Research finds we’re bad at guessing race over the phone

It is a sad fact of the workplace that often we’re judged long before we even enter the office. For instance, we already know that having an “ethnic-sounding” name can reduce the chances that your resume even makes it out of the slush pile. A phone screening is another time when one’s ethnicity or race — perceived or otherwise — could put one at an unfair disadvantage.

To add a wrinkle: A new study finds that we’re pretty bad at guessing people’s identities correctly over the phone.

Even when we’ve heard what someone sounds like on the phone over a significant period of time, we’re bad at guessing the race and ethnicity of the person on the other end of the line. That’s what a new Pew Research Center telephone survey found when interviewers asked 3,769 adults one final question on an unrelated survey: “[I]f you had to guess, would you say I am white, black, Hispanic, Asian or some other race?”

This last question tripped up many of the respondents. The answers were mostly incorrect. Roughly half (49%) failed to identify the race or ethnicity of the interviewer correctly, while 40% guessed correctly. (Eleven percent of respondents refused to answer the question.)

While seven in ten respondents were able to guess the identity of white interviewers, the participants had lower chances of correctly guessing the identities of non-white interviewers, even when the poll respondent shared the same identity as the interviewer. Respondents were able to correctly guess the identity of black interviewers half of the time, 43% of the time with Hispanic interviewers, and only 3% of the time with Asian interviewers.

Studies: The sound of your voice may determine if you get that callback

The results of this survey are one more reminder that your gut instincts don’t always lead to the right answer.

This analysis could have wide-ranging implications for phone interviews, given that previous studies found we act differently depending on who we think is…

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