Your company has announced a change in its student hiring process.

In line with your company’s official value of Diversity, student hiring will now be ‘colour-blind.’ The company will focus on interviewing candidates with the strongest skills on their CVs.

You think about the announcement. You have some thoughts about the approach, based on some diversity and inclusion training you’ve taken. You make your way over to speak with the head of HR, Mariah.

What Happened?

Mariah thanks you for your enthusiasm, and then launches into her spiel about the colour-blind approach. She goes on and on about how it will allow the company to ignore racial differences when making decisions. Before you’re able to raise a concern you have, Mariah is whisked into another meeting.

What Happened?

Mariah thanks you for your opinion but continues with the colour-blind approach. 

You’re right to focus on building a diverse team, but it’s not your place to tell Mariah how to do it.

What Happened?

Mariah thanks you, and over the next month the company continues with their plan. At the end of the year, everyone’s a little surprised to find that most new hires are white. This could simply be the students that happened to apply this year. 

You think it’s just too soon to see the results of the change, but are hopeful for future years.

What Happened?

Mariah thanks you for your insight and decides to look into it a little more. After some digging, she holds a meeting with the leaders to consider other ways to address racial bias. 

Although it slows the process, you hope it’s for the best.

The Best Option

Here’s Why

Many organizations think that colour-blindness reduces prejudice and discrimination. But research suggests otherwise.

The problem is that most people notice racial differences, regardless of their company’s policy. 

When people in North America see a person, one of the first things the brain registers is race. This becomes internalized around the age of 10. 

At the same time, we’re taught that we aren’t supposed to notice people’s race. 

These two things are in conflict with one another, leading to a feeling of discomfort. A version of this dissonance occurs when we’re told by a doctor to “breathe normally”.

Research shows that when someone avoids discussing race in moments when it is important, others see that person as more racially biased than if they had acknowledged it. 

Rather than avoiding race, smart companies deal with it head on. They know that embracing diversity means adopting multiculturalism.This approach recognizes and celebrates racial differences. It doesn’t suppress them. 

Talking about race can feel awkward, but over time doing so is usually better than pretending it doesn’t exist.

Go Deeper

Apfelbaum, E. P., Norton, M. I., & Sommers, S. R. (2012). Racial color blindness: Emergence, practice, and implications. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(3), 205-209.

Apfelbaum, E. P., Sommers, S. R., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Seeing race and seeming racist? Evaluating strategic colorblindness in social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(4), 918-932.

Norton, M. I., Sommers, S. R., Apfelbaum, E. P., Pura, N., & Ariely, D. (2006). Color blindness and interracial interaction: Playing the political correctness game. Psychological Science, 17(11), 949-953.

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