What are the first few things you read on a resume? A name and an address. While these may seem like harmless details at first glance, new research reveals that an address may actually perpetuate bias and inequity in the hiring process. In fact, the study finds that employers are less likely to contact applicants if they live too out of the way.

At Scoop, we’re always looking for valuable insight into the commute’s impact on employee experience. The study — conducted by David Phillips, Associate Research Professor of Economics at the University of Notre Dame—demonstrates that a lengthy commute can affect folks before they even get the chance to interview.

Phillips and his team of researchers submitted over 2,000 fictional resumes to employers in Washington D.C., finding that applicants who lived 5–6 miles farther from the employer’s location received about one-third fewer callbacks.

This is challenging for some applicants, particularly those of lower-wage jobs. Urban revitalization and increased cost of living have pushed low-income, minority communities further away from economic opportunity and into neighborhoods with little or no access to reliable and affordable transportation.

Here’s the problem: an employer may pass on an applicant for fear that the already high rates of absenteeism and turnover will only increase with a longer commute. We understand the fear, but that doesn’t make it right. Phillips suggests three alternatives to combat this bias:

    • Be aware of the equity implications of your employment locations and practices. Selecting employees based on distance can drive social inequity, not to mention redline entire communities. Bear in mind that varying or inconsistent hours — especially with limited access to transportation — may complicate travel arrangements, and perpetuate turnover and absenteeism.
    • Improve your employees’ access to reliable and affordable transportation. Employers who offer company-wide public transit programs have seen an increase in productivity and retention. Transit initiatives will pay for themselves by cultivating a thriving workforce.
    • Invest in a broader range of public-private partnerships to enhance both your business and the greater public good. Aside from public transportation, employers in densely and sparsely populated areas are investing in third-party vendors to provide a range of commute options. Corporate bus, shuttle, and carpool programs are steadily growing in popularity.

We believe that transportation should never be an obstacle to economic opportunity. Scoop helps employers understand the impact commuting has on employees and key business priorities. During meaningful conversations with enterprises, we discuss a series of four questions. These aim to bring to light how commuting influences the overall competitive advantage of an employment location:

    1. Does this location create an unnecessary burden on employees to get to/from work?
    2. Does this location have a network of reliable and cost-effective commuting options?
    3. Will all employee schedules/shifts have access to those commuting options?
    4. Are these commuting options flexible enough to meet employees’ needs?
    5. Now, we recommend adding a fifth: Have you evaluated your employment practices for bias that might reinforce inequity?

Is your company actively evaluating employment practices for potential commute bias? Or, have you ever experienced discrimination because of your commute? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us at @takescoop.

Charlie Knuth

Charlie Knuth

Charlie Knuth is Head of Commuter Insights at Scoop, overseeing research into how the commute impacts individuals, businesses, and communities across the country. Outside of the office, you can find him on ski slopes around the world.

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