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Shadeequa or Dee?

Imagine this dilemma. You are well-educated and eminently qualified for a job. Your resume is tailored to highlight the experiences that make you a strong candidate. But you wonder: will your name be an impediment. It well might be if your name is an identifiably “ethnic” or “black” name. The National Bureau of Economic Research and numerous other sources confirm that racial and national origin discrimination rears its ugly head in the process of evaluating resumes. See “Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” Click here to read article.

Episode 8 of my Stairwell Teatro, Shadeequa or Dee? features an interview with Shadeequa Smith speaking about her personal experience with name discrimination. Shadeequa has a Master of Laws (LLM, an advanced law degree) in Dispute Resolution from Pepperdine University Law School. More about Shadeequa's background, including her work in restorative justice and bail reform here. Thanks, Shadeequa for sharing your name story with us.

We met online in a webinar on Microaggressions sponsored by California ChangeLawyers, a public foundation committed to diversifying the legal profession to empower the next generation of lawyers, judges, and activists.

If you are in a position to send some love their way, do so in the form of a financial contribution. That money will be put to good use and provides scholarships for law students and so much more. I have been impressed with the variety of valuable skill-building webinars they have hosted during these Covid-19 Shelter in Place times. Big shout-out to the staff and board of ChangeLawyers, click here to visit their website.

My interest in names stems from my desire to understand how bias and prejudice show up in our everyday lives and to explore the tools, including laws, that can help us eliminate barriers that stand in the way of achieving our fullest potential. Understanding name discrimination is part and parcel of shedding light on discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic origin, religion, and gender identity.

The ‘Emily and Greg’ research was done in 2003 and more recently these findings were confirmed in a study published by The Harvard Business School in 2016, Whitened Résumés: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market, click here to link to study.

Perhaps more disturbing is the following conclusion of the Harvard study. “Results show that when targeting an employer that presents itself as valuing diversity, minority job applicants engage in relatively little resume whitening and thus submit more racially transparent resumes. Yet our audit study of how employers respond to whitened and unwhitened résumés shows that organizational diversity statements are not actually associated with reduced discrimination against unwhitened résumés. Taken together, these findings suggest a paradox: minorities may be particularly likely to experience disadvantage when they apply to ostensibly pro-diversity employers. These findings illuminate the role of racial concealment and transparency in modern labor markets.” Yikes, that is indeed disturbing.

This form of discrimination isn’t just a problem in the United States; research studies in France, Great Britain, and Australia reach the same conclusion.

A study by the French government last year found "presumed discrimination" against minorities in the hiring practices of seven of the country's major companies, including Renault and Air France. The seven were "named and shamed" for tending “to favour candidates who bear names of French origin rather than those of North-African descent.” Interested in learning more, click here.

In the United Kingdom, the finding was the same. Minority ethnic applicants and white applicants with non-English names have to send on average 60 percent more applications to even get a response from an employer than a white person of British origin. The Confederation of British Industry recommends the removal of candidates’ names from job applications so employers focus on the skills and experience of applicants. And the British civil service implemented name-blind hiring practices several years ago. For more info check out this article from Raconteur, an HR publication, and this from The Guardian.

In Australia, the telecommunications giant (Optus) came under fire two years ago for posting a job ad on an employment site that noted a preference for ‘candidates who are Anglo Saxon’. The ad was swiftly removed after accusations of blatant racism, but many noted that the ad simply put into words the unspoken desire of many hiring managers to recruit people who look and sound just like them.

Despite many studies pointing to the business case for diversity and Australia’s federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, “the fact remains that racist attitudes – whether unconscious or overt – influence many of the hiring decisions in companies. It manifests in different ways, from explicit racial preferences, such as in the Optus case, to overlooking applicants with non-Anglo-Saxon sounding names and coded messages in job ads, such as a requirement for ‘perfect English’. There’s often an assumption that people can only speak a high-level of English if they come packaged in an Anglo-Saxon body,” says Lisa Annese, CEO of Diversity Council Australia.

The Victorian Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Robin Scott knows too well the racial preferences in Australia can influence recruitment decisions. Scott’s wife, Shaojie, has often used the Anglicised version of her Chinese name, Jade, while job hunting to avoid the potential for bias.” More info here.

Thank you for reading my blog and watching my Stairwell Teatro Series. If you found this interesting and informative, share it with your friends and your networks. And if you have a name story you wish to share, email me at

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