IBM's Job Application Gaffe Holds an Important Lesson for All Employers
Posted: March 1, 2019
There is an important lesson for organizations of all sizes in an embarrassing moment from one of the world's best-known companies — check your job postings carefully before they go up on the Internet.
Questions about race and ethnicity are commonly included on U.S.-based company's application forms to help them track diversity and comply with affirmative action requirements. But an IBM application included terms that startled the applicant. The pull-down menu for the required field "Ethnic Group" displayed categories including "mullatto" and "yellow."
The applicant, who is an Asian-American, tweeted about his experience, and included a screen shot of the web application form, saying:
@ibm applied for a job on your career site. Are not these ethnic group labels a little antiquated? To make matters worse, I couldn't submit my application w/o selecting an option. I ended up selecting "Yellow" and "Coloured."
Lost in translation?
IBM responded a day later by apologizing and saying the job posting had been copied and translated from similar postings intended for positions in other countries. The company said that the categories included on the posting are required by the governments in Brazil and South Africa for census and other uses.
IBM replaced the questions from its application form to reflect U.S. standard terms including American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African-American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White. The revised application also gives applicants the option to refuse to provide an ethnic identifier.
Like other global companies, IBM must localize content to comply with a wider variety of regulations and cultural norms than most businesses when designing its job applications and other forms. But every organization can avoid a similar error — and, potentially, public embarrassment — by ensuring that all job postings and other public documents are reviewed carefully before they go live.
Posted In: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII); Human Resources, General; Hiring/Recruiting; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Want to know more? Read the full article by Tim McElgunn at HR Morning