WhereNext

Opportunity Awaits Employers That Overcome Location Bias

On a résumé, the second thing an employer learns about someone is where they live. A recent study tested the effect that commute distance has on an applicant’s chance of being hired. It found that hiring managers are biased against those who live farther away.

The research, conducted by University of Notre Dame economics professor David Phillips, involved sending more than 2,000 fictional résumés to low-wage employers in Washington, DC. Phillips carefully chose résumé addresses for each job opening and balanced the mix of applicant-workplace proximity and the affluence of the job seeker’s neighborhood to see how the location of the applicant’s home influenced invitations to interview.

The results: applicants living five or six miles farther from the job received one-third fewer callbacks than those who lived closer.

Distance versus Affluence

The research was designed to test the “spatial mismatch hypothesis,” which argues that the tendency of the urban poor to live far from jobs makes it difficult to find employment, thus perpetuating poverty.

The research offered some solace for job applicants and some insight for employers. Refreshingly, researchers found little significance between the affluence of an applicant’s address and the rate of callbacks, indicating that those in poor areas weren’t purposely being overlooked. Instead, the perceived issue of reliability in a long commute was deemed the deciding factor.

Researchers acknowledged that avoiding applicants with long commutes makes some sense from an employer’s point of view. Neighborhoods with few transit options and high transit costs can translate into a high turnover for low-wage jobs. Long commutes have also been shown to increase absenteeism.

But with location intelligence and creative thinking, employers might find ways to mitigate the impacts of distance.

[To learn more about the effects of location intelligence on a business, read this e-book.]

Influencing Upward Mobility

With today’s booming economy and low unemployment rates, employers face difficulty staffing up to meet peak demand.

Some companies have used a geographic information system (GIS) as a competitive intelligence tool and information resource for finding staff near retail locations.

Location intelligence generated by GIS can also help employers locate pockets of willing and able workers in areas impacted by urban revitalization. The increased cost of living in revitalized areas has pushed low-income, minority communities farther away from economic opportunity and into neighborhoods with little or no access to reliable, affordable transportation.

To access workers and help mitigate the challenges of long commutes, employers might consider flexible options, including four-day workweeks and flexible job hours to avoid busy travel times.

Location Intelligence Maps Solutions

Several commentators suggest that employers would be wise to consider offering shuttle services or public transportation vouchers to improve worker reliability. A modern GIS helps companies map optimal routes to decrease commute times—something that the logistics experts at UPS can attest to.

In addition, companies looking to bolster a social good campaign could focus on hiring in an area where they would have an impact on upward mobility. Location intelligence reveals demographics in specific areas to facilitate this kind of analysis.

Lyft recently announced a partnership with a nonprofit to start the Grocery Access Program, with $2.50 flat fares to grocery stores for families living in food deserts. The resultant improved mobility is helping to address the lack of access to healthy food, a well-documented problem of the urban poor.

A similar effort—one that leverages location intelligence to connect underserved groups with available jobs—could help employers address their own needs and do well while doing good.

About the author

Helen Thompson is Esri’s global marketing strategy manager for real estate, banking, and insurance. As a recognized thought leader and keynote speaker on spatial theory and location platforms, Helen has applied her entrepreneurial and technological passion to help advance the understanding and use of spatial technology in business and society. She believes that geographic context is central to creating a better future and solving some of our biggest global challenges while delivering new opportunities for consumers and businesses.

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