By Angela Rose for BioSpace
In the famous tale of star-crossed lovers, William Shakespeare’s tragic heroine mused, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo’s moniker—not to mention his association with her family’s sworn enemies—did not prevent her from falling in love with him in 16th century Verona. However, were she an employer in today’s USA, it could be enough to deter her from hiring him as a clinical trial manager, quality assurance associate, principal scientist, or other biopharma professional. Why? Simply because a less than “American” sounding name—such as Romeo, José or Jamal—is sometimes enough to land a resume in the discard pile.
It happens more than you may think.
Anecdotes involving ethnic name discrimination are plentiful. For example, Nakores Sameita told her story to CNN. A 26-year-old credit analyst, she reported a fruitless post-layoff job search and endless questions about her immigration status and nation of origin—despite US citizenship. NBC News relayed the experience of Shuki Khalili, a former Wall Street headhunter who suspected potential clients rejected his services because of his name. When he started a new company—and began going by Andrew Warner—he no longer had difficulty building his business.
More recently, Huffington Post shared the job search adventure of José Zamora. After spending months searching for a new position—submitting between 50 and 100 resumes a day without any response—he decided to drop the “s” from his name. He reapplied to every job he felt qualified for and—within one week—“Joe” had an inbox full of replies from potential employers. He adjusted nothing else on his resume, nor did he alter his job search approach. He merely changed his ethnic-sounding name.
Even science has proven it.
Researchers have proven bias against ethnic names by US employers. An experiment conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that job applicants with “white” names, such as Emily or Greg, received one callback for every 10 resumes submitted. Applicants with African-American names, such as Aaliyah or Darius, had to send 15 resumes for one callback. This difference in callback rate persisted even when the researchers “improved” the credentials listed. Improving the credentials on the white resumes increased callbacks by 30 percent. The same improvements made to the African-American resumes resulted in a much smaller increase.
Though common, ethnic name bias is still illegal.
Title VII of the Civil Rates Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on a number of factors, including race. Unfortunately, anecdotes and research indicate that discrimination in the form of ethnic name bias—whether intentional or unconscious—is more common than one might think. What does this mean for you as a biopharma job seeker? If you’re applying for positions for which you are qualified, have a resume free from common errors, have an ethnic sounding name, and are finding it challenging to capture the attention of potential employers, you may want to consider using your initials or a nickname on your application materials.