I graduated from the university last year and the company that had offered me internship hired me as a HR officer. A month ago, I was part of an interviewing panel. One of the interviewing candidates had an unusually spelled name so I asked about her ethnicity. My boss later gave me a tongue lashing, saying I was disrespectful. Is it wrong to express such curiosity towards interviewees?
I do not know what other reason your boss may have given after rebuking you, but I think he/she was ashamed that your question may imply that ethnicity plays a factor in the recruitment of the organisation. That said, I have a few questions for you: why were you curious about the interviewee’s name? What were you planning to do with the answer given? Would your final evaluation of the candidate have been different if you had not known her tribe? Does any of your answers have any relevance to the competencies you require of the candidates?
The truth is that while most interviewers abhor any mention of one’s tribe during an interview, they all go ahead and name-profile their candidates consciously or subconsciously since most of our names betray our ethnicity anyway. Whether we ask or not, therefore, it does not matter, this is obvious, except in a few cases like the one you describe.
The truth is that we all have come across organisations that are highly populated with people from the same ethnic background, the false explanation being that “the process was merit-based and we picked the best.” So yes, we need to drop this pretence that one’s ethnicity does not matter in an interview and confront it by acknowledging it as a serious problem in many recruitments.
In fact, if we were to be serious about this and analyse the ethnic demographics in our organisations, most employers are likely to be more inclusive by hiring diverse and equally qualified candidates.
We see similar stereotype biases applied on gender, disability, appearance and institutions of learning yet these discriminatory practices are excused while many deserving candidates suffer in silence. The onus is on each organisation to redefine their recruiting processes and eliminate ways that create unconscious biases.
And if you have an organisation that is heavily leaning on one ethnic group, set new targets for your HR chief and challenge them to source diverse candidates without compromising on quality, skills and competencies.