People of color are more likely to face unemployment and be unemployed longer in the United States than White Americans. This employment disparity was highlighted again in a September 2013 report from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) showing the “stark difference in Minnesota unemployment rates by race and ethnicity.”
DEED reports that African Americans in Minnesota have an unemployment rate of 13.8% in 2012, and Hispanic or Latino unemployment rates were 8.5% in 2012. The unemployment rate for White Minnesotans in this same time period was 5.2%; the state’s total average was 5.8%.
Many economic, societal, organizational and individual factors contribute to unemployment. However, the cultural differences between organizations (employing companies) and individuals from non-White-American groups might be underestimated. The “culture clash” in the workplace and in hiring processes could be a more significant factor in employment disparities than previously assessed.
Aycan (2000) analyzed literature related to cross-cultural industrial and organizational psychology. Many of the hiring practices and policies normed in the U.S. contradict the preferences of people from collectivist cultures. In fact, some of the self-promoting practices common in the U.S. recruitment and selection process might offend a job candidate who values interpersonal competencies and reverence to work superiors.
Career advisers typically instruct self-effacing job candidates to be more assertive and self-aggrandizing. A job candidate not able or willing to conform to the U.S. hiring standards is not considered a good candidate. Little, if any, efforts are made to change hiring practices to acknowledge and allow for various cultural behaviors.
Some of the collectivist culture recruitment and hiring practices mentioned in Aycan’s study are used officially or unofficially to select candidates in the U.S. Aycan said that word-of-mouth is a common way job openings are announced in cultures where in-group membership is favored. This equates with the growing U.S. trend for candidates to rely on networking to receive information.
It is common, but untested, knowledge that employers are more likely to favor a candidate who is referred to them by someone from their in-group, even if the job is publicly posted. This means that, in addition to having the right qualifications, job candidates need to be aware of which in-group connections are most likely to lead them to employment. This information is not easy to come by, because in-group favoritism is not an official recruiting technique. It might be illegal discrimination in certain situations.
While networking is common, it is not likely that any company will officially admit to using in-group connections as part of its recruitment tactics, unless it was targeting an underrepresented population as part of its diversity efforts. Otherwise, hiring practices used in collectivist cultures — such as choosing a candidate based on marital status, religious background, physical appearance – are not only offensive in the U.S., they are also illegal. This can lead to immigrant job candidates committing social blunders in the interview process, or saying or doing something that is normal in the country or origin, but will hurt their employability in the U.S.
Cultural differences between organizations and individuals from non-Anglo-American groups need to be addressed in order to fully understand why racial-cultural employment disparities exist. Aycan admits that is difficult to detangle cultural factors from other factors that influence organizational structures and processes. However, cross-cultural analysis might help job seekers, career advisers, and employers understand some important reasons why people of color are getting hired at lower rates than their White peers.
- Aycan, Z. (2000). Cross-cultural industrial and organizational psychology: Contributions, past developments, and future directions. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 31(1), 110-128.
- Vilsack, R. (2013, September). Unemployment Under a Microscope. Trends, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Retrieved from: http://mn.gov/deed/newscenter/publications/trends/sept-2013/unemployment-microscope.jsp