There’s a lot in a name. For some, their name can be a source of pride: something passed down for generations upon generations. But for job-seekers, certain names can reduce their employability.
Inside Out, a BBC television program dedicated to exposing injustice, decided to conduct a small experiment on perception of Muslim names. In their experiment, they sent off two identical CVs to 100 business managerial positions in London: one with the name “Adam” and one with the name “Mohammed”. With growing Islamophobia in the U.K., including acid attacks and arson, the result of the study was unsurprising. Adam was given 12 interviews, while Mohammed was only offered 4.
Professor Modood, who analyzed the BBC’s findings, recounted having been told that his name “won’t do.”
“I had a student job where the employer looked at my name and said ‘Oh, that won’t do, introduce yourself as Terry Miles’ or something like that. I was very unhappy to do so.”
“I wouldn’t willingly change my name, and I’ve given my daughters Pakistani or Muslim names, even when I thought: ‘Might this hurt their chances when they look for work?'”
Yogesh Khrishna Davé, a 56-year-old working in Slough, spoke to the BBC about the effect his name has had on his employment chances. Davé began looking for jobs in the U.K. in the 1980’s. After receiving rejection letters, somebody suggested he change the name on his CV to sound “English.” He then submitted his CV under two names, his real name and John Smith. His alias John Smith was accepted, while Davé was rejected.
What comes as the biggest shock is the location of the study. London is hailed as the most diverse and accepting region of the U.K., with a white British population below 50%. Yet injustice still remains. In London, 52% of the Bangladeshi population and over 30% of the Black and Pakistani population are considered low-paid compared to less than 20% of the white British population. The gender pay gap across the U.K. also leaves behind Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, who have a pay gap of 26% compared to white British men. Black African women have also seen little progress since the 90’s, with a full-time pay gap of 20% and a part-time pay gap of 24%.
Across the U.K., Muslims, especially Muslim women, experience the highest penalties of all ethno-religious groups. 46% of the Muslim population are among the most deprived 10% of the country, and in 2001, 33% of the Muslim population occupied the most deprived areas of the U.K. Over twice as many Muslims reside in hostels or temporary accommodation than the general public, and almost twice as many are unemployed compared to the general population.
It is clear that Black and Ethnic Minority communities in Britain face significant hardships which can be exacerbated by racism and islamophobia in their job applications. The most common form of combatting prejudice when assessing applicants is by having name-blind application processes, so that the candidate’s name is never shown. The idea behind this is to combat the implicit biases people have against certain types of names.
The Clear Company, a HR and recruitment consultancy, commented on the findings of the BBC study, and the idea of name-blind applications: “While the benefits of ‘name-blind’ recruitment were explored by the program makers, it is important to note that initiatives such as this typically address the symptoms rather than the causes of bias in the hiring process. CV based shortlisting is one of the most common places where bias can have an adverse impact on inclusive assessment, not only in terms of religion, but also ethnicity, disability, socio-economic group, gender and age. While removing personal data from CVs is a positive step, it’s like using a plaster to cover a wound. After twelve years auditing recruitment processes for some of the U.K.’s largest employers, we know that what lies beneath the surface of policy, process and behavior is the real issue.”
Name-blind application processes may not be addressing the underlying problems, but what will? It might be as simple as introducing Affirmative Action programs to ensure that the most deprived communities in the U.K. are given not just a fighting chance, but the chance that they need to make their way out of historic poverty.
As of 2017, affirmative action is considered discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010 (except for in the cases of equal employment for women in the workforce under the Sex Discrimination Act 2002, and employment of Catholics in Northern Ireland).
It seems unfair for the Sex Discrimination Act to assume that all women are created equal when black and other ethnic minority women have reduced chances of employment even with affirmative action. And this doesn’t account for the reduced employment chances of black and other ethnic minority men.
For now, as long as Affirmative Action remains illegal, the best that people with Muslim names can hope for is a blind application process. But as the situation becomes even more threatening to British Muslims, it is important that the government addresses its biases against black and ethnic minority individuals in all areas of life: job applications, university applications, the justice system and the healthcare system.