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Woman Who Switched to Man's Name on Resume Goes From 0 to 70 Percent Response Rate

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jun 8, 2016
NameTagErin McKelvey was getting zero responses to her resume after graduating college. Mack McKelvey, on the other hand, got a 70 percent response rate on applications. Of course, Mack and Erin were actually the same person, just with different names--one of which got her far more success with employers, according to Fortune. It's indicative of a still-widespread phenomena in the working world called name discrimination (though perhaps it's more germane to just call it discrimination, considering the name itself is merely the vehicle for discriminatory assumptions about the person who holds it). 

It's something that has been documented in numerous academic papers over the years showing that names make a significant difference in determining whether an employer will consider someone's resume and call them in for an interview. This has typically been shown by sending out resumes identical in every way to potential employers and seeing which gets more responses. What tends to happen in these experiments is that the applications with male names get more responses than those with female names. Conversely, another study has shown that, at least in the case of professional musicians, when employers don't know the identity of an applicant, women were hired more often. 

The phenomena doesn't just apply to sex: name associated with particular ethnicities are similarly disadvantaged compared to those with more conventional names. 

With this in mind, McKelvey's change from Erin to Mack makes sense from a professional standpoint. It's a conclusion many others have reached when considering the progression of their careers. But it does raise questions about how employers will react, and whether they will consider it an unacceptable deception when they get a (female) Erin when they expected a (male) Mack.

The Fortune article notes that actors and writers use assumed names all the time and no one seems to mind. A discussion in the New York Times, though, is a little more wary, saying small changes are probably okay (Jose to Joe) but avoid outright lying--and if a name change is that important, to make it a legal change. An expert cited in recommend against it: the reality of your background is going to be revealed eventually, and it may cause complications when it does. There's also a personal reason against it too, argued in a Guardian article, that comes down to: why should I have to change when it's the companies that have the problem? 

One way that companies are seeking to address this phenomena, which may make the entire question of whether to change your name moot, is blind hiring. This is when personally identifying information is stripped from the resume, and people evaluate only the qualifications connected to the position itself. In this case, it becomes impossible to discriminate based on personal details, but there are no personal details, so there are more diverse hires. On the other hand, it tends to extent the hiring process, according to the Society for Human Resources Management as well as negate the value of emotional intelligence. However, blind hiring need not be an extreme where not even resumes are used--SHRM notes that more moderate approaches can be taken, such using it only in determining who to call in for an interview, which can then later be used to determine if there is a cultural fit. 

However, an expert interviewed by NPR brought up a worry that, if companies just institute blind hiring "and call it a day" can make a company complacent in other areas pertaining to diversity. She also was worried it would reduce active recruiting, another way that companies can add diversity. 

Blind hiring may also produce mixed results, according to The Economist. While some studies have shown it resulting in more diverse hires overall, others have shown it addresses only gender discrimination. The Economist also cites a Dutch study showing few results from blind hiring, and suggested that discrimination took place not in the initial CV evaluations but the interview process. 

So while blind hiring may be a good start, companies that implement it cannot, as the expert in the NPR interview said, institute it and call it a day. 

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