Name Discrimination Study Finds Lakisha and Jamal Still Less Likely to Get Hired Than Emily and Greg
Robin Young and Serena McMahon, WBUR, August 18, 2021
Two decades ago, a Black woman named Kalisha White applied for a team leader position at Target and worried that her application had been ignored because of her race.
So she sent it back in with a different name and slightly fewer qualifications. That application got her an interview. Eventually, she won a class-action lawsuit against the massive retailer.
Two decades later, a new study shows that not much has changed.
Economists from the University of California Berkeley and the University of Chicago sent 83,000 job applications to 108 Fortune 500 employers — half with traditionally white-sounding names, the other half with distinctively Black-sounding names.
Applicants with Black names were called back 10% fewer times across the board — and even less when it came to specific companies — despite having comparable applications to their white counterparts.
Berkeley economist Patrick Kline, one of the study’s authors, says the applications looked realistic. Researchers crafted resumes and automated the process of filling out employment history and personality tests.
Some of the common white names used were Emily or Greg, he says, and distinctively Black names used include Jamal or Lakisha. The study’s authors used these names as a way of trying to understand discrimination in the employment application process.
Discrimination was more prevalent at decentralized companies where the hiring process is spread out, he says, as opposed to a company in one location with specialized human resource employees.
A trained HR specialist may be more likely to recognize bias or specifically look for diverse applicants, he says.
The study’s researchers shared their findings with the Department of Labor. Testing for discrimination is arduous, he says, so the department was interested in looking over the study’s scientific measurements of discrimination.
Discrimination against Black names was most prevalent in the auto services and dealership industry, the study found. Kline says discrimination was concentrated in customer-facing industries such as restaurants and retail and clothing sectors.
Industries without customer-facing roles, like jobs in freight and transportation industries, showed low discrimination levels against Black names, he says.