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IBM apologises after asking applicants their skin colour

Images: Getty, Twitter

US tech firm IBM has apologised after one of its applications asked job-seekers to identify themselves as Caucasian, black, “yellow” or “mulatto”.

The issue came to light after New Yorker, Richard Park posted about the application on Twitter.


“Aren’t these ethnic group labels a little antiquated?” he asked.

“To make matters worse, I couldn’t submit my application without selecting an option.”

He was applying for a design internship in the US.

“Just to clarify – I understand different countries/cultures have their own understandings about race, but I applied from the United States to a job located in the United States. With that context, I think it’s reasonable to expect not to be labeled Yellow, Colored, Mulatto, etc,” he later added on Twitter.


People of Asian descent have been hit with the ethnic slur of ‘yellow’ since the 1700s, while the term ‘mulatto’ has been used to describe people with mixed African and European heritage. It is also considered a racial slur.

IBM said the application was an error that had been copied over from job postings in nations where these classifications are used by governments for census data.

“Our recruiting websites temporarily and inappropriately solicited information concerning job applicant ethnicity, based on local government requirements in Brazil and South Africa,” Edward Barbini, IBM’s vice president of corporate communications, said in a statement to The Washington Post.

“Those questions were removed immediately when we became aware of the issue and we apologise.”

IBM also apologised to Park on Twitter: “Some of our recruiting websites have been translated incorrectly, and we apologise. We have removed the insensitive language and are reviewing all sites to ensure there are no further issues.”


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