There’s an ongoing trend of black on black discrimination in recruitment called colorism. The authors of a study on the topic say it can be avoided with a simple personality assessment.

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology recently released a study on colorism, which refers to people who experience discrimination based on their skin tone—a process known as colorism. Presented recently at the 29th Annual SIOP Conference, the study, according to the society, “sheds light on this type of discrimination and shows how a person’s tendency toward colorism can be determined by measuring a single personality characteristic.”

In a news release, SIOP member Tiwi Marira and his advisor Dr. Kristin Sommer, both of Baruch College, The City University of New York, said, “Colorism is the allocation of privilege and disadvantage according to the lightness or darkness of a person’s skin. It is distinguished from racism, which is driven by multiple factors that make up an individual’s race. Despite a renewed interest in colorism, little is known about the psychological functioning of the phenomenon or about how colorism affects Blacks’ employment decisions regarding other Blacks.”

The study found that it is possible to determine a person’s tendency to discriminate based on skin tone by measuring what is known as their social dominance orientation (SDO), or the degree to which individuals desire and support group-based hierarchy and the domination of “inferior” groups by superior groups.

Marira and Sommer’s study measured the social dominance orientation of Black participants and prompted them to make employment decisions about equally qualified lighter-skinned and darker-skinned Black job applicants.

“We wanted to understand, all things being equal, whether lighter-skinned African Americans have an advantage in an employment context,” Marira explained in the release. “We found that as social dominance orientation increased, participants were more likely to give higher resumé ratings, higher starting salaries, and actually hire lighter-skinned African Americans over darker-skinned African Americans, regardless of the skin tone of the person doing the rating.”

The study, titled “The Impact of Colorism in Selection Systems: A SDO Perspective,” is unique in that it stipulates and finds evidence for a link between colorism and SDO, Marira said.

So, how should organizations use this information to prevent colorism in their selection practices? Marira said his research has several implications for employers:

  • The best way to know if an employee is likely to discriminate based on skin tone is to give employees a personality assessment measuring Social Dominance Orientation;
  • Employers should consider utilizing training interventions that emphasize the proper use of selection standards and competency models rather than simply assuming that minorities or groups composed predominantly of minorities will make less prejudiced employment-related decisions;
  • HR managers should understand that simply having more minorities on selection panels may not reduce all types of discrimination, especially colorism;
  • Employers should look closely at industries that typically attract those with higher social dominance orientations, such as law enforcement, accounting, and national security; and
  • Recruiters and talent acquisition staff should avoid using social media to evaluate candidates so as to avoid looking at an applicant’s skin tone.

This is not just an issue among Blacks. Latinos also struggle with the issue of colorism. Mark Travis Rivera, writing at Fox News Latino, says, “Some Latinos can walk into an establishment and not feel as if they are being watched because of their skin color. Some Latinos can turn on the television and see themselves showcased as the ideal beauty (i.e. Jennifer Lopez and Shakira) but it’s a privilege to not be seen as a threat or less than beautiful. I am left wondering why the issue of assimilation, colorism, and white supremacy within the Latino community continues to often go unspoken of within our communities.”

Recruiters should be aware then that the issue can be a problem among both Blacks and Latinos, the two largest minority segments in the U.S.



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