Like it or not, our names tell an awful lot about us. For instance, can you guess my approximate age by knowing my name? While I was born during the tail end of Suzanne's popularity (1973), you can pretty well guess that a candidate named Emma will be younger than I, and a candidate named Carol is older.

What else can you guess with a high degree of accuracy? Well, gender, of course. Gender neutral names do exist, but for the most part, a Jane will be female and a John will be male.

What about race? Can you tell race by someone's name? Vihaan is probably Indian, DeShawn is probably African American, and Zhang Wei is probably Chinese.

Names aren't spread out equally, and different regions, different economic statuses, and different religions all have different naming trends.

So, in other words, that name on the top of a resume tells you a whole heck of a lot about the person, before you even look at the first accomplishment on the paper. Which is why Silicon Valley Bank is thinking about removing names from resumes.

You should too. We all have unconscious biases--and don't say you don't--precisely because they are unconscious so you're not aware of them. Many studies have shown that names have a tremendous impact on our opinion on resumes. Women are preferred 2:1 in STEM tenure track jobs. Another study showed that Simon was more likely to get an interview for a job than Susan, even though the resumes were identical. And race? People with "white" sounding names needed to submit an average of 10 resumes for every interview, while people with "African-American" sounding names needed to submit an average of 15 resumes for every interview.

The most important thing you can do for your business is to hire the right people. It shouldn't matter what the candidate's name, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or national origin is. What matters is can that person do the job you need doing.

Of course, removing the names from the resumes doesn't solve the unconscious bias problem altogether--when you invite the person for the interview, you're going to have to do it by name, and when that person shows up you'll instantly have a pretty good idea about gender, age, race, and even national origin, pretty quickly. But, removing the names when you're just looking at resumes will force you to focus on their accomplishments.

Isn't that what you want? To hire people who can do the job and not just people who are like you or fit your pre-conceived notion of what someone in that job should be? Give it a try--have your recruiter remove the names on the resumes before she selects a slate of candidates, and then you look at those resumes without names as well. Hopefully, you will not be swayed by your unconscious beliefs and everyone applying will get a fair shot at the job.

Published on: Nov 30, 2016
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