Name discrimination is a problem in the job market. Issues range from the obvious like a name frequently being misspelled or mispronounced, to stereotyping based on someone’s name. This is why it’s important to respect people’s names by acknowledging and adapting to name changes and mitigating against name discrimination and privilege in recruitment and hiring.
Do You Know the Story of Your Name?
As a facilitator, I sometimes ask my workshop participants, “Do you know the story of your name? Is there anything interesting or noteworthy about your name? Have you had good or bad experiences because of your name?”
You may like your name, or you might hate it. And some folks might have the privilege of never really thinking about it. But in the often confusing waters of social identity, your name is an important part of your identity – especially when it can affect your standing in being recruited or hired for a job.
It’s important to respect people’s names by acknowledging and adapting to name changes and mitigating against name discrimination and privilege in recruitment and hiring.
What follows are four ways you can avoid name discrimination in the job market.
Be Sure to Get People’s Names Right
Avoid changing someone’s name just because it’s hard for you to pronounce. Make a concerted effort to spell and say people’s names correctly – they appreciate it. If you aren’t sure how to pronounce someone’s name, ask, “Am I pronouncing your name correctly?”
Although I like my name, most people say and spell it incorrectly. I have to describe how it’s pronounced by saying, “It’s like ‘Chanel’ with a ‘D.’” It’s become second nature to verbally explain my name because I assume people won’t be able to spell it.
Respect Name Changes
There are many reasons why someone might change their name. When emigrating from another country, someone may change their first or last name to distance themselves from the negative perception people might have about their country of origin (especially during war time). Or one might use a pseudonym or anglicize their name to improve access in the job market. One might change their name simply because they dislike it, or maybe they had an abusive upbringing and want nothing to do with their birth name. Perhaps they changed their name because they don’t identify with the sex assigned to them at birth.
When someone changes their name, do your best to refer to them by their chosen name. We all slip up, and that’s understandable, but correct yourself when that happens. There is a reason they have changed their name whether you are privy to that information or not.
My father is from Trinidad, and when he was 20, he changed his last name to Permanand – an anglicized version of his father’s first name, Paraman. His family name was Maharaj, but he wanted to distance himself from the unofficial caste system that was still present in Trinidad at the time.
Your name is an important part of your identity – especially when it can affect your standing in being recruited or hired for a job.
Use an Anonymized Resumé Review Process When Hiring
Research shows that people with typically Anglo- or “white-sounding” names have an advantage in hiring pools, whereas people with more “ethnic-sounding” names can be subject to discrimination because of stereotypes around their identity. This type of discrimination has real life negative impacts in the education system, healthcare, and the workplace.
A large-scale Canadian study specifically relating to Asian (Chinese, Indian, Pakistani) and Anglo names shows that there is significant name discrimination in the workforce. It was found that Asian-named applicants are 45 to 60 percent less likely to be selected for an interview than those with Anglo names, even if their qualifications are identical.
In the article, Jefferey Reitz, a sociology professor and director of ethnic immigration and pluralism studies, says that this discrimination has a significant impact on Asian-named job seekers and employers: “While these applicants have to try harder to find work, employers stand to miss out on a skilled and valuable talent pool.” To mitigate this type of discrimination, Reitz suggests using an anonymized resumé review process that identifies applicants by a code rather than their name.
When I lived in Toronto, I worked at a non-profit in the Jane & Finch area of Toronto, which was considered a “rough” neighbourhood. I knew some students and first-time job seekers who went out of their way to provide an alternate address and sometimes a more Anglo-sounding name for fear of being discriminated against because of their names and/or their neighbourhood.
Name discrimination is a problem with real world impacts, and awareness is just one step in the right direction!
Provide Anti-Bias Training
Not only is name discrimination an access and equity issue – it also negatively affects businesses and their bottom lines. That is why it’s important for organizations to invest in specific anti-bias training for HR folks who make the call on selected resumes, and for individuals that sit on hiring committees.
In a large-scale American discrimination audit conducted by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago, researchers identified some overall patterns in hiring processes and the results show that “discriminating companies tend to be less profitable.” This finding is consistent with similar research conducted in the 1950s(!) that found “that it is costly for firms to discriminate against productive workers.”
Name discrimination is a problem with real world impacts, and awareness is just one step in the right direction! To review, here are things you can do to mitigate against name discrimination:
- Do your best to pronounce people’s names correctly
- When someone changes their name, call them by their chosen name
- When hiring, consider an anonymized review of applications (sort by code, not name)
- Invest in anti-bias training for HR folks and those who sit on hiring committees
Avoiding name discrimination is primarily about addressing our unconscious bias that gives greater access in the job market for those whose names are Anglo-sounding and puts up significant barriers for those who have ethnic-sounding names. Now that you are more aware of the significant negative impacts on individuals and groups, what can you and your organization do to address this issue? What is your sphere of influence? Use it to intentionally address unconscious bias in the job market.
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