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Thursday, May 23, 2024

‘Ethnic’ names and racism: How some monikers might not get you hired

(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unspash)
(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unspash)

Sometimes landing a job comes down to your name, be it Steve Smith, Jane Garcia or Shaundra Jones.

But should applicants really be judged by their first or last name?

According to the Harvard Business School, companies are twice as likely to call minority applicants for interviews if they have “whitened” their resumes as opposed to candidates who allow their resumes to reveal their race.

While one’s job experience might get you through the human resources department algorithms, if you have an unusual name, you might not get to the interview let alone land the job.

“I think often times what ends up happening when people do go apply to jobs, they try to do something and it’s not seen as a traditional name,” said Brian Smalls, president of the York-James City-Williamsburg NAACP.

He said many times people might not get the “same look” or “same opportunity” as those with more traditional names.

“I don’t think anybody should be judged based on somebody’s name especially considering the fact they didn’t have a choice in what they were being named,” Smalls said.

Rollin Shoemaker, general manager for Career Management Resume Services, said issues with names and job opportunities occur all the time. Specifically, part of the issue is when clients have names that sound “too foreign” and employers assume the applicant might not speak English well.

But Shoemaker said the company tries to work around those hurdles as much as possible.

“So the No. 1 thing to remember is that a resume is not a legal document, so we can play around with certain information so long as we aren’t trying to deceive anyone,” he said.

That’s done by giving someone a more “American” first name that makes them seem like a more viable candidate to at least get their foot in the door for an interview. Once a client goes into an interview, then they can tell the employer their real first name and show their skills.

“The big overall picture of society is that it has to do with comfort level,” he said. “And I’m not trying to over simplify that, but from a practical standpoint…it’s about who people feel comfortable with.”

When it comes to an “ethnic” sounding name, Shoemaker said their employees try to make suggestions only if the person is open to them. For example, he once had a client named Velveeta which is also the name of a major cheese production company. The client loved her name and didn’t want to change it for job applications.

“In the case of ethnic sounding names, we probably lay low more often than not because we’re getting into a situation where we might offend someone,” he said. “If someone is not named something like Robert or Susan and madly in love with the name Tanisha, who am I as a white guy to suggest they do anything with that name?”

Shoemaker said those distinct types of names can be a benefit to some potential employees as well because some employers are looking to grow diversity on their staff. Sometimes an African American can make their ethnicity more noticeable on resumes by listing club affiliations and other aspects which makes them more employable.

However, when it comes to names and discrimination, Shoemaker said the type of job is an important factor.

“The wilder and more unusual the name is, it does create a problem but not across the board,” he said. “If you want to be a game designer…the impact of an unusual name is lesser than if someone wanted to be an accountant. And it’s a shame really, but that’s reality.”

Shoemaker said companies can work to lower those discrimination problems by continuing discussions with employees along with diversity and inclusion training.

“The country is the way it is, which is a shame, but the bottom line is discrimination in this country will never be completely erased,” he said. “So our goal is to do our best to minimize that discrimination and teach people who are biased or racist to be able to communicate and have discussions to find out their motivations.”


Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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