Monday, September 29, 2003

Now They Are Coming For Your Name

Interesting story on the front page of the Commercial Appeal today, about how "black-sounding" names are the new frontier of job discrimination. The article reports from two studies, one showing no effect and the other showing an effect. The article accepts the reality of the effect study and proposes a remedy, of course: removing names from applications. Or, alternatively, having applications handled initially by someone not connected to the hiring process. Sounds like a nascent government program to me!

The study purporting to show effect had some suspicious methodology:
The authors took the content of 500 real resumes off online job boards and evaluated them, as objectively as possible, for quality, using such factors as education and experience. Then they replaced the names with made-up names picked to "sound white" or "sound black" and responded to 1,300 job ads in The Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune last year.
There's room for subjectivity there. They also don't seem to have taken into account the race of the application evaluators, which might show more clearly a bias. No doubt more than a few of the 1300 jobs they applied for in chicago and Boston had blacks in the decision-making role. Are they arguing that blacks would discriminate against black-named blacks? It requires more investigation before we accept the results.

There was another fascinating passage:
Researchers who have looked at Census records have found that 100 years ago, the 20 most popular names were largely the same for black people and white people; now only a handful are among the most popular with both groups. Names like DeShawn and Shanice are almost exclusively black, while white people, whose names have also become increasingly distinctive, favored such names as Cody and Caitlin.
One can argue, based on the results of the other study, that when you don't have much but your name, you want it to stand out. Also, they note that the trend increased since the Sixties, when Black Pride came to the fore.

Too early to accept, but some interesting reading, anyway.

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