning to automated tools that have the potential to replicate bias on a massive scale.
It can be hard for employers to discern which tools have been built ethically. For every 100 white candidates who pass a cognitive ability test, only 32 Black applicants pass the test as well. Facial recognition technology is being used to analyze candidates’ facial movements and word choices to decide who moves forward in the process. Just imagine what this could mean for someone who is partially paralyzed, not to mention the myriad of examples of facial recognition technology misidentifying people of color.
If we truly want to put Los Angeles on a road to a more equitable economic recovery — one that puts people first and explicitly addresses discrimination — we should demand transparency from the companies making these tools.
These vendors ought to be required to provide clear reporting on the fairness of their products. This would make it possible for employers that are committed to improving diversity and inclusion to make informed decisions about which assessments can help them screen candidates without bias so they can turn good intentions into hiring practices that would work for all of us, not just the privileged few.