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How social media allows recruitment discrimination

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How social media allows recruitment discrimination

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Down the years there have been numerous studies into discrimination during the recruitment process.  One of the more famous 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.

Anyway, that’s one of the more well known studies into recruitment discrimination.  Another, thus far less well known, study was released this week looking at the role social media plays.  Published by Carnegie Mellon, researchers wanted to explore whether the information we publish on social media is used to discriminate against us during applications.

This is particularly important because there are distinct laws saying that things such as ones age, sex or religion should not be used to screen candidates during recruitment.  Yet such information is readily available if you look on someones Facebook page (for instance).

“While it appears that a relatively small portion of U.S. employers regularly searches for candidates online, we found robust evidence of discrimination among certain types of employers,” the researchers said.

The researchers tested specifically the response of employers towards a Muslim candidate vs a Christian candidate, and then a gay candidate vs a straight one.  The results found significant discrimination against the Muslim candidate compared with the Christian candidate among employers in Republican-leaning states. In those states, 17.3 percent of Christian candidates received an interview opportunity versus 2.3 percent of Muslim candidates.

On the positive side, there appeared to be no evidence of discrimination against gay candidates compared to their straight counterparts, but nonetheless, the religious angle is interesting.

“Our survey and field experiments show statistically significant evidence of hiring bias originating from information candidates shared on their online profiles,” the researchers continued.

Clearly the safest bet for recruiters is not to touch candidates social media profiles, and treat applications purely on their merits.  Yet we have a whole cottage industry booming around personal branding and ensuring what comes up for your name when a Google search is done portrays you in a strong light.

Last year there were a number of legal wranglings after employers demanded to see the Facebook pages of both job candidates and employees, something which the courts thankfully decided they had no right to do.

From an employers point of view, religion really shouldn’t play any part in who you hire as it’s not exactly the most relevant thing to someones abilities and talents as a person.  From an individuals point of view however, I tend to agree with the personal branding folks and would recommend locking down your Facebook page and use professional sites such as LinkedIn to ensure what comes up for your name gives out the information you want to give out.

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