When it comes to employment, an ongoing debate has re-emerged about names. You may ask yourself, but what do names have to do with getting a job? According to the Toronto Star, in order to get a job individuals from minority groups sometimes have to “whiten” their resumés, by deleting tell-tale signs of race or ethnicity.
I took it upon myself to see if there was some truth to this practice. In February of 2017 I ran a job search experiment. I looked for a job using two resumés with the same skill set; however, I changed the names on the resumés. The two names I used to apply for social media related jobs in Toronto were, Michael, a resident of Hamilton Ontario, and Tatenda, a resident of Mississauga Ontario.
I sent out ten resumés using each name. My findings were that, although Michael lived further from Toronto than Tatenda, Michael received five call backs, and Tatenda only two. I was left with so many questions: Is this a coincidence or is this discrimination? I was disappointed with the thought that, to get a foot in the door, I would have to anglicize my name.
As a Zimbabwean, I am proud of the name my parents gave me. Tatenda means thank you in our native language, Shona.Names have a deep history in Zimbabwe; my parents’ generation had no choice but to have anglicized names because the ruling British government did not want the citizens of then Rhodesia to have indigenous names. This was an act to strip the local inhabitants of their cultural heritage and identity and make them assimilate to western culture in order to gain power and control. In 1980, independence came; the people changed the name of their new free state from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, which in Shona means venerated house. Parents now had the freedom to name their children as they desired. Knowing what significance my name holds, it would feel like a betrayal of my heritage to change my name in order to appease a potential employer.
When employers decide to hire people that look and sound like them, they start to exclude people that don’t fit that prototype. The dilemma for most people then is: Do you change your name to advance you career? Do you go through countless job rejections and wait for the perfect job and employer that will accept you for your name, culture and race? Personally, I wouldn’t consider whitening my resume because, if my potential employer cannot accept my racial and cultural identity, that is a clear sign that workplace is not the best fit for me!