Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Employment Discrimination by Name and a Proposed Remedy

The United States and France have something in common: Employment discrimination based on name alone. In both studies, resumes with equivalent qualifications were submitted for positions.

In the U.S., the study Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination found that resumes submitted with "White sounding names" are 50% more likely to receive a callback for an interview than "African-American ones".

In France, a study conducted by the Observatoire des Discriminations found that a resume with a "standard French name" produced 140 responses, while the same resume with a North African-sounding name yielded 14 responses.

The U.S. study included employers that advertised being "Equal Opportunity Employers", as well as federal contractors that are subject to affirmative action laws. These employers tended to discriminate more.

Let's not talk about issues of social justice, fairness, burning cars in France, etc. (at least not yet)--let's just talk about profits. If you're a hiring manager in the U.S. or France, it behooves you to take into consideration the above studies. If you don't, then your company will suffer because you may not be hiring the best available talent. And if you're part of a profit-seeking organization, then you're not doing your fiduciary duty for the organization!

When hiring, ask yourself, does the stack of resumes you received for a specific position reflect the diversity of qualified candidates available in the market? If not, then why not? Is there anyway you can reach out to groups that are not reflected in the pool of candidates? Note that this step of the hiring process requires you to be aware of diversity.

Once you have a diverse pool of qualified candidates, then it is the time to become blind to diversity. By blind, I don't mean free to descriminate based on race, color, gender, etc., I mean blind by not discriminating using these factors. Discriminate by asking questions which are pertinent for the position. Why be blind? Because at this point you want to pick the best person for the job.

The above process is not a panacea--some would argue that more (affirmative action, targeted hiring, etc.) or less (freedom to consider or not consider anyone for employment, cost, etc.) should be done. I don't think it's perfect myself. But it is a process that fair-minded liberals and conservatives alike should both be able to agree that the process is, if not ideal, better than the status quo of discrimination by name.

The cost of expanding a qualified pool of candidates is decreasing as free or cheap services such as LinkedIn, openBC, and Yahoo! Groups can enable the hiring manager to expand their reach to potential candidates. These services are not a panacea either, since the population of users of each service may not be as diverse as desired.

And unlike some other byproducts of business which produce private benefits but public costs (e.g. pollution), this process would produce positive byproducts in the U.S. and France. Equal opportunities for employment could certainly do much to further "the pursuit of happiness" and "Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité".

In a related post on my LinkedIn blog, I propose how job candidates can reduce discrimination by name against them.


Richard Upton said...

The Wall Street Journal's has an informative special report about diversity hiring.

Richard Upton said...

An SCU MBA directed me to a Harvard Business Review article which points out that assimilating diverse employees can have negative effects. To harness the benefits of diversity, employees' diversity must be able to be shown, not hidden. Or so I gather from the teaser text for this article which requires payment to read. The article is called Required Reading for White Executives, 2nd Edition.

Matt said...

Hi Rick,

One way to address this issue would be for hiring managers/companies to ask that resume's be submitted without names. Unless a security clearance is involved, the only use -that I can think of- for a name on a resume is so the employer knows how to address the person if they decide to contact him/her. Removing the name would make the intial contact a little bit awkward, but not intolerably so. Job seekers sometimes write cover letters addressed to no one in particular, so the idea isn't that far of a stretch.

I'll share a story that may be of value to others. The last time my brother-in-law, who happens to be Filipino, was searching for a job he initially posted his resume with his full first name, Rommel. He went for over a month without receiving a single call, so he updated his resume and changed his name to Mel. Two days later he received the first of a number of inquiries, and he had an offer within two weeks.


Anonymous said...

In the paper by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan which you cited, the authors note that, "Names might also influence our results through familiarity. One could argue that the African American names used in the experiment simply appear odd to human resource managers and that any odd name is discriminated against." This aspect of the experiment intrigues me.

I am curious, if one send out resumes with unusual but White sounding names such as Günter, Wilfred, Algernon, Poindexter, Percy, Siegfried etc. as a control group for the experiment, how the results would compare to those for African American sounding names and for those with "normal" White sounding names."