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I am currently applying for jobs in Canada, and most of the large companies I apply to make it clear during the application process that they are equal opportunity employers. Here's an example of one such declaration:

[Employer] is an equal opportunity employer that is committed to diversity and inclusion. At [Employer], employment decisions are made regardless of sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, race, ethnic origin, color, creed, religion, national origin, citizenship, age, marital status, physical or mental disability, genetic information or ancestry, protected Veteran or military status, or other characteristics protected by law.

But more often than not, that statement is followed by a (voluntary) questionnaire asking me about my gender and either my race from a menu or a Y/N asking if I'm part of a minority group.

If that information plays no part in the hiring process, why gather it? If people feel like they might be discriminated against for their answers it could certainly make them feel uncomfortable being asked those questions as a first step of the hiring process. If it's for separate statistical tracking, is it really worth making applicants feel uncomfortable? (or am I the only one to think it's weird?)

What's the value in having this information?

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In principle, this information is not available to the interviewers/decisions makers, but the company, in aggregate. Again, in principle, it could be used to examine who is applying and then who makes it through the interview process. If equal numbers of group A and group B apply, but you hire 75% group B, then there may be a bias on the interviewers' part against group A.

Or, if you live in a very diverse area, but only get applicants of one race, you might examine while applicants of other races are choosing not to apply to you.

For Canada specifically,

The Canadian Human Rights Commission conducts audits to determine if employers are meeting their legal obligations to offer equal employment opportunities to four designated groups: women, Indigenous persons, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.

In certain organizations, if representation of the four designated groups is lower than market availability in a specific industry, employers must implement practices that to demonstrate they are doing all they can to achieve equality in the workplace and fill gaps in representation.

Above all, employment equity is a matter of dignity. It offers everyone an opportunity to work and contribute to society. At the same time, employers benefit from a diversified and competent workforce, one that promotes inclusion in the work place.

It's very valid to feel uncomfortable providing information of this nature, but at least in Canada, employers have a legal obligation to ask. I assume the CHRC is aware of reporting irregularities between group members.

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    In principle is the operative phrase here. Very often — especially with smaller companies that only have one or two HR people — the entire application packet gets forwarded to the hiring manager. The questionnaire is a valuable tool for determining if the company is meeting its diversity goals. It’s also an equally powerful tool to enable the kind of discrimination it seeks to avoid. – Wes Sayeed Mar 4 at 18:00
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    @WesSayeed Definitely, although I wonder how many people end up affected based on the diversity questionnaire, not evidence from their resume (i.e. name, schools attended, clubs, etc.). – Azor Ahai -him- Mar 4 at 18:17
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The inevitable catch-22 of improving diversity hiring. Many (but not all) companies are making true efforts to improve the diversity of their hiring processes. But the only way they can tell if they are making a difference is to ask you the questions that you feel like they shouldn't.

As Peter Drucker said, “If you can't measure it, you can't improve it.” And the measuring requires gathering this information from the applicants. I think it comes down to whether you trust the company to separate this data gathering from the interview/evaluation process.

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Two reasons:

  1. It allows them to know the breakdown of both people who enter the hiring funnel and people who get hired. That can provide an early warning sign of a problem. For example, if you have a hiring manager who tends not to hire women, you won't detect it if you don't know what percentage of female applicants they hire and compare that to other hiring managers.

  2. It provides an early warning if there's a retention problem. For example, say you find that a much higher fraction of members of a particular race leave shortly after being hired, that would point you to some particular problem. Maybe you aren't hiring qualified candidates out of a mistaken attempt to increase diversity. Maybe you are hiring great people but something about your culture is driving them away.

Contrary to popular opinion, diversity hiring isn't about finding the handicapped black women and hiring them whether they're qualified or not. It's about making sure you're recruiting where there's a diverse talent pool, making sure you are hiring qualified candidates whatever they look like, and making sure you don't drive them away after you hire them. It's hard to spot where you're not doing this well without data.

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    I somewhat dispute your assertions around the purpose of diversity hiring. I feel like these things are what C-level executives and upper management say. Maybe ideally you are correct, but in the real world, it's all about meeting diversity hiring KPIs. – Gregory Currie Mar 4 at 14:40
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    Then you live in a world where executives are incompetent and bad at their jobs. I don't tolerate that. – David Schwartz Mar 4 at 16:46
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    To be a bit more precise, if a KPI is picked such that hitting that KPI doesn't require doing what the C-level executives and upper management want, then whoever picked that KPI should be fired. Upper management doesn't say things to hear themselves talk, they say things to instruct the company on what to do. If they allow KPIs that don't align with what they want, they're incompetent. And if they tolerate people below them who do that, they're, again, incompetent. That should not be tolerated. – David Schwartz Mar 4 at 17:33
  • One of the worst cancers a company can have is when people start saying or thinking "that's just stuff the CEO says" or "that's just stuff my manager says". That drives me crazy and if you see any of that in a company, immediately make it your mission to obliterate it because it will kill a company's ability to succeed. – David Schwartz Mar 4 at 17:35
  • I suppose my point is a KPI that reads "hiring qualified candidates whatever they look like" is very hard to quantify, but "increase number of women working here by 50%" is certainly something that can be quantified (presuming you have the data). Just an example of course. – Gregory Currie Mar 4 at 23:43
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I cannot speak to the Canadian legal system but that is how they can collect data to show they are following Equal Employment Opportunity laws and regulations. They don’t use that data for hiring decisions outside cases where things like affirmative action come into play. The hiring manager never gets to even see the data. It is often on a separate sheet and can be anonymously collected.

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Simple logic

  • Quotas exist because the natural outcomes are undesirable (whatever the reason of the outcome is: be it race/gender discrimination, randomness, Meritocracy).
  • In order to meet quotas, they have to ask for race and gender.
  • Given that achieving quotas serves a purpose (subsidies, PR), they'll seek to achieve them.

So logically they can't rely on judging applicants merely on their merit. Doing so, is likely to lead to natural outcomes. That is what happens in a mostly Capitalistic environment - you want the best possible employees for the least possible costs (in the most simple terms). "Randomness" (in the sense of lack of knowledge) is a factor that contributes to risk-calculations. We call this Meritocracy.

To those who find issues with the racial and gender setup in companies, Meritocracy must be ejected as a leading principle, and identity based selection has to take priority. Some years ago we called that "racism" and "sexism", or "unfair discrimination", but definitions have been conveniently changed.

Companies will find themselves in a position, where they are forced to hire for example black and/or female employees in order to meet said quotas. So they will have to reject applicants solely based on their race and/or gender. And they will hire applicants solely based on their race and/or gender.

While Meritocracy based companies do not have to know an applicant's race and gender, so called "Equal Opportunity" companies must know. So it's near certain they will reject applicants whose race or gender is unknown to them, especially when they have to meet the quota at that point in time. The things they say publicly are just generic PR statements - actions speak louder than words.

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In many big US IT companies (Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, etc.) the executive, director or manager bonuses are now tied to diversity metrics. These metrics require collecting employee statistics discriminated by gender and race. Most of the formal bonus definitions are internal documents that are not released publicly. (Private e-mail screenshots are sometimes shared anonymously on Blind). Some companies make a small part of their diversity incentives public.

Another reason is that without the employee gender and race statistics, the company is vulnerable for discrimination lawsuits.

My anecdotical personal experience was pretty interesting. When I was hired, I declined to state my race or gender in the forms as I'm not comfortable with the idea of racial and gender profiling. Within few days, however, I've received an e-mail telling me that although I can continue working at the company, they cannot pay me until I choose one of the two genders in my profile.

Some quotes and links regarding linking bonuses to diversity goals:

In 2014, Facebook began giving its staff recruiters more points for diversity hires, potentially leading to higher bonuses in its point-based incentive system. In 2015, Intel took a more direct step, offering $4,000 — double the typical bonus — to employees who referred diversity candidates the company ended up hiring. Following in tech companies’ footsteps, consulting firm Accenture said in 2016 it would boost bonuses to any of its 48,000 employees who referred diversity candidates. (Accenture, like Facebook, Google and Apple in the preceding years, released its internal data publicly, a move seen as a progressive step toward transparency.)

Microsoft expands the bonus program even to the partner companies directly rewarding them based on the diversity statistics:

In June 2015, Microsoft implemented a change in approach to rewardimprovements in the diversity of firm leadership. Participating firms are now eligible toearn bonus legal fees if they achieve concrete improvements in the diversity of firmleadership, leadership of the firm’s relationship to Microsoft, and partnership leadershipon Microsoft matters.

Uber is certainly not the first company to formally incorporate diversity goals into executive compensation programs. Microsoft and Intel disclose that 50% of executive annual cash bonuses are based on operational/strategic performance goals that include (among other things) diversity metrics.

Johnson & Johnson and Facebook also reward employees and executives for very specific goals tied to diversity and inclusion.

https://www.business.com/articles/performance-bonuses-diversity-goals/

https://about.fb.com/news/2016/07/facebook-diversity-update-positive-hiring-trends-show-progress/

http://www.intel.com/content/dam/www/public/us/en/documents/corporate-information/diversity-annual-report-2015-final.pdf

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/accenture-diversity-referral-bonus_n_56ba334ee4b08ffac122d474

https://www.pearlmeyer.com/blog/diversity-goals-in-executive-compensation-plans

https://news.yahoo.com/chipotle-executive-compensation-based-meeting-162842704.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/business/economy/corporate-diversity-pay-compensation.html

https://www.payscale.com/compensation-today/2019/03/tie-bonuses-to-diversity-goals

https://www.diversitybestpractices.com/sites/diversitybestpractices.com/files/attachments/2020/11/linking_diversity_to_compensation_0.pdf

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    Could you provide citations for your claims please? – Rick Mar 4 at 16:30
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    I've added more quotes and links. Thank you for helping me improve the answer. – Ark-kun Mar 5 at 6:51
  • @Ark-kun Only two genders to choose from? There are a lot more choices out there. You might want to mention to HR that they are discriminating against a lot of people by insisting that everyone has to fit within two genders. – David R Mar 5 at 21:16
  • The initial form had multiple options, but the follow-up one only had two (not even "other" or "prefer not to say"). The letter implied that they know it's inconvenient but need that information for some legal reasons - taxes or reporting or something. – Ark-kun Mar 5 at 21:58
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I know that in the USA they're required to collect this information ... although you have the prerogative to "decline to state." This information is collected for statistical purposes, to evidence compliance with the law, but it is stripped from your application. The hiring manager does not see it.

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    Hmm, I though if the applicant does not provide it, then a company person fills it in. How often do companies aggregate report is "50% this 49% that and 1% not disclosed"? – chux - Reinstate Monica Mar 4 at 3:16
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    I've initially declines, but after starting work I was told that I won't receive any salary until I choose one of two genders. That was in a top progressive IT company in one of the bluest states. – Ark-kun Mar 4 at 5:56
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    @Ark-kun It would be highly illegal for them not to pay you for work already performed. If an at-will employment state, they could end your employment without disclosing a reason... but they would still owe you the back pay. Merely the existence of a letter threatening to withhold past pay would end careers in their HR department. – Ben Voigt Mar 8 at 1:00
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The Canadian Human Rights Commission conducts audits to determine if employers are meeting their legal obligations to offer equal employment opportunities to four designated groups : women, Indigenous persons, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.

The phrasing of these questions across every major employer in Canada being the same isn't an accident. Having your data very specifically in the format which auditors want it will save you a mountain of time should their attention ever come your way.

The Commission is now preparing a new audit methodology. Effective December 2017, we will apply a new auditing concept — a horizontal auditing process. This means that we will audit several organizations at once, looking at a specific issue. For example, we might look at how well Indigenous people are represented within the banking industry or how well persons with disabilities are represented in the transportation industry. This approach will allow us to have a better understanding of what areas in Canada’s workforce are in most need of diversification.

If you are a major player in any Canadian industry there is reasonable concern that you will be part of these audits.

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Because whether intentionally or not, they have allowed racial characteristics to inform their hiring decisions. We have a word for people like that. But that's not the point I want to stress.

As you correctly note,

If that information plays no part in the hiring process, why gather it

There is no answer to that.

There's also a difference when gathering that data before, or after the hire. If they gather it before they hire you, there is no reason to think that it doesn't play a role in the hiring decision. To put it another way, a company that uses that data before hiring is indistinguishable from a company that doesn't.

As a sidenote, when a company says that

employment decisions are made regardless of [list of] characteristics protected by law

it is also impossible for you to verify whether they lie about that, or not.

As others have noted, while there's no rational reason to gather this data in the context of a non-racialised society, it could be a legal requirement. In fact it is in many places.

Still this answers the cause, but not the reason of why they gather that data. The reason is: Unfortunately, those Western societies which have enacted such laws have legally allowed race (and other demographic markers) to play a part on how we treat people. Again, we have a word for such behaviour. This decision undermines what was achieved by the Civil Liberties of the '60s in the US and elsewhere.

Now I have to take a moment to answer some comments I can foresee being written. The overarching theme in my answer to those hypothetical comments is: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I will elaborate.

  1. (a) There is historic racial inequality and (b) people of X race must be given a chance to catch up. Therefore, (c) we must preferentially hire people of race X so that they're brought up to speed.

(a) True, (b) true, (c) is not self-evident. I don't see how these rash, short-sighted, and short-term solutions will undo a problem of generations. They are rash because any attempt at discussion will brand you a racist if you're in disagreement. Therefore, no proper dialogue has been established in the common discourse. They are short-sighted because they lack any sort of analysis, and fail to account for the problems they are going to create. They are short-term because... well, we want a solution and we want it now.

One solution that I apply myself is the following: Treat people according to their actions and not according to their demographic. This is antithetical to law, as it stands.

  1. Preferential treatment of people from a non-dominant demographic is ultimately good to society, even if it causes short-term harm to the dominant demographic.

Again, not self-evident: How do you define when to end the regime of different treatment? How long is short-term, and how much "short-term" harm is acceptable, before we can agree the idea has gone too far? Finally (and most crucially): Why should anyone, from any demographic, allow themselves to be treated differently to anyone else?

When I listen to those activists who push such ideas, I'm left with the impression that they'll only be happy once the injustice inflicted on the non-dominant demographics is replicated entirely on the dominant demographic - and then some - for good measure. It is easy to see how this will lead to nothing but resentment - some of which will unfortunately be placed on those demographics granted preferential treatment. It is unknown how much damage this will do, or how it would be quantified, but the potential for severe damage is clearly there. To at least define the maximum of this hypothetical, one outcome might be a regression to a state before the Civil Liberties movement. I consider this unlikely, but not unfathomable.


By the way, earlier in the answer I said there's a word for that. Did you find the word yet? It's racism. Treating people differently based on their race. That's what the word is.

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I think you are missing the point.

Feel free to lie when answering these questions. Some answers are better than others. You should give the best answers.

The reason why doing this is pragmatic and beneficial to you is that you might gain an advantage and there is very little risk of anything negative happening.

The employees looking at your profile in a company that asks such question will be too terrified to ever question your gender.

It might happen that you get questioned on your origins if you don't look like the "race" you put there. Thankfully, american racial categories are bizarre at best and even if you can't pass as one of the good answers, you can use the single drop rule and say that you get that a lot. Even if the interviewer doesn't believe you, it doesn't really matter. The type of interviewer who cares will accept your answer because your good answers help them reach their quotas. The type of interviewer who doesn't care... won't care.

People who interview you because they will actually work with you will not give a second thought to either of these things and most likely not have access to your answers anyway.

In fact as other answers have said, in a number of jurisdictions such questions are there purely because of legal requirements. All the more reason to answer them in the way that is the most beneficial to the company should you be hired. Incidentally, those answers are also those that are the most detrimental to the company should you not be hired.

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    That's extremely cynical. I don't condone lying, so personally I never answer those questionnaires. But if putting food on the table is a priority, and if men can be women and women men if they say so, then this is ethically wrong and morally right at the same time. – rath Mar 4 at 19:00
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    @Kafein Worth noting that Canada does have Affirmative Action. So it's probably not as cynical as you think. – Gregory Currie Mar 5 at 0:16

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