• Emory Business Ethics

Race on Job Applications: Is it Ethical?

Race has been present on job applications for a long time now, but it remains a contentious topic that is being argued over today. There are several arguments on both sides of the topic, as one side claims that checking race opens up an application to bias, and the other side claims that race is an important part of one's identity and experiences. We discuss this topic below.



Many companies include a race check box on job applications, and they do this for three main reasons:

  1. To make sure they are maintaining non-discriminatory, ethical, and legal hiring practices. This has been taking place since 1965, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established to enforce laws against workplace discrimination

  2. To measure the validity of their hiring practices, making sure that one group of people is not being eliminated at a higher rate than others.

  3. To send this information to the government, who will provide judgement on their hiring practices.


Charles Scharf, the head of Wells Fargo, recently had to apologize for past discriminatory remarks against black people. One comment that was focused upon was his remark that there was a shortage of qualified black candidates that were applying to Wells Fargo. This unfounded claim represents potential discrimination that some applicants can receive when applying to jobs.

This is not the first time that Wells Fargo has been in hot water over discriminatory practices within their company. In the past, they have had to pay many settlements dealing with discrimination in the workplace. However, they are trying to change this; since then, they have pledged to double the number of black leaders in the company.

Think about this: Does this show the need for a race check box? Do race check boxes even make a difference in an application?



One important part of the Civil Rights Act (1964) that deals with this topic is Title VII. This regulates employer practices, mentioning that it should be an unlawful employment practice to:

  1. Refuse to hire or otherwise discriminate an employee/prospective employee because of that person's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, OR:

  2. Limit, segregate, or classify their employees for employment in a way that would deprive an individual of employment opportunities, because of that person's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Also, this act brought upon the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This commission is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability.

Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws, and most labor unions and employment agencies are covered. These laws apply to all types of work situations, guaranteeing that employees can be protected in as many instances as possible.


This is a relevant case that has to do with discrimination in the workplace. In its initial case in 2011, EEOC filed a suit against Bass Pro Outdoor World, LLC for discriminating against African-Americans and Hispanics in employment since at least 2005, alleging that they were routinely denied retail positions on the basis of race.

Managers at Bass Pro stores in Houston and Louisiana were caught making overtly racially derogatory remarks explicitly acknowledging the hiring process, including comments saying that hiring Black people did not fit into the company's profile or culture.

On top of these problematic remarks, the lawsuit claimed that Bass Pro even went so far as to punish those who did not agree with these discriminatory hiring practices with firings and forced resignations.

In 2012, further actions were made. Bass Pro, without claiming any wrongdoing, paid $10.5 million to Hispanic and Black workers due to Title VII violations. Bass Pro has also pledged to increase diversity within their tanks by reaching out to minority colleges and technical schools, participating in job fairs in communities with large minority populations, and posting job openings in popular Black and Hispanic-read publications. Because of this lawsuit, Bass Pro also has to report their hiring rates on a store-by-store basis every 6 months for the next 3.5 years.



The utilitarian approach involves analyzing the ethics of race in applications by looking at who is affected by it and if it results in a net positive among all groups. The two main groups that we are looking at are minority applicants and businesses. If checking race on a job applications is a net positive on the groups as a whole, it is ethical. If it is not, then it is not ethical.


Here are some positive attributes that could come to minority applicants from the presence of a race checkbox:

  1. It provides employment opportunities for historically underrepresented groups of people. Female and minority employment has been rising significantly recently, and some of this can be attributed to focused hiring practices.

  2. There is an increased access to new resources that can boost self-actualization among people, such as skills training, networking, and personal development

  3. It allows minority applicants to receive greater societal representation, specifically in executive roles.

Of course, there can still be negative consequences of race boxes for minority applicants:

  1. Companies not actively seeking diversity may hurt minority applicants. According to Forbes, "“companies are more than twice as likely to call minority applicants for interviews if they submit whitened resumes than candidates who reveal their race —and this discriminatory practice is just as strong for businesses that claim to value diversity as those that don’t.”

  2. A lack of transparency on diversity data could lead to a burden on applicants

  3. There can be identity issues for those unsure of their race because they have a more unique background.


Some positive attributes for businesses regarding checking race on applications:

  1. Diversity can spur innovation and creativity, with new perspectives being brought to the spotlight. According to the Harvard Review, "Employees [in diverse companies] are 45% likelier to report that their firm's market share grew over the previous year."

  2. Diversity also encourages the development of progressive values and internal growth. This is marked by the support of the MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements taken on by some of these companies.

  3. There is an association between diversity, reputation, and profit. McKinsey has reported that companies with diverse workspaces report 1.4x greater revenue than other comparable companies.

Negative attributes for businesses in relation to race boxes on applications:

  1. Race-based hiring can actually be counter-intuitive in certain industries. Blind hiring practices in the music industry have actually found an increase in hiring minorities. This could be just a field-specific phenomenon, though.

  2. Enforcing quotas of diversity in corporations could reduce the quality of hires if diversity is completely prioritized over merit.

  3. Changes to diversity practices can create short-term friction within companies as they adjust to new changes.


Microsoft and Google are two similar companies (large, multinational, tech corporations) that take different approaches with diversity hiring.

Here is a comparison of the two companies regarding diversity within the company:

  1. Microsoft: They actively seek to double the number of Black leaders and managers within the company, even going so far as to evaluate the race of the applicant for cultural fit. Alongside this, every employee has to undergo racial bias training in order to prevent discrimination.

  2. Google: They use a blind hiring method for applicants rather than a blanket quota system, and are even considering ending certain full-time diversity positions to end anti-conservative perceptions of the company. Similar to Microsoft, they have recently mandated racial bias training for employees.

Despite these differences, Microsoft and Google actually end up with somewhat similar levels of diversity within the company:

  1. Microsoft: 29.2% women, 4.4% Black, 33.3% Asian, and 6.2% Latinx

  2. Google: 33.2% women, 4.8% Black, 43.9% Asian, and 6.8% Latinx

These statistics may reveal that these different hiring practices do not actually affect racial makeup all that much. The only large difference shown is that there is a smaller percentage of Asian people at Microsoft. Strangely enough, the greater emphasis on race in hiring from Microsoft's end results in a greater percentage of white people in the company compared to Google.

Both companies have had their fair share of controversy over the years regarding race. Microsoft is embroiled in a legal battle with the US Dept. of Labor over hiring practices, mentioning that Microsoft could actually be discriminating against white workers. Google went through a large scandal in 2017 when employee James Damore posted a memo calling out Google's alleged discrimination against conservatives, whites, Asians, and men. Damore was fired over this, but it also brought attention to the racism in Silicon Valley.

Discussion Questions

1. Do you think asking for race on job applications is ethical?

2. Over the course of this article, has your mind changed regarding this topic?

3. What do you think should be done about the race box on job applications? (Keep, remove, modify, or something else entirely)

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