Jose vs. Joe: Name Discrimination in the Hiring Process

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Discriminating OutsiderA Business Insider article told the unfortunate story of Jose Zamora, a job seeker who decided to alter his “ethnic name” on his resume in an attempt to get a callback. And, apparently, his tactic worked.

According to the article, over the past few months, Zamora applied for 50-100 jobs each day without receiving any responses. He decided to remove the “s” from his name when sending out his resume, i.e. “Joe.” The story says one week later, “Joe” was flooded with emails from prospective employers who wanted to meet with him.

I’ve heard of name discrimination during the hiring process, and in 2014, it’s very sad that many recruiters and employers still don’t embrace diversity when sourcing candidates.

Now you may be thinking, how do we know Jose initially didn’t receive a call back because his resume wasn’t up to par? Although the story doesn’t say if “Joe” applied for the same jobs as Jose and received callbacks from those employers—indicating name discrimination—the story does note that Zamora’s experience is not isolated.

Research from the Natural Bureau of Economic Research showed that minorities, specifically African-Americans in this study, encountered name discrimination during the hiring process. The article, “Employers’ Replies to Racial Names,” explains:

A job applicant with a name that sounds like it might belong to an African-American – say, Lakisha Washington or Jamal Jones – can find it harder to get a job. Despite laws against discrimination, affirmative action, a degree of employer enlightenment, and the desire by some businesses to enhance profits by hiring those most qualified regardless of race, African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to be unemployed and they earn nearly 25 percent less when they are employed.(emphasis added)

Researchers Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan conducted an experiment to backup the above claims. They sent resumes in response to help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston newspapers; half of the resumes had African-American names that the article explained were “remarkably common” in the black population while the remaining half listed white-sounding names, such as Emily Walsh or Greg Baker. The researchers then measured the number of callbacks each resume received for interviews.

According to the research, the researchers sent out around 5,000 resumes, responding to 1,300 ads which “covered a large spectrum of job quality, from cashier work at retail establishments and clerical work in a mailroom to office and sales management positions.”

The results?

Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback. This would suggest either employer prejudice or employer perception that race signals lower productivity. (emphasis added)

The study also revealed that “a white name yields as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of experience. Race, the authors add, also affects the reward to having a better resume. Whites with higher quality resumes received 30 percent more callbacks than whites with lower quality resumes. But the positive impact of a better resume for those with Africa-American names was much smaller.”

“While one may have expected that improved credentials may alleviate employers’ fear that African-American applicants are deficient in some unobservable skills, this is not the case in our data,” the authors write. “Discrimination therefore appears to bite twice, making it harder not only for African-Americans to find a job but also to improve their employability.”

Even without having knowledge of this research, many minorities in society have already learned that name discrimination is prevalent in today’s hiring process. Zamora’s recent experiment is just one of many over the years where people have felt the need to “whiten” their resumes in an effort to achieve employment.

The New York Times article ,“‘Whitening’ the Résumé,” speaks directly to this practice. It first tells the story of Tahani Tompkins who, after finding difficulty in getting a callback for job interviews, took a friend’s suggestion to change her resume name. “Instead of Tahani, a distinctively African-American-sounding name, she began going by T. S. Tompkins in applications,” the article says.

It also shares the experience of Yvonne Orr, a job seeker who “whitened” her resume in several ways. Orr:

  • Removed her bachelor’s degree from Hampton University, a historically black college;
  • Only listed her master’s degree from Spertus Institute, a Jewish school;
  • Omitted a position she once held at an African-American nonprofit organization; and
  • Rearranged her references so the first people listed were not black.

The article further explains why so many minority job seekers, especially African-American, choose to whiten their resumes:

Black job seekers said the purpose of hiding racial markers extended beyond simply getting in the door for an interview. It was also part of making sure they appeared palatable to hiring managers once race was seen. Activism in black organizations, even majoring in African-American studies can be signals to employers. Removing such details is all part of what Ms. Orr described as “calming down on the blackness.”

By Shala Marks