Employer Insights

What's in a Name? Name-Based Employment Discrimination

Posted by John
min read
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Finding employment can be a challenging and overwhelming task. With fierce competition and employers seeking rigid criteria, the last thing that should be on a jobseeker's mind is whether they will be discriminated against due to the cultural origins of their name. Recently while interviewing a capable and confident individual, I was stopped by the candidate and informed that the name on the resume is actually a middle name and that her real name is something else. The candidate went on to tell me that she has felt the need to change her real name, as she has found that she is getting more calls and interviews by employers when she uses her middle name, which has an Anglo-Saxon origin. 

For me this was really strange. I couldn't believe that employers were essentially 'judging a book by its cover'. Rather than screening the resume thoroughly and determining whether potential candidates have the necessary skills for the particular role, they deemed candidates unsuitable due to the cultural origins of their name. According to new census data, nearly a quarter of Australia's population was born overseas, and nearly half of all Australians have at least one overseas-born parent. Overall, Australians come from over 200 different countries and speak over 200 languages. Australia has one of the most diverse populations in the world. So let's ask a few pointed questions:

  • How does this relate to employment and recruiters?

  • Does stereotyping based on ethnic and cultural background exist within the recruitment industry?

  • Are employers more likely to contact Joe over Jose? Rachel over Rachana? Abraham over Abhiram?

Equal opportunity and anti discrimination in the workplace is enshrined in the Australian legislation, yet there are indications which point to discrimination in the hiring process.

Various studies conducted across the U.S. and Australia have uncovered interesting and alarming findings (Leigh, Booth, & Varganova, 2009; Bertrand & Mullainathan, 2003). A study conducted by Australian National University researchers sent out 4000 fake job applications to employers advertising on the internet for entry level roles across various industries, changing the racial origin of the supposed candidate names (Leigh, Booth, & Varganova, 2009). The results:

  • Chinese names had a one in five chance of getting asked for interviews compared to one in three for Anglo-Saxon names.

  • Chinese named candidates required 68% more applications than Anglo-Saxon named applicants to get the same number of calls back.

  • Middle Eastern named applicants needed 64% more.

  • Indigenous named applicants needed 35% more.

  • Italian named applicants needed 12% more.

  • Employers in Sydney were more discriminatory than those in Melbourne or Brisbane.

So does this mean that employers are prejudiced towards potential candidates? There are numerous possible reasons that could explain these findings: Employers may assume that the supposed job seeker with a foreign name may be unable to speak fluent English or that the candidate does not have local work experience. With hundreds of applications to process, employers may be using the origin of the names on applications as a tool for screening applicants. At people2people, our consultants are from a diverse number of backgrounds with high levels of cultural awareness. 

Our consultants browse through the resumes of applicants with an emphasis on their skills rather than their cultural background, age or gender. To disregard candidates based on the cultural origins of their names is not only against the law but also a crucial commercial mistake. If I were to consider and screen applications purely based on the cultural origins of their names, I would be missing out on a vast amount of top talent, not to mention my annual sales/budget!


Leigh, A., Booth, A., & Varganova, E. (2009). Does racial and ethnic discrimination vary across minority groups? Evidence from three experiments.

Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2003). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination (No. w9873). National Bureau of Economic Research.