The US unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 5.3% on Friday – the lowest unemployment rate in seven years. Yet there is one group whose unemployment rate is still close to 10%: African Americans.
Black unemployment has been about twice as high as that of white Americans since 1954, the earliest that the Department of Labor has unemployment rate by race. In June, the unemployment rate for black Americans was 9.5%. That's more than twice the unemployment rate of white Americans, which was 4.6%.
One of the main reasons why racial inequality persists in the workforce, according to experts, is because of the way employees recommend others for jobs in their workplace.
"There is almost no attention to the bias for people, specifically that whites are biased in preference for other whites and provide information, opportunity and influence on behalf of people that they think of as like them," said Nancy DiTomaso, professor at Rutgers Business School, author of The American Non-dilemma: Racial Inequality without Racism and expert in diversity in labor force.
A while back DiTomaso went to a conference where she met a CEO who wanted to hire more black employees. He knew all about unconscious bias, was attuned to issues of diversity and was passionate about changing middle management composition which he said was "too male, stale and pale."
"That was his language, not mine," she said. "And yet at dinner that night, one of the HR people proudly said that most of the people they hired were recommended by their current employees. [The CEO] had never thought about that. He was so focused on ridding the company of bias against non-whites, he never considered that maybe what was reproducing the lack of diversity in the middle management was that they were hiring the friends of their current middle managers."
DiTomaso points out that Americans still live a very segregated life with whites "disproportionately in the positions with higher income, more influence, more skills and training." As such companies need to pay attention to their entire hiring process as well as what kind of candidates are coming down the pipeline thanks to current employees' references.