Why “Latonya” won’t get the job

What’s in a name? Quite a bit, in the eyes of corporate America.

According to a story in today’s New York Times, two academics recently completed a fascinating experiment to test racism in the workplace. They sent out resumes to 1,300 help-wanted listings in Boston. The resumes were basically identical, except for the names: Half the resumes had names popular amongst white folks (like “Kristen” and “Brad”) and half the resumes had names popular amongst blacks (like “Tamika” and “Tyrone”).

The result?

Applicants with white-sounding names were 50 percent more likely to be called for interviews than were those with black-sounding names. Interviews were requested for 10.1 percent of applicants with white-sounding names and only 6.7 percent of those with black-sounding names.

Interestingly, the black-sounding names that received the worst call-back rate were “Aisha” (2.2 per cent), “Keisha” (3.8 per cent) and “Tamika” (5.4 per cent), compared to 9.1 per cent for “Kenya” and “Latonya”.

More disturbing still:

Their most alarming finding is that the likelihood of being called for an interview rises sharply with an applicant’s credentials — like experience and honors — for those with white-sounding names, but much less for those with black-sounding names. A grave concern is that this phenomenon may be damping the incentives for blacks to acquire job skills, producing a self-fulfilling prophecy that perpetuates prejudice and misallocates resources.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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