Dear Diversity Diva:
I am a midlevel supervisor who helps select resumes for my boss to interview applicants for upcoming openings. My boss has made very clear that she wants me to weed out applicants with Hispanic-sounding last names. I don’t like doing this but I also don’t want to upset my boss. What should I do?
Signed, Caught in the Middle
The obvious and easy answer is to go to the human resources department. That’s the right thing to do.
But there’s probably a couple of other things at play that make the answer less than direct. One is that you like the boss and don’t want to see her get into trouble. You want some free pass that allows you to do the right thing by the applicants while simultaneously protecting your boss and avoiding awkwardness.
Sorry, but that isn’t going to happen. You can continue doing what your boss wants, and no one may ever be the wiser. Or you can continue doing what your boss wants and then you may find yourself sitting across from a lawyer in a deposition for a case brought by a Hispanic applicant who brings a lawsuit. Now that will be uncomfortable.
You could try appealing directly to your boss and pointing out that what she is doing is unfair and not the most efficient use of your time. However, logic usually never defeats prejudice, so that will most likely not work. Also, and this may be one of your initial concerns, you would be left vulnerable to possible retribution once your boss realizes you’re not on the same page.
If you’re not going to report your boss to her boss or HR, then the next best thing is to do your job of sifting resumes and when you turn them over, make clear that you’ve picked the best applicants from the resumes, which includes any good picks that have a Hispanic-sounding last name. If she doesn’t like it, then both of you can take the issue to human resources together. Chances are, that will be the end of that.
That doesn’t mean that your boss may not be called on the carpet down the line since she will proceed to do her own “screening” or that you won’t be dragged into it. All it means is that you didn’t allow yourself to be a tool in willful discrimination and maybe your boss will be influenced by your example.