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IBM Apologizes for ‘Inappropriate’ Error on Jobs Site That Asked Applicants If They Were ‘Yellow’ or ‘Mulatto’

Tech giant IBM is under fire after antiquated racial slurs were found embedded on its job applications website, according to The Register.

IBM apologized for the faux pas this week after an engineer applying for a position at the company tipped off the newspaper about a bizarre drop-down menu asking candidates if their ethnicity was, among other options, “yellow,” an offensive term for persons of Asian descent, or “mulatto” [sic], an outdated word for someone with a white and Black parent.


IBM officials have blamed the error on an “unfortunate machine translations that were introduced to its job ads across the world,” The Register reported. (Photo by IBM Watson)

Candidates could also mark themselves as “Black,” “Caucasian,” or “Indigenous.”

“Naturally, I was shocked to see this on an application from what I generally consider to be a respected and top technology company,” the applicant, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, told The Register. “It made me feel as though there are biases and prejudices that exist, that may go unchecked or unnoticed.”

“Also, the fact that it is 2019, and to see something like this, blows my mind,” they added.

Another engineer seeking a job at IBM shared a video of the same menu on social media last week. In the clip, there are two menus, the second of which listed “African,” “Indian,” “colored,” “white,” “none of these,” and “not a South African national” as options.

An IBM spokesman addressed the error, saying the careers site had “temporarily and inappropriately” solicited information from applicants about their ethnic backgrounds.

“Those questions were removed immediately when we became aware of the issue and we apologize,” Edward Barbini, vice president of external relations for the tech giant, told Business Insider in an emailed statement.

“IBM hiring is based on skills and qualifications,” he added. “We do not use race or ethnicity in the hiring process and any responses we received to those questions will be deleted. IBM has long rejected all forms of racial discrimination and we are taking appropriate steps to make sure this does not happen again.”

When the Register inspected the offending page, it found that the menu was gone but was still present in the website’s code. Additionally, it discovered that the menu elements were labeled with a “Brazil_” prefix, suggesting a link to the country.

In the Twitter video, “not a Brazilian national” was among the options in the first menu.

It’s still unclear how the slurs ended up on the menu, but IBM has since blamed the blunder on “unfortunate machine translations that were introduced to its job ads across the world,” according to The Register. The company’s career application pages are hosted by Brassring, which couldn’t be reached for comment.

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