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Religion and resumes: the bigger picture

Two new studies on religious affiliation and hiring discrimination show that recent graduates are better off deleting references to campus religious groups from their resumes.
Kelsey Dallas, Deseret News Modified: June 20, 2014 at 4:41 pm •  Published: June 23, 2014

Religious college graduates have some resume revising to do, according to two new studies from a group of University of Connecticut sociologists.

The field experiments on the relationship between religious affiliation and hiring discrimination showed that mentioning involvement in campus religious groups on a resume hurts an applicant's chances of hearing back from potential employers.

"Overt religious expression in the workplace — regardless of the specific religion — may be perceived as potentially offensive to coworkers, clients or customers," the researchers explained. They correctly predicted that employers would respond at a lower rate to resumes that mentioned religion.

But what some employers don't understand, explained human resources consultant Joyce Dubensky, is that religion isn't always the primary focus of a religious employee's day.

"If it's a regular day, I may not be focused on my Judaism. I could be focused on being the only woman in an office of guys," said Dubensky, executive vice president and CEO of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.

The trend

The first study focused on New England employers and showed that when referencing involvement in a Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian, atheist, Jewish, Muslim, pagan or Wallonian (a religion made-up by researchers) student group, an applicant was 24 percent less likely than the control group to receive a phone call from an employer. The control group was composed of those resumes that mentioned a generic student organization like "The Student Alliance."

The second study repeated the field experiment in the South with similar results. Applicants who reported a religious identity of any kind were 26 percent less likely to receive a phone call or email.

Muslims suffered the most discrimination in both regions, receiving 38 percent fewer emails and 58 percent fewer phone calls the control group in the South and 33 percent fewer total contacts in New England.

Michael Wallace, one of the University of Connecticut researchers, emphasized that anti-Muslim discrimination is likely to increase when applicants have Arabic names. The resumes submitted in both studies used generic names like "Sara Korvel," UConn Today reported.

Wallace, a professor of sociology and the director of graduate studies at UConn, said that the strength of the studies is that they show religious discrimination in two regions with very different religious climates.

"(New England) is cited as being most religiously tolerant and not as deeply passionate about religion," Wallace said. Southerners, however, are the most passionate about religious practice, according to a U.S. religious landscape survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Wallace said that there is a notable lack of research done on religious discrimination in the workplace. "Surprisingly, sociologists haven't done a lot of studies of this problem. We found only a scattering of five or six articles over a 30-year period," he said.

Additionally, Wallace and his colleagues were aware that religious discrimination in the American workplace is on the rise. "In the last 20 years, religious-based complaints filed by employees with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission increased from 1,388 in 1992 to 3,790 in 2010," the University of Connecticut researchers reported.

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