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Abt Team Analyzes Racial Bias in Employment Processes


  • Racial bias can be present in any step of the employment process.
  • An Abt team is analyzing how the processes contribute to racial disparities.
  • The team will issue a report on strategies to combat bias in September 2023.
The Challenge

Racial bias can be present in any step of the employment process. That includes how jobs are advertised, applications are screened, tasks and work hours are assigned, mentoring is offered, compensation is set, and retention and promotion decisions are made. To improve racial equity in employment, the many groups involved or interested in those employment processes—workers, employers, and organizations, policymakers, and researchers who work to improve employment outcomes—must understand the ways employment processes contribute to racial disparities in employment outcomes. With a rapidly changing labor market and increased demands for racial equity in all areas, information about racial barriers in the workplace has taken on greater urgency.

To address these issues, the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded an Abt Global-led team a contract valued at up to $1.5 million to analyze how employment processes in the low-wage labor market contribute to racial disparities in employment.

The Approach

The Abt team will review what is known about how employment processes can present barriers for workers of color and explore and identify potentially promising strategies to address biases in the low-wage labor market. The team will assess the presence of racial bias and barriers in various phases of the employment process, including how employers advertise jobs, screen applications, assign tasks and work hours, offer mentoring, set compensation, and decide on retention and promotions. The project will center on the experiences of people of color who have lived experience in low-wage work, engaging them in the development of all project activities and products.

Project activities include a literature review and collecting insights from relevant stakeholders, who can provide diverse perspectives on problems and potential solutions. The literature review will document practices that aim to detect and address racial bias. It will also suggest interventions that merit further exploration. The literature review, which will be informed by consultation with research experts from across disciplines, will be a public-facing document and disseminated widely.

The project team’s engagement of workers, employers, policymakers, and program operators will provide insights on employment processes, how they affect workers of color, and how they might be improved.

The Abt team will use insights from the literature review and conversations with workers of color and other individuals experienced with employment processes to help identify promising strategies to combat bias at various stages. In consultation with OPRE, the Abt team will conduct site visits to four sites that are implementing seemingly promising anti-bias strategies to understand how they work, the experiences of staff members and participants, whether they might be good prospects for more in-depth evaluation, and how they might be studied.

Abt is leading the project in partnership with Dr. Susan Lambert at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Public Policy, and Practice. Dr. Harry Holzer at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy is a senior advisor to the team.

The Results

This project began in September 2021 and continued through September 2023. The project’s report will present findings and propose research questions for future inquiry and potential study designs to answer them.

Relevant Webinar:

Engaging Employers to Disrupt Racial Bias in the Workplace: Strategies for Workforce Practitioners


Employment Processes as Barriers to Employment in the Lower-Wage Labor Market: Literature Review