That’s Not My Name…
Raising some much-needed questions about our relationship with names, Riona Menezes and Saffron Lee’s project uses education and technology to combat name-based discrimination in the workplace. The designers talk about the inspiration behind Naim.
A little bit of background…
Saffron and I come from different cultural backgrounds. My Indian family immigrated to the UK from Oman when I was 9. Saffron was born in the UK, but was acutely aware of being Chinese in a predominantly white area. We were accustomed to diverse names growing up, so found it strange that many of our relatives had chosen to change theirs to Western ones. Nonetheless, we accepted that this was the way things were done.
Name Discrimination and the Workplace
Last year we came across a BBC Article following the job search of two men. In short, Adam received 3 times more interviews than Mohammed, despite sending out identical CVs. Understandably we were angry, but more significantly, we weren’t surprised. Through further research, we found more and more stories of minority people ‘whitening’ their names in order to get a job.
This specific practice is a direct result of name discrimination – when a person is judged negatively because of their name. It’s particularly prevalent in recruitment. Almost everyone we spoke to had heard of an instance where a family member or friend had changed their name for the sake of getting a job. It’s a worryingly commonplace practice amongst many minority communities.
According to the ‘Diversity Matters’ report by Mckinsey & Company, companies that are more ethnically diverse are 35% more likely to financially perform above the national median. Yet minority groups remain underrepresented in almost every sector across the UK. To fix this, many organisations have adopted blind recruitment – a process where identifying factors such as name, gender and ethnicity are hidden in an effort to eliminate bias and hire based solely on merit. Applied is an agency who has been particularly successful in designing a bias free recruitment process. Their website states they achieve up to 4 times more attraction and selection of ethnically diverse candidates than other recruitment agencies.
Although we’d agree Applied’s solution is indeed practical and successful, it’s not permanent. At some point, the process goes from online to in-person – the interview process. How will the bias eliminated at CV stage now affect the employer-candidate relationship? Furthermore, if the candidate gets the job, how will they navigate being in an environment where non-European names are judged negatively? One woman we spoke to said she had avoided saying her colleague’s name for over a year by only communicating through emails, rather than over the phone (something she noted as being far more time-consuming). In this instance, name discrimination had affected both their working relationship and productivity.
Unfortunately, the blind recruitment procedure only heads off employers using biased judgments when hiring. It doesn’t get employers to actually make proactive changes to their own practice.
Armed with the facts and figures, we dug deeper and conducted a survey to find out how people felt when their name was mispronounced or when they mispronounced other people’s names. 46% of those surveyed said they’d experienced a moment when someone had struggled to pronounce their name. 36% of people felt the need to simplify their name or adopt a nickname to make it easier for others. On the other hand, 40% of people simplified other people’s names after finding them too difficult to pronounce. Note: we surveyed our university peers, who were predominantly white. What was interesting about this sample was that it made us realise that this behaviour was a result of unconscious bias, not malicious intent. When asked about how they felt about pronouncing people’s names wrong, people said that they felt:
A Tool to Help
Having reviewed all our research, we concluded that name discrimination in the workplace can manifest itself in two main ways. One being the biases associated with names (as listed previously) and the other being the barriers formed when people are unable to pronounce someone’s name correctly.
We felt one way to create a more inclusive workplace could be through a tool that would help build connections between people from different backgrounds, and aid with pronunciation. We felt identity should be celebrated, not hidden, and hoped a practical tool might contribute to the gradual erosion of this form of discrimination.
And so we developed Naim, a plug-in for employment sites like LinkedIn, which teaches people how to pronounce names. It works by asking the user to provide an audio recording and phonetic pronunciation of their name, which is added to their profile page.
We believe that dismantling unconscious bias requires a multi-pronged approach. So as well as housing the plug-in, the Naim website contains a search engine, where employers can learn about the etymology of names.
With a simple prototype developed, we approached recruiter Joe Wickison to talk about our idea. Joe confirmed that a tool like the Naim plug-in would be useful in his job, which sees him working with people from different backgrounds. He said that he always asks candidates how to correctly pronounce their names, but noted that an efficient tool would make it easier for him to learn them prior to meeting the person for the first time.
We also met with Square Circle agency to review what they thought about Naim. The start-up delivers workplace culture change, aiming to diversify corporations by using young people of colour to head up the conversation. They were really excited by our idea, saying:
“I always felt uneasy about blind CV’s because hiding the name doesn’t fix the problem. Genuine inclusion is not faster, it is not more efficient, but it is about seeing people and not making them feel less or ‘other’. It is about celebrating them, and all the parts of their identity that make them great at what they do. Starting with their name.” Laura Boyle, Founder, Square Circle
In March, we were invited to take part in Square Circle’s Intersectional Women’s Day event in London. We held an icebreaker where we encouraged the delegates to share an interesting story about their name, and designed Naim tags for the event.
Reflecting on our project in the current political climate, addressing diversity and inclusion is more pressing than ever. The Black Lives Matter movement has forced companies to look internally and admit their biases. Many organisations were quick to assert their alliance with BLM only to be called out for their hypocritical actions because, there is no diversity without inclusion.
Diversity and inclusion is not a trend, for many people this is their reality and the hardships they face have been around for a long time. They will continue to be so unless we address our prejudices and actively educate ourselves about bias and privilege. We hope that by engaging with the issue of name discrimination, we can facilitate a conversation about unconscious bias in the workplace and create tangible change.
Since we came up with the idea for Naim, LinkedIn has upgraded to include a name pronunciation tool. Although not perfect, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. We feel optimistic about the future and will continue to uphold the Naim mission – to embrace every aspect of our identity, starting with our name.