Will this be the moment businesses get serious about racial bias in hiring?

Jackie Crosby, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

MINNEAPOLIS -- Lisa Bryant has a master's degree in communications and a resume full of experience. But after getting laid off during the 2008 recession, she struggled to land a full-time job with the pay and benefits that matched her skills.

"I sent out resumes, I'd go through multiple interviews and think: Yes! I have this job," she said. "But it just didn't happen."

Something more subtle and insidious may have been at play for Bryant -- racial bias.

"I'm a woman of color in a predominantly white field," Bryant said, who is black. "There were times when I walked in the room and things changed. Maybe, because my name is Lisa Bryant, I wasn't who they expected. Once I sense that, I start fumbling my words and everything goes downhill."

Despite decades of training programs and talk of diversifying the workforce, study after study shows that efforts to reduce racial bias have failed to meaningfully change the status quo.

With national and international protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police a month ago, businesses of all sizes are re-examining the persistent presence of systemic racism.


In a survey of 150 companies released last week by the global hiring firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., 85% of human resource managers said they had discussed Floyd's death with their teams. Nearly 60% had scheduled ongoing discussions of race.

"Leadership seems to understand the importance of recruiting diverse candidates, but do not view executing on this as a problem in their talent pipelines," Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said of his firm's findings. "They seem to ignore the hiring biases in place that are impacting recruiting diverse candidates."

It's a scenario Shawn Lewis has seen play out as a former workforce manager at the Urban League Twin Cities and in decades of working with organizations on economic and social equity.

"Our system is closed and people don't want about talk about it," Lewis said. "People hire people who reflect their values, reflect their culture, who they understand and are comfortable with. Usually it's people who look like them."


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