Let’s make sure that coronavirus doesn’t make hiring inequality even worse

By Jessica Quintana, Special to CalMatters

All of us are afraid of what the coronavirus pandemic means for our health and job security. My neighbors have said they’ve either been laid off, or live in fear of being laid off.

More than a 1 million Californians have filed for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks. We already know that communities of color aren’t as well positioned as their white counterparts to deal with this crisis. 

The longstanding racial wealth gap in this country means we are more likely to be in insecure jobs, to be underinsured, and to have smaller emergency funds to fall back on, if we have one at all.

As we look toward an eventual economic recovery, we need to make sure that everyone left without a job has a fair shot at getting back in the door.

The California Legislature has a chance to inject fairness into hiring at a time when it’s more critical than ever to low-income and minority communities. 

The TECH Act, Senate Bill 1241, sponsored by Sen. Lena Gonzalez of Long Beach, is an important step in fighting employment discrimination by encouraging the use of hiring technology tools that have been pretested to make sure they are not likely to result in bias. 

This change is urgently needed to finally move our hiring systems beyond biased assessments like IQ tests and resume scans that have excluded people from communities like mine for generations.

What’s not fair about our current system? It starts with the way large employers determine who even gets considered for job openings. I’ll use myself as an example: I am detail-oriented, have a head for numbers and am a team player. But you probably wouldn’t know that if you had to judge my talent in a six-second review of my resume – which is exactly what the average hiring manager has to do. 

Instead, you might draw a quick conclusion that I don’t fit the corporate culture based on the ethnic-sound of my name, the multiple minimum-wage jobs in my past, and my extra-curricular activities in the low-income Latino community where I live.

Although I never had an exclusive network or well-connected family members to help me get in the door, that doesn’t mean I’m not qualified. Unfortunately, those are the reasons why I’m statistically far less likely to get the job. And they are the same reasons why the Latino community members of Long Beach that I serve in my nonprofit work get shut out of opportunities even though they too are qualified in ways that the traditional resume doesn’t explain.

Despite our proud record of standing up for workers in California, employers here are using the same tired and biased hiring practices that are common throughout the rest of the country. The most frustrating part about it? These hiring methods, the ones that systematically exclude people like me and my community, have been enshrined into employment law.

So many people in the Long Beach community turn to Centro CHA for support in getting past these barriers. We support them by covering their transportation fare, job supplies like goggles or laptops, and even meals. Our programming teaches young people how to showcase their talents and get competitive jobs that they’re qualified for. But all of our efforts are undermined as long as employers are using biased screening practices in hiring. 

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Jessica Quintana is the executive director of Centro CHA, a nonprofit Latino human and social service agency in Long Beach, [email protected]

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