The Adverse Impact of Web-Based Hiring on Minorities

I have come to believe that businesses have a lot of the most interesting and useful data around. Here is yet another example of how, with the right data, an incredibly simple analysis can make an important point in an extremely convincing way.

JobApp Network helps other companies to hire. Applications can be made either over the phone or online. Edgar Johns, an employee at JobApp Network, analyzed data his company had on over 25,000 applicants to restaurant and retail job positions.

Looking at means in the data, he found something striking. Of those job seekers applying by phone, more than 40 percent were minorities. When it came to applying over the web, the share of minorities fell to less than 20 percent. His conclusion: as firms move more and more toward taking only online applications, there could be an adverse impact on minority applicants.

You can read the whole analysis here.

I’ve heard people argue this point without data before, but I’ve never been convinced. While minorities, overall, do have less high-speed internet access at home, it would seem conceivable that internet access would not be that different among the types of people applying for similar jobs. Also, in principle, access to internet at places outside the home (e.g. schools or libraries) might be sufficient.

Data make the point in a way conjecture and anecdote cannot.


Levitt points out that all such individuals in the JobApp study were applying for similar hourly jobs--it's not as if the internet applicants were applying for jobs at Google, while phone applicants were applying for minimum wage restaurant jobs.

Above and beyond all questions of causality, doesn't really matter whether there were socio-economic or age factors at work...disparate impact on minorities is purely measured in terms of the end-result or outcome, even if caused by a facially neutral policy--like the requirement to submit resumes or job applications by web.

Griggs v Duke Power Co. was the Supreme Court case that effectively established the disparate impact theory of liability back in the 1970s and in 2007 FedEx paid $54.9 million in a disparate impact class-action settlement.

Just google: fedex disparate impact settlement


Interesting, overall, comments. Our Midwestern company seems to have a very good balance of physical applications (obtainable at every store) and online interactive application submittals.

Our company has a great philosophy of judging an application upon the substance, not the name of an applicant. All of our candidates are given fair and due consideration, assessment and opportunity based upon such substance. We pride ourselves on being an E.O.E., which we would be, even if it weren't a written mandated law. I think the thought of "dumbing-down" an application process is detrimental to assessing the competency of a candidate. There's room for a balance of multiple avenues of application.

In specificity: I'm not sure about the results of this report. I (personally) would not be called "minority" because of my cultural background; however, I do not have personal access to internet at home. I believe there's more of a geographical factor at play, here. Note: I live in a very rural area, with no high-speed access. Plus, factor cost in, along with the cost of other necessities and sometimes Internet (even dial-up) doesn't come up on the list of must-haves. Overall, there's still room to prove that "minorities lack internet access". To truly understand the percentages, I think we need to see the database numbers, when comparing pool groups.

And, at some point, the candidate bears the responsibility of doing the leg-work to find a job. This is yet another indicator of self-initiation and work ethic.



Are we really still using the term "minority" in this sense? Seriously? Wow.

George Lenard

This comment by Bob may well be correct: "once one controls for age, income, education, etc., the race thing fades."

However, strictly as a legal matter, that correction will not likely be made by courts. A court ruling on a disparate impact racial discrimination case will approach the statistics exclusively in terms of "the race thing."

A prima facie case of discrimination can be made based on a sufficient showing that the employer uses selection methods that, on the whole, disproportionately preclude minorities or result in workforces not sufficiently reflective of the minority composition of the qualified population in the relevant geographic area.

At that point, the employer has the very difficult burden of proving that the selection methods used are, in essence, the best possible methods.

With a company such as JobApp Network providing a model of an easy way to reduce or eliminate the disparate impact of Internet-only applications at minimum cost and with no sacrifice of quality, I suspect meeting this burden will be virtually impossible for most businesses.

This is, necessarily, an oversimplification of some complex employment law. But the bottom line is that I think A. Verkerke is correct to the extent that this Internet-application issue will be one factor contributing to increasing disparate impact litigation.

However, such litigation had been relatively dormant for much longer than just the Bush administration years, and the increase has already been underway for several years. This trend does not require any legislative change to encourage its continuance.

George Lenard



I am familiar with IVR or phone-based job application processes and I can say with absolutely certainty that going through a complete job application by phone will take substantially longer than by web. Therefore, unless minorities enjoy wasting their time more than non-minorities, minorities are exhibiting a preference to apply by phone out of necessity--they don't have have convenient internet access.


For a year, My girlfriend worked in tutoring and educational support at a vocational college in downtown Buffalo, one whose student population was overwhelmingly minority. She was constantly surprised at how many students lacked fundamental computer literacy: double-clicking, selection, online forms, web navigation, file organization... I have no idea what the percentage of said students actually was. A quarter? A third? Maybe even half?

If these skills are being taught in high schools, they're being taught poorly or ineffectively, or are not be promoted with appropriate urgency. And what of those who attended high school before computing skills were taught. I'm disappointed, but not at all surprised, to read these statistics.

A. Verkerke

It is quite ironic that this is being discussed today, a day that has seen the Democrats make huge in-roads in the Congress, the Senate and obviously he Executive Branch. I think that it is now a forgone conclusion that legislation LIKE the "Civil Rights Act of 2008" will be passed. What is the implication of this? I strongly believe that we see a tidal wave of disparate impact lawsuits, which had been a largely dormant area of employment law under the Bush administration. If you read, the blog, you'll see a few posts on this subject dating back to Jan 2008.

Mr. Fuji

Is it really a case of limited internet access for minorities? Perhaps it is that they want to represent themselves in the best way possible. Speaking with someone over the phone demonstrates that you have a good command of English,are somewhat well-spoken, and can communicate clearly.

I am a caucasian who has acquired an oriental last name through my mother's marriage- I always try to call or meet propsective employers rather than email, as I am afraid that I will be dismissed witout being given a chance.

I have always worried that people will (purposefully or not) think I am "not from here", and assume that my language skills are poor, or apply other prejudices. Yes, this is illegal, but I'm afraid racial bias is still alive and well in our society.

Being white, but with a parent of oriental descent also lets me peek into both worlds: I hear what white people say & do regarding minorities, and I also get a small perspective on how minorities can be affected by the anglo-centric western society.



Is outside the home internet access really enough? Yes, anyone can access the internet from schools, libraries, etc. but you have to know that it's available and have a certain comfort level using it in order to apply for jobs. I wonder how much education/comfort with technology plays a role.


This study suggests that people who use computers to apply for jobs tend to be different than those who use phones to apply for jobs. I suspect that once one controls for age, income, education, etc the race thing fades.


"Data make the point in a way conjecture and anecdote cannot."

True but Einstein did a thing or two with conjecture and anecdote. Additionally, I urge caution with "the point." Data doesn't make any point on its own.

Some questions...what did the % breakout of phone to web look like? Ie did the vast majority of people use the web? 40% of 2% isn't much. What is the minority representation in the generator (% the people of the area studied). Which minority group was more likely to win a job or was there any difference, the phone or web. Is it simply an expressed preference, meaning do minorities use option 1 (phone) over option 2 (web) until option 1 is eliminated..what would the dropout rate look like? I'd also put forth that "minority" the tag is lazy, ethnic groups might be more interesting. This may all be in the study. I should be less lazy myself and look.

Last...all my life I've NEVER applied for any job over the phone...not sure how that works. It's been in person (pre internet) or over the web. I've had much better luck calling and showing up in person.

In the end I think it would boil down to digital divide based on opportunity, based on education and economic background.


Jacob C

Seems to me that data indicates a general preference of minorities to apply by phone. I'm not sure why we jump to the conclusion that minorities apply by phone because they can't apply over the internet. The data doesn't support that conclusion. In fact, that conclusion seems a little racist.

Ethan Stanislawski

One possible explanation I've heard: when employers see an unusual name on an internet application, they are less likely to select that person out of fear of mispronouncing the name. They want to avoid the embarrassment of having to struggle with the name, but as a result those minorities aren't hired.


If minorities are more likely to live in areas where the library and school don't have internet access, well, this isn't a shock.


It might be instructive to have broken them down into different minority groups rather than collapsing it all into a broad label "minority." We can then see if this analysis reflects different opportunities (like Carolyn said, if they are less likely to have internet, that's to be expected). Or, we could see if the conditions of rational discrimination apply; in which non-Asian minorities who have benefited from affirmative action are logically viewed as less desirable applicants than those with identical paper qualifications.

Tom K

I hire people and our hiring front door is the Internet. So we don't know who is or isn't minority. What we do know is that a lot of people can't spell or use proper grammar- these people have no chance at being hired for customer service jobs.


I just assisted more than 10 people in filling out either a paper or online application for an entry-level federal job. It was extremely frightening to see how different people interpreted the paper form. I don't think one person filled in all the required blanks, let alone placed the right info in those blanks.

Online, at least the form couldn't be submitted without all of the fields being entered. In this case, I think the minority applicants were more likely to use the computer.

Is remedial form-filling-in taught in high school? I really felt for these folks, but understood why they probably were entry-level despite their various ages.


Though this does show that minorities are not using the internet to apply for positions, it does not show why. If this company wants to truely make a point, they need to add questions that would define why they chose that method. They need to add markers for what their access to the internet/phone is (public, family, communal). This would better clarify the data at hand. As well what is the ratio of internet:phone for those applicants that didn't state sex or race.

Blake Helppie (JobApp Network)

Another very interesting pattern, which Edgar did not address in this initial study, is the relationship between EEO status, mode of application and LANGUAGE of application.

Of those applicants who choose to apply for jobs in SPANISH, over 80% actually apply by phone using our multilingual IVR portal, while less than 20% apply by web in Spanish.

This was also a FREAK-worthy pattern that Edgar identified, but did not write about in this study.


Some points to consider:

The study ignores the socio-economic difference and focuses on "minority" as the explanation. We all know there is a very strong relationship between these two. The study had a large enough sample that they might have corrected for this by using the demographics at each site to account for respondent ethnicity versus socio-economic differences.

JobApp says nothing about age in the analysis. This would impact web based applicants in a huge way.