People with ethnic-sounding, black-sounding and feminine names can all face hurdles.
In 2003, by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan published their study, “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” They sent out 5000 fictitious résumés with either very black-sounding or very white-sounding names. Both the black-sounding and white-sounding names were attached to résumés of both high and low quality. Disturbingly, the résumés with white-sounding names received 50 percent more callbacks for interviews then the résumés with black-sounding names. Résumés with more skills and experience, resulted in 30 percent more callbacks for white-sounding names but only 9 percent more for black-sounding names. The findings were uniform across industries.
Americans with black-sounding names aren’t the only ones having problems finding a job. The 2009 paper, “Subtle Bias Against Muslim Job Applicants in Personnel Decisions” in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, presented participants with “background information and a résumé (with a typical Muslim or European American name) for a hypothetical job applicant. After reviewing the résumés, participants judged the applicant on hirability, salary assignment, and other job-related characteristics. Results showed that the Muslim applicant, relative to the American, was unfavorably judged in salary assignment and job-related characteristics in the presence of negative information.”
In the study “Discrimination Against Latino Job Applicants: A controlled experiment” published in Human Resource Management (2006), “Anglos and Latinos posing as job seekers applied for 468 job vacancies advertised in the Washington, D.C. area. Latino applicants received less favorable treatment than equally qualified Anglos more than 20% of the time. Discrimination was particularly prevalent for males and for jobs located in the center city, not requiring a college degree, and not widely advertised.”
It’s not just race and ethnicity, names that are feminine can also hurt applicants when it comes to career advancement. The 2009 study, “Do Masculine Names Help Female Lawyers Become Judges? Evidence from South Carolina.” published in American Law and Economics Review found that women lawyers with masculine-sounding first names have a better chance of becoming a judge than women lawyers with feminine names.
From the study, “Changing a girl’s name from something fairly feminine, like ‘Sue’, to a more gender-ambiguous name, like ‘Kelly’, increases her probability of becoming a judge by roughly 5%. This effect may appear small, but it is highly nonlinear in nominal masculinity; changing a girl’s name from ‘Sue’ to a predominantly male name, like ‘Cameron’, increases her probability of becoming a judge by a factor of 3 (roughly). Moreover, changing a girl’s name from ‘Sue’ to ‘Bruce’ increases her probability of becoming a judge by a factor of 5 (roughly).”
Name discrimination is not just in the U.S., an Australian National University study found that ‘to get the same number of interviews as an applicant with an Anglo-Saxon name, a Chinese applicant must submit 68 percent more applications, a Middle Eastern applicant must submit 64 percent more applications, an Indigenous applicant 35 percent more and an Italian applicant must submit 12 percent more applications.”
The sad fact is it often doesn’t matter where you are from. Some HR people don’t call back names they cannot pronounce, simply to avoid any potential embarrassment.
What’s in a name?
If you are considering changing your name or getting ready to have a child, you should consider the economic and social consequences of the name you choose. The Observer article, “Names Really Do Matter,” talks about the research done by University of Florida professor David Figlio, who “found that girls who are given very feminine names, such as Anna, Emma or Elizabeth, are less likely to study maths or physics after the age of 16.” He calculated a linguistic ‘femininity’ score and found that “girls with feminine names were often typecast.”
He also showed that giving your child a lower-status name (an unusual sounding name, or a name spelled in an unusual way, or a name that includes punctuation) scored “on average 3 to 5 percentage points lower than siblings with more traditional names” on exams. “One of the reasons was that teachers had lower expectations of them.”
UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian, in his book Baby Name Report Card surveyed how people responded to names, “people with desirable or attractive names are treated more favorably by others than are those with undesirable or unattractive names. Also, persons with undesirable or unattractive names tend to be handicapped in their personal, social, and work-related activities.”
So what can you do?
You shouldn’t have to do anything. It’s disturbing that, even now, at the end of 2009 that anyone should even have to consider one of these options. However, some people believe that if you want to get a fairer chance at getting an interview and proving your skills and expertise, you may want to make some sort of change to your name. Here are a few ideas:
• You can change your name.
• You can disguise your ethnicity. You can use an initial instead of your first name, or use your first initial and middle name, or use your nickname (if it’s an actual name).
• You can make sure that your email address is professional, silly gmail addresses can also hurt your employment chances.
• You can play to your strengths. If your name is Hispanic and you speak fluent Spanish, list that on your résumé, it could be something a potential employer needs.