What’s In A Name? A Job and Career Path if It Sounds Male, White
When I was a columnist at a daily newspaper years ago, one of my colleagues named Alice used the byline of A.J., because she said it made a difference how people perceived her work. And yes, readers assumed she was a man. I gather it is the same reason many initially assumed J.K. Rowling was also a male author.Implicit name bias is very real, and many have told stories about how their job searches and career path changed when they altered their first names from sounding female to sounding male.Erin McKelvey tells Fortune that when she changed her name on her resume from Erin to Mack, her world shifted.“The result? ‘Mack’ McKelvey’s resume got a 70 percent response rate. ‘Was it because it was an unusual name? A male name? A catchy name? I’ll never know,’ McKelvey told Fortune. ‘Mack McKelvey was born and I accidentally branded myself,’ she says. McKelvey got a job as a contractor at AT&T a few weeks after tweaking her name and now works as a partner at strategic advisory firm Chameleon Collective, and as CEO of tech product incubator SalientMG,” writes Laura Cohn.So should you do a makeover on all your resume materials and adopt a male first name unofficially or use initials?Does a name that makes you seem as if you are a white male suggest a clear career path?“Insync Surveys, a research firm, and recruitment specialist Hays asked over 1,000 hiring managers in Australia and New Zealand to evaluate two CVs with the same qualifications and answer questions about whether the candidate would be picked for an interview,” Cohn writes. “One CV, distributed to half the participants, had the name ‘Simon Cook’ at the top. The other CV, sent out to the rest of the respondents, had the name ‘Susan Campbell.’ Both candidates were applying for a position in sales management.”You got it; recruiters said they were more likely to hire Simon.The same bias is true for candidates who have a name that has an apparent link to an ethnicity or race. (Consider the recent uproar over the assumptions made by one political candidate over the assumed heritage of a judge assigned to his lawsuit.)A new study from JP Morgan Chase shows that there are many roadblocks for women as well as minorities in start-ups and the tech industry and all along their career path. That bias can become apparent even in the name on an application, CV or resume, if the name appears female or nonwhite.According to the report, “The inherent bias against women and minority entrepreneurs in the application and selection processes of some incubators and accelerators is another important barrier.” And the bias continues throughout the selection process. “Less diverse panels can be affected by what noted entrepreneurship expert Susan Marlow, a Professor at Nottingham University Business School, called the ‘People Like Us’ theory – the idea that people are more likely to identify with and select those that look and act like themselves.”The report continues, “Ineffective recruitment by high-tech incubators and accelerators may be the biggest cause of the relatively low participation rates of women and minority entrepreneurs. Some incubators and accelerators simply don’t recruit any entrepreneurs. Competitive high-tech accelerators, for example, attract entrepreneurs from across the country without actively recruiting. Some organizations also point to the relatively lower numbers of women and minorities in high tech as an excuse for not being able to attract more diverse entrepreneurs.”But across all industries, both gender and racial bias that erupt along a career path do not begin or end with a name. Joanna Krotz writes in Huffington Post that gender bias is present in our institutions, workplaces and society. Unfortunately, that means bias crops up along everyone’s career path.Bias against women in the workplace is proven to be bad for business. “In looking into how gender bias operates in business, the Center for Gender in Organizations (CGO), a Simmons College research facility, concludes that we are asking the wrong questions because we’re stuck in a frame that we need to move out of,” she writes.Reversing bias, being inclusive with women in the workplace and reaching gender parity are goals with benefits.[bctt tweet=“Being inclusive in the workplace & reaching gender parity are goals with benefits”]“Research emphatically proves that women leaders and workplace gender equity is both a business benefit and a competitive advantage. As a result, all the talk about fixing women’s weaknesses and weighing men’s and women’s various skills and tendencies is really a smokescreen.”Correlating higher profits with more women on boards and in leadership positions is a theme of discussion in many leadership circles. Sarah Alexander writes in Everwise, “One of the primary explanations for this phenomenon is that gender diversity stimulates more vigorous discussions, resulting in smarter decisions. As Marcus Noland, EVP and director of studies at the Peterson Institute, comments, ‘There is evidence that the presence of women contributes to functional or skill diversity among the leadership group.’ Research at the University of Michigan supports Noland’s observation, finding that diversity of ideas and the resulting debate improves a group’s creativity and collective intelligence.”Others agree, the more women at the top, the better an organization performs.[bctt tweet=“The more women at the top, the better an organization performs”]Rebecca Shambaugh, founder of Women in leadership and Learning, writes in Huffington Post:“Research has proven that a balanced leadership team leads to better business outcomes. Top-performing organizations recognize the value of having women on their executive teams in addition to a wider spectrum of diverse thinking, styles, and backgrounds. This is true from a business perspective as well as a leadership advantage.”“While the latest brain science research suggests multiple factors such as social experiences may be behind the unique attributes in leadership styles that are sometimes seen between men and women, the bottom line is that understanding these diverse skill sets can help managers leverage the best of their full teams—including their female talent.”Inclusive hiring strategies are key to eliminating these biases. According to the JP Morgan Chase report, “Women in particular may be turned off or intimidated by what they perceive as a ‘boy’s club’ and a hyper-competitive, 24/7 culture. People are drawn to spaces and opportunities where they feel comfortable, where there are other people similar to themselves, and where they feel they might fit in. Women and minorities may also be concerned that in this type of environment they will be overshadowed and given less support.”The researchers offer these strategies to counteract that impression and to foster an environment of inclusion:
- Expand recruitment networks through diverse leaders and partners
- Create diverse selection committees and adjust the selection process
- Intentionally design programs for women and minority entrepreneurs
- Create an inclusive culture
Implicit bias against women and minorities also plagues peer reviewers in science journals. Writing in ArsTechnica, Roheeni Saxena addresses the research by The American Association for the Advancement of Science about this paradox.“Though people can receive training to reduce implicit bias, the effects of this training tends to be short lived—most people will return to their baseline behavior after a bit of time. Making reviewers more aware of the neuroscience behind implicit bias doesn’t actually help reduce bias; in fact, it can have the opposite effect, causing reviewers to believe that bias is inevitable,” she writes. “So, this problem isn’t one that we are likely to solve at the individual level, which means that structural interventions might be more effective.”If we cannot get away from our inherent biases against women and other under-represented groups, perhaps blind submissions without names attached to applications may be the answer, followed by blind interviews and a blind screening process.After overcoming the hurdles to employment, when hired, it may be a surprise for others to see who shows up to work.