Why do Companies Still Ask about Your Ethnicity and Gender on Job Applications?

why do job applications ask for race

You’ve probably noticed the questions about race and gender when filling out a job application. They usually come at the very end of the application process, asking you to self-identify various aspects of yourself, including your gender, ethnicity, veteran status, and if you have a disability.

These questions can be confusing for job applicants. Isn’t it illegal for companies to ask these questions and discriminate against applicants based on protected statuses like race and gender? So why do they ask these questions?

Empire Resume will explain why companies still ask about your ethnicity and gender on job applications, including what you can do if you don’t feel comfortable answering the questions.

Is it Kept Anonymous?

why do job applications ask for race

When companies ask these questions on an application, it’s usually included with an anti-discrimination notice. That’s what makes the questions confusing for some applicants. Why are they gathering the information if to not discriminate against me, you may ask?

The answer is that your responses to the questions are kept anonymous and subject to nondiscrimination laws. Companies aren’t gathering this information to compare you to other candidates or to target or exclude groups of employees.

Responses to these demographic questions are kept separate from the rest of the application, or at least they should be. As a result, hiring managers aren’t looking at the responses and thinking, “Oh, no, this person has a disability. We’re definitely not going to hire them.”

The Goal is to Prevent Discrimination

why do job applications ask for race

Still, this can be a bit confusing. So why gather the information in the first place? It’s because companies want to ensure they aren’t discriminating against protected classes of employees, not to make it easier to do so.

The answers are only meant for reporting and analysis purposes, and since they’re kept separate from individual applications, companies don’t look at any one candidate’s responses in particular.

Employers gather this demographic information in the aggregate to ensure they’re maintaining non-discriminatory and legal hiring practices; to measure the effectiveness of their hiring practices, ensuring one group isn’t being eliminated at a higher rate; and send the information to the government.

Companies may have to send demographic info to the feds for two reasons:

  • EEOC compliance. Usually, if a company has 100 or more employees, it must submit a report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) every year. The report contains tons of info reported in the aggregate, but they aren’t reporting about specific individuals.
  • OFCCP compliance. Companies that have government contracts have to adhere to Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) requirements. OFCCP is set up to protect against employment discrimination due to race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other protected classes. So, employers have to send in tons of records, including ones on job applicants, and the whole purpose is to identify and fix any discrimination discovered.


You Can Choose to Not Self-Identify

why do job applications ask for race

Companies aren’t gathering this information to discriminate against you. In fact, the purpose of gathering the info is for the exact opposite: to prevent discrimination and stay in federal compliance.

Still, if you feel uncomfortable answering the questions, you don’t have to. On most applications, you can “choose not to disclose” or “I don’t wish to self-identify.” It doesn’t much matter, either way, since the answers are only used to collect statistics. But you can still do so.

Just don’t lie when answering the questions, thinking there’s a “right” answer. This doesn’t help anyone involved, and the only thing it’ll do is mess up the statistics and information gathered.

Measuring Diversity and Inclusion

Most companies don’t hire unqualified candidates only to meet race, age, or diversity quotas. Employers today, however, do want to ensure they’re not discriminating even by accident. This can sometimes happen if the company keeps hiring from within or uses networking recommendations that pull from only a few demographics. It could also be caused by a hidden bias to choose candidates more like them.

Gathering race and gender statistics from applications enable companies to measure their diversity and inclusion efforts in hiring. The results can help them re-think where they’re advertising job openings and spur them to make a more extensive effort to reach out to underserved communities and job applicants.

Doing this helps employers in several ways. They gain access to a larger and better pool of candidates and can meet internal diversity goals. More diversity in a workforce usually leads to more perspectives and better overall performance and productivity.

This doesn’t mean companies use the data to prefer certain types of candidates. Instead, it simply means companies ensure they collect applications from a wide range of demographic categories.

Questions That Can’t be Asked in Interviews

While employers can ask demographic questions on applications, it’s not okay to ask them during interviews. As we mentioned, the information gathered from applications is anonymous and only used for statistical purposes. But during an interview, questions about age, race, and other things are illegal to ask and can be used to discriminate against job applicants.

During interviews, employers’ questions should be limited to asking about work history, experience, references, education, and other things related to whether or not an applicant is qualified. Questions should never veer toward marital status, gender identity, race, disability, or something of that nature. These questions are discriminatory and don’t have anything to do with qualifications.

Diversity is the Goal

why do job applications ask for race

Companies can’t withhold a job because of someone’s race or age, and they can’t offer a job because of it, either. This would be reverse discrimination. However, companies look to diversify their workforce by asking questions about demographics on applications.

Rest assured, the information gathered is anonymous, so companies must show why they’re asking the questions, which is usually because they’re tracking and analyzing the responses.

Employers use the statistics to measure how well they’re reaching out to a diverse pool of candidates. Still, if you don’t feel comfortable answering the questions on an application, you can choose to not self-identify. And if you ever feel like you were discriminated against based on race, gender, age, or another class status, you could have a legal case.

Stay tuned to Empire Resume’s blog for more helpful insights on careers and employment, including articles such as Companies with a 4-Day Workweek, Industries with Labor Shortages, and Best Careers after the Pandemic.

Maria Gold is a Content Manager/Writer for Empire Resume. She is dedicated to helping educate and motivate people with the latest career articles and job search advice. Her interests range from writing to programming and design. She is also passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology. 

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3 thoughts on “Why do Companies Still Ask about Your Ethnicity and Gender on Job Applications?

  1. So the point of these questions is to make sure they don’t discriminate against protected classes? This explains a lot. I’ve been unemployed for the last 6 months, thousands of applications, and I can’t even get a sniff at an interview. I’m also a white, cis, straight, Protestant, conservative male. I’ve been screening myself out of the entire process by filling out these sections!

    • Me too, only I’m a white female, age 50, straight, conservative, and have years of experience and a Master’s degree. As a corporate recruiter, I’m amazed at who they hand jobs to these days.

  2. I don’t trust businesses that asks for my demographic information. It’s definitely to meet a quota to avoid discrimination lawsuits. They’ll say, sorry you weren’t selected but the real reason will be because I’m not the right skin color at the right time. Sometimes they want white people, sometimes they want black people and sometimes everyone else gets excluded because they’re only hiring a certain color person at that time.

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