Can your name determine your career?

name game in work

If your name is Emma, you’re likely to work in HR. That’s according to data taken from 100 million LinkedIn profiles

The networking site has broken down the list of names by profession; CEOs are most likely to be called Peter or Deborah, engineers are most likely to be called Ravi or Kiran. The question is, does your name really influence your future?

Maddy Keating, Marketing Specialist at MHR has looked at Research which suggested that our names can have some effect on our behaviour. This may not be in the form of dictating our future career, but many studies have shown that the race associated with a name can affect your prospects, with ‘white’ sounding names more likely to get hired than African American names. Other experiments have found that gender neutral names, or socio-economic related names, can affect the way people act, especially when younger.

A lot of this links to the stereotypes associated with certain names, and this can be really problematic in the workplace where career prospects can be boosted or damaged by something completely out of your control. For example, the top 10 names for people working in HR were all female, whilst there are more men called John or David leading FTSE 100 companies than women altogether.

New research has supported this gender bias in career development, showing how individual names are likely to earn more money than others, with bias towards men. Ed was the name linked to the highest earning male, and Liz to the highest earning female – however, Liz was 318th on the list. 60% of men were found to be earning an average salary over £30,000 compared to just 13% of women in this research.

With such clear issues surrounding something featured on every CV, affecting every employee, what can we do to avoid these biases in the workplace?

Keeping the bias out of recruitment

Everything from job adverts, to job titles, and the current structure of your organisation can affect who applies for roles within your company. It is well known that certain industries often struggle to recruit a particular gender, for example IT sectors continue to have low numbers of women applying for roles. This is a historical problem based on the slowness of both educational institutes and society to reject traditional job role stereotypes.

The issue can also be affected by word choice. Certain words appeal to women more than men and vice versa; this can put people off from applying for an advertised role as potential candidates question whether the role or company is really for them. For example, words like ‘exhaustive’ and ‘fearless’ appeal to men whereas words like ‘transparent’ and ‘catalyst’ appeal more to women.

And this affect can be caused by the language used on your website too. Potential candidates researching your company after applying for a role may decide against it if your wording suggests an unappealing culture.

The problem is that often these biases towards or against certain words or descriptions are unconscious. Through years of societal evolution, stereotypes and cultural heritage, certain words are often associated with men more than women which can lead to variations in applicant numbers seemingly out of an organisation’s control.

Both these issues can be improved upon by analysing word choices used within recruitment teams, job advertisements and an organisation’s website to ensure that descriptions appeal to both sexes. HR teams can work with an organisation’s communications team to try and find more gender neutral words to avoid creating bias. This may seem like a daunting task but automation and analytics software are available to help audit your recruitment content.

The Gender gap

Of course, once a new recruit has joined your organisation, it doesn’t stop there. There is plenty of research that shows men are more likely to ask for promotions, or salary increases compared to women. As an organisation, your hiring processes need to consider both ethnic and gender stereotypes to ensure diversity and equal opportunities at all levels of your organisation. This is especially important with the introduction of gender pay gap reporting in 2017, and the potential for this to spread to ethnicity pay gap reporting too, currently under consultation by the government.

Bias within the recruitment sphere seems like a political minefield, so we’ve got some top tips to try and help you improve equality in your recruitment practises.

  • Rethink your job advertisements and where you post them to ensure a diverse range of people can see them and apply.
  • Consider removing names, ages and other personal information from the CVs sent to hiring managers to ensure the interview shortlist is based purely on skills and experience.
  • Create a strong onboardingprocess which doesn’t stop after the induction. Educate managers to spend time on development plans, allowing all employees to continue improving their skills during their employment and seek different opportunities, whether that’s vertically or into different departments.
  • Consider succession planning. Which rising stars could step in if a senior figure quits, given the right training? Analytics can be used to examine your people data and highlight potential future leaders, saving you from external recruitment and the risk of following the same bias cycle.
  • Re-evaluate your return to work strategies for women coming back from maternity, or employees coming back from long illnesses, to help them get back on track. Think carefully about how you communicate to make them feel welcomed back, rather than out of place.

Whilst bias in the workplace is an ongoing issue that will take time to resolve, it is important not to go too far the other way. Don’t go out of your way to hire some ‘Michaels’ within HR roles or reject any male candidates from your next senior vacancy. Importance must be placed on giving everyone equal opportunities – being aware of the unconscious biases that may be blocking your organisation from achieving this. Using your people data and analytics reporting can help to remove bias by using scientific algorithms to identify potential candidates.

Like the gender pay gap, there is no immediate solution, and changing your processes for the better will take time. But every step in the right direction will help to create better equality within your workforce and avoid too many people called Emma working in your HR department.