Nearly a third of ethnic minority workers told to use more 'western' sounding names in the workplace

New research shows that a number of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) employees have directly, or indirectly, been told to use more ‘western’ sounding names in the workplace.

The study, conducted by employment law solicitors Slater and Gordon, took responses from 1000 BAME employees, thirty-four percent of whom admitted to abandoning their birth name on their CV or in the workplace at least once in their career.

Those who had agreed to change their names cited several motivating factors, including fear of judgement, discrimination or that failing to do so would have an adverse impact on their career progression.

Interestingly when BAME job-seekers used a ‘western work name’ on their CV twenty-eight per cent felt they were offered more roles and twenty-seven per cent said they landed more job interviews as a result.

These figures highlight a concerning trend that appears to put undue pressure on ethnic minorities to ‘fit in’ at work. The Equality Act 2010, states that individuals must not suffer a detriment due to their race, nationality or ethnicity, therefore forcing an individual to change their given name to a ‘western’ alternative is likely to qualify as unlawful discrimination. 

Perhaps more worrying is the fact that a number of respondents feel they are more successful in applying for jobs when using a ‘western name’, which highlights the issue of bias in recruitment procedures. Organisations must not base interview shortlists or job offers on an individual’s race, therefore disregarding candidates because of their name could also qualify as discrimination. In many cases, decision makers may be doing this unconsciously and organisations should consider omitting personal details from initial job applications to reduce the risk of unconscious bias.

Ultimately, organisations should ensure the workplace is a welcoming and supportive environment in which all individuals are treated fairly. BAME individuals should not be made to feel pressured into changing their name in order to fit in and organisations should instead be accepting of their employees’ cultural heritage.

By now, most organisations will have a workplace policy on diversity and it is important to remind staff of its values, as well as providing additional training where necessary to present practical examples of behaviour which is likely to qualify as discrimination.

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