Like many others during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been relentlessly job searching in pursuit of a work-from-home career. When I graduated with a BA in English and creative writing in 2018, I was naïve in thinking I would be able to score a full-time desk job right away. Instead, I worked at various part-time jobs to pay off my student debt and spent my days off applying for better ones. And now that so many people have been laid off from their jobs during the pandemic, the pool of applicants for any given job has grown even bigger.
Today’s application process already makes you jump through hoops, what with the need for tailored résumés, a LinkedIn profile or even a portfolio website. As if that wasn’t already enough, another frequent feature of job applications is an employment equity self-identification form.
Submitting a self-identification form is optional. Some companies state that this information is anonymously collected and used strictly for research purposes. Others state that self-identifying as a minority can help you be seen as a more favourable candidate. The implication in this case is that the company acknowledges that as part of a minority group, you have probably faced more barriers to becoming successful than a cisgender heterosexual white man, and therefore the company may overlook experience gaps in your résumé.
Either way, it can feel peculiar to list information such as your ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or socio-economic status in the same way you list job skills, such as proficiency in Microsoft Office.
While it’s okay for companies to request personal information, they should be fully transparent about how much of an advantage it could give you in your application. And no one should be asked to provide personal information to an employer if they’re not assured it won’t be used against them or shared without their permission. People have to be confident that the information collected is being used ethically and is actually furthering diversity goals in the workplace.
That said, employment equity self-identification forms are a step in the right direction for leveling the playing field. “If a company is looking to be more inclusive, [employment equity data collection] will help push those résumés to the top,” Amanda Lynne Ballard said of her experience as part of a hiring committee when she worked for an event production manager in Toronto. “If a company is not getting enough applicants that support their diversity goals, they know they need to send their [job] posting in other directions. You can’t say you are trying to be diverse if you are only getting white applicants.”
But even if your résumé is filtered by AI software designed to root out biases, unconscious biases will still be present during the interview. It seems that, at best, your résumé will be seen first – ahead of the applicants that don’t self-identify as a minority. At worst, your personal information could be used to discriminate against you in the hiring process. All in all, the information you provide may just become part of statistics that make the company appear to be inclusive, when that may not actually be the case.
“When I was hiring for a marketing co-ordinator role, I had asked if it was possible for me to receive résumés with the names blanked out so I could judge solely on merit, skill set, and suitability. They told me it wasn’t possible,” said Tawnya Zwicker, who was a senior manager at a Toronto company with over 1,400 employees. “I asked how we could possibly be objective in our hiring practices if people were using unconscious biases when reading ‘ethnic-sounding’ names and weeding them out.”
Ideally, hiring teams should be composed of a diverse panel of staff members who are seeking a diverse pool of applicants that represent the country’s population, using fair hiring practices such as anonymous applications, and implementing diversity policies in the workplace. If companies want to say they’re inclusive, they need to be able to show that they are, and that they’re meeting – or hopefully even surpassing – their diversity goals.
Karen K. Tran is a writer, photographer, and various odd-job freelancer based in Guelph. She graduated from the University of Guelph in 2018. She is the leadership lab columnist for May 2021.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.
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