My husband and I didn’t argue about my son’s first name. We argued about the last name. At first, I didn’t have a strong opinion, so we gave my son my husband’s name: Rodriguez.
But then I got cold feet. I worried that our son would face discrimination for his name. My husband said, “Don't worry, I get it all the time. He'll get used to it.”
I was surprised to hear that my husband experiences discrimination. Part of seeing someone as a minority is seeing him as other. So, because he's my husband, I don't think of him as a minority. But here's an example he gave me: He works with a think tank that researches solutions to homelessness. Sometimes when he meets with leaders of homeless shelters, the leaders mistake my husband for one of the homeless. This never happens to his counterpart: Jay Alexander .
But my husband kept telling me it doesn't matter. He said that to me once a week for nine months until I believed him.
What did I know? I have never had a name that identifies me as a minority, so I don't know what it's like. My great-grandfather changed the family name so that it would not sound Jewish and his sons could get through Harvard's quota system. (The change worked, they got in.) In the family tradition of changing one's name for one's politics, I changed my last name when I was in my early twenties because I didn't want to be part of a patriarchal naming structure. (In this case, I'm not sure if the change did anything.)
My husband always says, “It's no big deal.” But now I am sure that it is a big deal.
A recent study from the University of Chicago and MIT shows that people who have names that are typically from minorities are much less likely to get a job. In this study, hundreds of fake resumes with very similar qualifications were sent in response to entry-level job advertisements. A resume from a name like Amy Alexander was fifty percent more likely to get an interview than a resume from a name like Latoya Washington.
This shouldn't surprise me — of course people like to hire people who are like them. And minorities are not running the show in corporate America. In fact, I am guilty, also. Even though I know that diversity enhances workplace success, I also know that managing someone like myself is a lot easier than managing someone who's not like me; it's so much easier to lead people who are already thinking in the same way that I am.
So I can talk until I'm blue in the face about diversity, but I have to admit that I have preconceptions about someone with the last name of Rodriguez and someone whose last name is Alexander. I don't want to have preconceptions, but we can't always control those things. So I thought of changing my son's last name, but then I thought, that's a cop out.
I want to believe that we can control how we approach resumes so that we mitigate our preconceptions by reading resumes without reading names. Each of us is more likely to interview more minorities if we do not read names. It's a simple process that will teach each of us something about our prejudices and ourselves.
While studies show that managing diversity improves one's career, people still resist hiring diverse teams. This means the issue of diversity is no longer convincing people it's good for the office, the issue is convincing individual people that they are part of the problem. And each of us is. So give name-blind resumes a try. See what happens. And who knows? Maybe one day, that resume you might have skipped will be my son's.