When Yasmeen Duncan’s position was recently phased out, the 35-year-old human resources executive from New York found herself back on the job market. Several employers reached out to her via LinkedIn, each mentioning that they were looking to diversify their workforce, Duncan says.
But some of the interview processes suggested otherwise. During one Zoom interview, Duncan was asked to share how she would solve so many of the employer’s HR problems that “it almost felt like I was a consultant for them without pay,” she says. Another asked a series of questions “but I could tell, in the manner that they were looking at their screen, that they were doing work while I was focused on interviewing,” she says.
He made a phone call and was talking while I was answering his question. I stopped and just stared at him. He never noticed that I stopped talking.
At the end of the day, neither of those employers — who each reiterated their commitment to diversity during the interviews — hired a person of color. That made Duncan think the interviews were fake and conducted merely so the employer could say they had interviewed Black candidates for the role, with no intention of actually hiring her. “I felt used,” she says.
Kim Scott* recalls a similar experience when she was 37 years old and interviewing for a position. While she answered the hiring manager’s questions, “he was mumbling as he was banging away at his keyboard,” she says. When she responded to one of his questions, “he made a phone call and was talking while I was answering his question. I stopped and just stared at him. He never noticed that I stopped talking.”
While it may seem like fake interviews would be a waste of everyone’s time, there are reasons a company might conduct them. Some companies track the number of diverse candidates they bring in as a way to measure their diversity efforts, says Jenora Ledbetter, chief executive officer of The Self Care Network, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm in New Haven, Connecticut.
Others may simply want to give the appearance that they are more concerned about diversity than they truly are. Some of us suspected that to be the case when the producers of Jeopardy brought in a diverse list of celebrities to try out for the hosting duties. They included LeVar Burton and Robin Roberts but hired the person with the least star power and fan following, a white male who is executive producer of the show. The hire, Mike Richards, subsequently stepped down as host after controversial comments he had made about women and Jewish people surfaced. Did they even vet him?
There’s plenty of evidence that hiring discrimination is not all in our heads. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Chicago found that applications with Black-sounding names were less likely to yield employer requests for an interview.
An incident recently made headlines when a TikTokker shared a screen shot of an alleged Skype conversation in which a financial adviser told staff who had brought in job applicants, “I specifically said no Blacks.” Her reason: “Our clients are 90 percent white and I need to cater to them.”
Even if someone refers you for a job, that referral may not guarantee that a company will take the interview seriously, particularly if the referrer is Black. Kyra Kyles, chief executive officer of YR Media, a training ground and platform for young journalists and content creators, discovered that truth some years ago when she was head of a department for a different employer and brought in a job candidate — who happened to also be Black — for an interview. While her white coworkers referred people for positions all the time, Kyles’ boss asked her if the person she recruited was related to her.
"Why was it strange for me to bring in someone for an interview when other people were doing this on a constant basis?” she asks. “How are we ever going to get any sort of diversity in the workplace or shift in who you see in the C-suite if you are institutionally suspicious of somebody referring other people unless they are a white person stepping outside of their natural network?”
For Black women in the job market, this can be frustrating, After all, it’s not up to us to root out hiring discrimination, Kyles says. But we can sometimes root out companies that are truly interested in hiring a diverse workforce.
Do your research. What type of reputation does the company have? “Look for news stories,” suggests Stacey A. Gordon, chief executive officer of Rework Work, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm based in the Los Angeles area. Also, check social media and read reviews on job sites like Glassdoor and CareerBliss. Finally, take a look at the company’s website to see if they have images of people of different races and ethnicities, Gordon adds.
Lean in on the whisper networks. Join or start informal closed groups on Facebook or LinkedIn where members can share private career experiences. Ask around to see if you know anyone who has worked at a company you are interested in, Gordon says. If so, ask them if they have seen evidence that the company truly values diversity.
Let your sisters know. Just as important, share your interview experiences or other incidents of hiring discrimination that you learn about on those networks and sites where you can leave reviews anonymously, such as Glassdoor. “Shining a light on them is the way to end them,” Kyles says.
Join professional groups. The more people you know professionally, the more insight you can gain into different companies. For example, Duncan, who landed a new job as a vice president of HR, founded an organization called the Sisterhood Society for Women of Color, which gives Black women a safe space to share positive and negative work experiences.
“I think what's good about this current job market is it does seem like there are more options and more choices,” Kyles says. “And it also seems like people are more vocal about these kinds of encounters.”