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Why is my application asking for my race and gender?

Have you ever been going through a job application and come to a section where all of a sudden it wants to know all of the details you thought companies were never supposed to ask for? They need your gender, your race, and ethnicity, your disability status, your veteran status, and now you feel unsure if you should continue with the application.

Will putting my true gender or race lead to discrimination? What about if I am disabled, will they not want me, and just throw my application in the trash?   These concerns are normal, so let us guide you through a bit of the fine print.  

The first thing you should look for when you are asked these questions in a job application is a blurb that looks like this:

“We prohibit discrimination and harassment of any kind based on race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, genetic information, pregnancy, or any other protected characteristic as outlined by federal, state, or local laws.”

This type of notice that specifies that your answers are “anonymous” or subject to “nondiscrimination” laws lets you know that the company you are applying to isn’t gathering this information to compare you to other candidates, or to target or exclude any one group.

No matter what, NO ONE should ever be looking at your demographic information prior to selecting you for an interview, interviewing you, or hiring you.

Your answers to these demographic questions (race, gender, age, etc.) are kept separate from the rest of the application. No hiring manager should ever be looking at individual responses to these questions thinking, “Hey, this person has a disability, we don’t want them.”

So why are these race and gender questions there?

These questions are there for the exact opposite reason. Companies include them to make sure they aren’t discriminating against people with certain backgrounds, not to make it easier. They are meant only for reporting and analysis purposes in aggregate, not for looking at one person’s answers in particular.   Companies gather this data for three main reasons:

  1. To make sure they are maintaining non-discriminatory, ethical, and legal hiring practices;
  2. To measure the validity of their process (i.e. make sure one group isn’t being eliminated at a higher rate than others);
  3. To send this information to the government.

Wait, why are they sending my information to the government?

There are two reasons the company might send information to the government:  

  1. EEOC Compliance

Generally, if a company has 100 employees or more, or is owned by/affiliated with a company with 100(+) employees, they are required by law to submit an Equal Employment Opportunity report (EEO-1) each year to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This report includes a lot of information (including employee stats) that is reported in aggregate. That means they aren’t reporting anything about individuals, just about big picture numbers for the company overall (aggregate statistics). The company may decide to gather these stats during the hiring process just to make this reporting task easier. But unless you are hired, they won’t be sending your information anywhere. If the company has 15 or more employees who have worked there for the last 20 calendar weeks, they aren’t required by law to send the report. However, they still have to maintain compliance with the EEOC laws. This means they may gather the data to keep themselves in check.  

  1. OFCCP Compliance

Companies that have government contracts (there are more than you think) are held to the requirements of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). The OFCCP is there to protect against discrimination in employment due to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, or status as a protected veteran. This requires a lot of records to be kept and sent in, including records on job applicants. This is to be able to identify and fix any discrimination found.  

Still uncomfortable answering these questions?

Even after all this reassurance, there are always some people who worry that hiring managers will see their responses and try to put the “right” answers to these demographic questions. But lying doesn’t help anybody. 

If you don’t want to put down the truth, don’t lie, that just messes up the statistics they’re trying to keep. Instead, just choose the “non-response” option. You should be able to either leave the questions blank or choose an option such as “Choose not to disclose” or “I do not wish to self-identify”.  

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