IBM apologised Tuesday after one of its recruitment Web pages gave applicants the option of using racially insensitive terms to identify themselves. The process took job seekers to a drop-down menu that included “yellow” and “mulatto” with Caucasian, black and other options.
The IT services company said the application had been automatically imported from job postings in countries where governments still use the classifications in census or other demographic data. However, this particular job, an interaction design internship, was based in the US.
“Our recruiting websites temporarily and inappropriately solicited information concerning job applicant ethnicity, based on local government requirements in Brazil and South Africa,” Edward Barbini, IBM’s vice president of corporate communications, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Those questions were removed immediately when we became aware of the issue and we apologise.”
The issue came to light after Richard Park, a New York-based job applicant, posted videos on Twitter last week.
“Aren’t these ethnic group labels a little antiquated,” the designer tweeted at IBM. “To make matters worse, I couldn’t submit my application w/o selecting an option. I ended up selecting “Yellow” and “Coloured.”
The selections included options like “Not a Brazil National” and “Not a South African National,” suggesting the question was specific to those nations.
“I understand different countries/cultures have their own understandings about race, but I applied from the United States to a job located in the United States,” Park tweeted last week. “With that context, I think it’s reasonable to expect not to be labeled Yellow, Colored, Mulatto, etc.”
Yellow is an ethnic slur that has been applied to people of Asian descent since the 1700s. Terms like “yellow peril” were used to stoke fears about East Asian immigrants coming to the US in the late 1800s.
Mulatto is a Spanish term that was used to describe people of mixed European and African heritage. Though considered offensive in the US, it is still used in Latin America, but not widely, according to Pew Research Center.
Coloured was originally a social term used to refer to mixed-race people in South Africa, which later became a legal designation during decades of apartheid. It was abolished in the 1990s when apartheid ended and the legal classification system was abandoned, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The site has since switched to ethnic designations that are standard in the United States, Barbini said, such as “Asian” and “Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.” It also allows applicants to check “unknown” or “not indicated.”
“IBM hiring is based on skills and qualifications. We do not use race or ethnicity in the hiring process and any responses we received to those questions will be deleted,” Barbini said in the statement. “IBM has long rejected all forms of racial discrimination and we are taking appropriate steps to make sure this does not happen again.”