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Does social recruiting harm equal opportunities?

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Does social recruiting harm equal opportunities?

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Achieving equality has been an ongoing issue for organizations for the best part of half a decade now.  With our organizations increasingly achieving competitive advantage courtesy of the talented people at their disposal, this is increasingly important.  Of course, it’s not as simple as all that.

Arguably the most famous study into discrimination in recruitment was conducted by Chicago’s Booth School.  They wanted to test whether ethnic sounding names were discriminated against when applying for jobs.  Over a ten month period, researchers sent out over 5,000 job applications to help wanted ads in the Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune newspaper.

The resumes they sent out were identical in every way, except the name of the applicant.  Each resume was randomly assigned either a very white-sounding name (Emily Walsh, Brendan Baker) or a very African-American-sounding name (Lakisha Washington, Jamal Jones).  The ‘applicant’s with white sounding names received 50% more call backs than those with African-American sounding names.

Suffice to say of course, social media has now muddied the waters even more, with recruiters able to find out all manner of things about a candidate that the candidate didn’t disclose on their application.  This was highlighted by a recent Carnegie Mellon study.

They wanted to test whether researching candidates social profiles allowed recruiters to discriminate against candidates in ways that are illegal.  For instance, most countries ban employers from discriminating against candidates on grounds such as their age, sex or religion, yet all of these things are readily available online.

The study found clear evidence of discrimination amongst some employers in areas such as sexual orientation or religious background of a candidate.

It’s such a hot potato that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission met this month to discuss the role social media plays in supporting or encouraging discrimination during the recruitment process.  Whilst there have been few concrete cases to this affect, the officials agreed that there is enormous potential for issues to emerge.

The fear has prompted the agency to consult employment lawyers about the impact of social media and how they should better enforce the law and guide employers on the landmines that lurk out there.  It’s likely to be an issue that runs for sometime yet, as officials get to grips with the changing landscape and how it affects their work.

EEOC Commissioner Constance Barker, who previously represented businesses, said the agency should “be careful not to expand our jurisdiction” beyond laws it enforces such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  She was also at pains to point out however that employees and job seekers should exercise significantly more caution when revealing their private lives online.

Me thinks this one will rumble on and on.

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