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Religious bias and your resume

Employers'  fear is that visible signs of religious association, such as hijabs or crosses, will offend some of their clients.
Employers' fear is that visible signs of religious association, such as hijabs or crosses, will offend some of their clients.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In recent studies, researchers discovered job applicants might want leave religious organizations off their resumes. It seems religious discrimination often plays a substantial role in the hiring process, reports BBC. In the US, identical, fictional resumes were sent out. Those which listed membership in student religious organizations received far fewer responses from employers than those which did not mention religion. Unfortunately job candidates seldom discover it was the religious information on their resumes or social media sites which lost them the job.

Discrimination was stronger in the south, according to the studies. In the north there was greater religious diversity, and people tended to be more tolerant of other faiths. Employers are people too and may have their own personal prejudices against certain faiths or religion in general. It is also thought people who decide to disclose their religious beliefs, or lack of them, on their job resumes may be more likely to discuss religion at the workplace and possibly clash with co-workers. Recruiters wonder whether such people will disrespect people from a different religious affiliation or those with no religious beliefs at all.

Michael Wallace is a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut and a co-author of the studies, he described a privatization of religion taking place in the US. “We’re perfectly willing to acknowledge the right to religious freedom, but we prefer that religion not be present in public places like schools or workplaces, where there will likely be people with diverse religious beliefs,” he said

In certain situations religious affiliation actually helped the hiring process. For some reason in southern states, Jewish people had an edge over other applicants. In the south the dominant religion is Christianity, and Muslims, pagans and atheists were the recipients of the most prejudice, followed closely by Roman Catholics. Even evangelical Christians experienced a little discrimination in the south, employers tended to favor the resumes which were entirely secular. In New England, Muslim candidates were rejected the most, receiving one-third fewer responses from employers. There was also an indication of discrimination against atheists, pagans and Roman Catholics.

An applicant’s religious content on social-media could also be problematic. These days sites are checked to screen out undesirable applicants, some recruiters look at religious denominations. Joyce Dubensky, CEO of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding in New York City said, “There’s a belief that people come to work and leave religion at the office door, and that they should.” She continued, “The truth is, that just doesn’t happen. Religion is an important way in which people define themselves and employers need to learn how to manage people of different religions as the workplace becomes more and more diverse.”

An interesting note to the study of American workers was that not only do members of religious minorities and atheists feel ostracized by employers, but the Christian majority also felt discrimination in the workplace was a serious problem. Once applicants got to the interview stage, religious preferences became more pronounced. The EEOC number of complaints from job candidates charging employers with religious discrimination during interviews has nearly doubled since 9/11, particularly with Muslims.

Employers say their fear is that visible signs of religious association, such as hijabs or crosses, will offend some of their clients. According to Jeanne Goldberg, senior attorney advisor at the EEOC, “Customer preference is not a defense in a religious discrimination case.” Religious discrimination seems to be most problematic for recent graduates. Due to the small amount of work experience to show on their resume, students attempt to show their potential by including leadership positions they held in religious groups on campus.

Dubensky said, “It’s a troubling phenomenon that people have to consider hiding their religion, but it’s something that you have to think about if you want to get the job. On the other hand, some candidates may want to reveal their religious identity to steer clear of discriminatory employers.” She added, “I know a star candidate who received a management job offer from a global financial services company, but she went to a competitor that was known to be more hijab-friendly.”

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