Name-Related Bias

We’ve all heard about discrimination and bias related to one’s gender, race, age, etc.

But can your name influence the way you’re treated in the workplace?

A variety of research studies suggest that the answer to that question is “yes.”

In a study published in the “Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,” Dr. Simon Laham from the University of Melbourne and Dr. Adam Alter from the New York University Stern School of Business contend that those with simple, easy-to-pronounce names are more likely than others to garner positive results in the workplace.

The researchers, who used names from Anglo, Asian, Western European, and Eastern European backgrounds in their studies, found that people with easy-to-pronounce names (1) were evaluated more positively and (2) were more likely to receive job promotions than those with difficult-to-pronounce names.

“Research findings revealed that the effect is not due merely to the length of a name or how foreign-sounding or unusual it is, but rather how easy it is to pronounce,” Laham states.

Alter conducted a study of U.S. lawyers’ names and found that attorneys with easy-to-pronounce names rose more quickly in their firms. “People simply aren’t aware of the subtle impact that names can have on their judgments,” he explained.

In one study titled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” published in June 2004, researchers found that applicants with “white-sounding names” were 50 percent more likely to be contacted for job interviews.  This statistic was the same regardless of occupation, industry, or employer size.

HR POINTER: Organizations can limit the likelihood and impact of name-related bias in the hiring process by:

*Training managers to recognize unintentional bias.

*Removing names and addresses of applicants from resumes before they are circulated.

*Conducting “blind interviews” (i.e., phone interviews) initially to minimize the impact of any bias because of physical appearance.

*Creating structured interviews in which all candidates for a given job are asked the same questions.

*Using multiple interviewers with diverse backgrounds.

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