The first time I had my own company, we ignored Martin Luther King Day. And it felt really bad, like I was not living my own values. Now I am careful each year to do something to mark the holiday. So today I’m posting a piece I wrote a few years ago, before I had a blog…
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, even though I can’t roll the Rs, which drives my husband crazy.
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 worked with a think tank that researched solutions to homelessness. Sometimes when he met with leaders of homeless shelters, the leaders mistook my husband for one of the homeless. This never happened 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 the Ivy League 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 study conducted at 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 race and discrimination, 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 fairly if we do not read names. It’s a simple process that will teach each of us something about our prejudices and ourselves.
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.