#AskaLocalizer 2: Addressing Bias in Hiring

Dear AskaLPM, 

Someone in a group of U.S. localization hiring managers said, “{Insert ethnicity here} people aren’t leaders and aren’t fit for leadership roles.” I understand where the stereotype comes from. People of the ethnicity mentioned are from a society that isn’t so individualistic in nature like the U.S. However, for differing societal values to be equated with a lack of skills necessary for leadership is even more problematic in the localization industry than elsewhere, in my opinion. You’d think practitioners in our industry would know better than most, but I see it all the time. A super qualified Person of Color applies for a role, only to be passed over because they have no management experience, for instance. Later a Caucasian without management experience will be hired for the exact same role, the justification being that the Caucasian can be trained on the job. It makes me sick to think of the number of applicants that have been passed over for leadership roles, simply because the applicant had an ethnic sounding name. 

I escalated the bias in our hiring systems to my boss, along with recommendations on how bias can be mitigated in hiring broadly, but my boss didn’t like being called out like that at all. I’ve been labeled as “difficult to work with” with the corresponding repercussions to my project assignments, job title, and income, and the recommendations I made for starting to fix our biased hiring processes were completely ignored. The company is very diverse at the entry level, but white people keep being hired and promoted into leadership roles. 


Not Enough Influence to Effect Change 

Dear Not Enough Influence, 

What you’ve experienced is reminiscent of research conducted by Jennifer Freyd on institutional betrayal. According to the Center for Institutional Courage, institutional betrayal occurs  “when an institution causes harm to people who depend on it” (The Call to Courage). In the Human Centered podcast episode “Sexual Violence & Institutional Courage,” Freyd discusses the institutional courage needed to address institutional betrayal. She notes that people who speak up about betrayal tend to be loyal to their organizations. They tend to speak up out of a sense of duty. Where Freyd would recommend that they be publicly praised for their courage to decrease the likelihood of retaliation and ensure that big problems are not left unaddressed, she notes that people who speak up often encounter a “shoot the messenger” mentality instead, in which they are punished for bringing attention to shortcomings in the environment, and then, the shortcomings go on. In fact, she recalled a meeting with senior executives who had a bigger problem with the term “institutional betrayal” than they did with actual sexual violence. 

Knowing the labels that researchers give to talk about what you’ve experienced may not seem like much help, beyond knowing that you’re not alone and that what you’ve experienced is normal. (I wish it weren’t!) I’m very sorry that your career growth has been so impacted. That’s not right, even if you know that you wouldn’t want projects, income, and titles that are contingent upon your remaining silent about racism in the workplace. Understanding that reports of institutional betrayal tend to cause a flight or fight response for those who are unaccustomed to addressing systematic racism and sexism may help you to frame the conversation as you continue your work to address bias in hiring. Begin any report you make by acknowledging that no organization in the U.S. is free from systemic racism and sexism, since society was built upon them. Go on to observe that when people are told about manifestations of racism and sexism, they are likely to experience fight or flight, which studies show tend to result in Denying, Attacking, and then Reversing the Victim and the Offender (What is DARVO?). Affirm your loyalty to your organization and the fact that you are speaking up about the issues you’ve identified out of a sense of duty. That framing may create a safer space for you to report on manifestations of systemic racism in hiring and for your boss to hear you out. If not, document as much as you can. 

I agree that the localization industry tends to see itself as immune from issues of racism and sexism by virtue of its multiculturalism, even while People of Color, women, and gender non-conforming people are not represented equally in leadership and upper management roles. I don’t agree, however, that as an individual hiring manager you don’t have the influence necessary to effect change to the degree to which you’d like. See the “How the Best Bosses Interrupt Bias on Their Teams” article provided below for more on that, along with additional resources you could consider sharing with your team to help people come around to the need to address bias no matter how it manifests in your work environment. 

Above all, keep your chin up and continue this good fight. Your commitment to “seek[ing]… truth and engag[ing] in moral action, despite unpleasantness, risk, and short-term cost” is the very definition of institutional courage (The Call to Courage).  

Kind regards, 


Resources for Addressing Bias in Hiring in Localization or Any Field

  • How the Best Bosses Interrupt Bias on Their Teams by Joan C. Williams and Sky Mihaylo – This article is awesome for the day-to-day ways it gives that we can each personally address bias in our work that per the authors require little time and political capital, making issues that often feel too large and overwhelming feel addressable. For instance, the authors recommend that “[i]n hiring, leaders should insist on a diverse pool, precommit to objective criteria, limit referral hiring, and structure interviews around skills-based questions.”
  • Why Diverse Teams are Smarter by David Rock and Heidi Grant – In this article, Rock and Grant show a study in which “diverse panels raised more facts related to the case than homogenous panels and made fewer factual errors while discussing available evidence. If errors did occur, they were more likely to be corrected during deliberation. One possible reason for this difference was that white jurors on diverse panels recalled evidence more accurately.” The implications of these findings are truly scary to think about, given the number of homogenous groups currently in power in institutions throughout the country. Is it a convenient amnesia that homogenous groups undergo when misremembering facts and failing to observe biases that favor them?
  • Implementing Inclusive Policies Across a Global Organization by Nataly Kelly – In this article, Kelly addresses how to translate Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging policies that originate in U.S. companies for worldwide locations in a way that consistently conveys a brand’s values. In this article, she discusses how inclusivity affects objectives when conducting research on locations for global expansion, worldwide anti-racism training that can help employees outside the U.S. relate to their U.S. counterparts and from which lessons can be drawn for addressing racism and sexism internationally, and how the desire to communicate with inclusive language in localized interfaces requires customized solutions for each of the languages in which a company operates.

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