WHAT’S IN A NAME
Behind every name is a unique story. The world is full of nicknames, legal names, matronymic names, chosen names, and more. A name may have been passed down for generations or may translate to “bringer of happiness.”
But, what if your name was mistreated with prejudice? This phenomenon is often referred to as unconscious name bias. Hiring managers are statistically more likely to discriminate against non-white sounding names.
This affects any person of color whose name does not come across as stereotypically white. And if it does, they are often told, “Well, you don’t sound like a [NAME]!”
HOW NAMES AFFECT HIRING
According to Bertrand and Mullainathan (2004), resumes with Black-sounding names experienced a 50% callback gap.
When compared to common (white) names, a subsequent study found these names were rated best liked and most hirable compared to Black, Russian and Unique names.
This is not just a problem in the USA either. Researchers in Toronto found that Canadian job-seekers are 20 to 40% less likely to receive callbacks with an Asian-sounding name. Originally published in January 2018, those findings are less than three years old.
Unconscious name bias unfairly burdens people of color to the point that their resumes, professional studies and work experiences are judged much more harshly compared to any white applicant. This is especially true for oppressed minority groups across North America.
RACISM IS AT THE CORE OF NAME BIAS
Why is this experience so pervasive in the labor market? Reasons vary, with hiring managers preferring to onboard someone who
- looks or sounds like them (confirmation bias!)
- has an easy-to-pronounce name (learn it!)
- is less likely to have an accent or language barrier (stereotype!)
All of these reasons and many more represent an unconscious bias that somehow hiring managers do not immediately recognize as harmful. Regardless, this is a form of racism that projects prejudices and stereotypes onto unsuspecting applicants.
SEEKING SOLUTIONS FOR NAME BIAS
Most importantly, hiring biases place unfair emotional, financial, and mental stress on people of color. This bias causes a person to wonder if they should “whiten” their name on applications or even bother applying at all.
No one should ever have to doubt the validity of their identity, especially not their own name.
To defeat this bias, hiring managers must seek out diversity to the fullest extent. This means inclusive hiring practices, diversity training, and seeking to educate ourselves.
In addition, diverse workplaces are more creative, inclusive and efficient, and they experience higher productivity and above-average profits. While a person’s value is not based on revenue margins, all the above statistics show that there is extreme personal and fiscal value in promoting workplace diversity.
By educating ourselves, we contribute to a more just, equitable society that values individuals for their merit above all else. Never judge a book by its cover or a person by their name.