IBM apologizes for using insensitive ethnic labels on job application

IBM apologizes for using insensitive ethnic labels on job application
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IBM apologized on Tuesday for asking job applicants to identify their ethnicity from a list of racially insensitive categories that included "yellow," "mulatto" and "coloured."

The job application posted the selections under a drop-down menu that featured other options such as "Caucasian" and "black."

The company told The Hill that the application asked questions based on local requirements in Brazil and South Africa. The selections were first reported by The Washington Post, which noted they appeared for a design internship based in the U.S.


“Our recruiting websites temporarily and inappropriately solicited information concerning job applicant ethnicity, based on local government requirements in Brazil and South Africa,” IBM spokesman Edward Barbini said in a statement to The Hill.

“Those questions were removed immediately when we became aware of the issue and we apologize,” he added.

Job applicant Richard Park brought the issue to light when he tweeted a video showing the drop-down list last week.

".@ibm applied for a job on your career site. Aren’t these ethnic group labels a little antiquated?" he wrote. "To make matters worse, I couldn’t submit my application w/o selecting an option. I ended up selecting 'Yellow' and 'Coloured.'" 

"Not a Brazil National" and "Not a South African National" also appeared among the categories, suggesting the question was designed for applicants in those countries. 

The company responded to Park on Twitter last week saying that the categories were the result of a translation error.

"Hi Rich. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. The insensitive language, which resulted from an auto translation, has been removed from the Brazil recruiting website," IBM Jobs tweeted from its verified account.

"Some of our recruiting websites have been translated incorrectly, and we apologize," the account added in another tweet. "We have removed the insensitive language and are reviewing all sites to ensure there are no further issues."

IBM has since transitioned to ethnic categories, such as "Asian" and "Native American" that are standard in the U.S., Barbini told the Post. The site will also allow for an "unknown" or "not indicated" option. 

“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.”

Updated at 5:04 p.m.