By Jennifer Hicks


“Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives.”Martin Luther King, Jr.


A recent study shows that people with “white-sounding” names are 50 percent more likely to get a response to their resume than are those with “black-sounding” names.

The study, done by professors at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology and the University of Chicago Graduate school of Business, mailed 5,000 resumes in response to job ads in both the Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune. Four resumes were sent for each job posting; two well-qualified resumes, one each with a “black-” and “white-sounding” name, and two lesser qualified resumes, again one each for black and white.


Whites Receive More Responses

The resumes that had less gaps in employment and higher-level skills – if they belonged to “white-sounding names – had a 30 percent greater chance of being responded to than the less qualified resume. However, this was not true for the same skilled resume of a “black-sounding” name.

Names were chosen after a study of birth certificates. “White” names included Kristen, Greg, Neil, Emily, Brett, Anne, and Jill. “Black” names included Kareem, Tamika, Rasheed, Ebony, Aisha, and Tyrone. Resumes with “black-sounding” names had only a 6.7 percent chance of receiving a response to their resume, while resumes with “white-sounding” names had a 10.1 percent chance .

The study found as much discrimination in less-skilled jobs, such as cashiering and mailroom attendants, as in more heavily skills-based positions such as regional sales manager and assistant to the president jobs.


Discrimination Becomes Unconscious

This has led some to question whether the resume screeners simply assumed that, as a legacy of deeply-rooted, ingrained, and now almost-unconscious racism , blacks were less qualified than whites.

So, what can done to eradicate this inequity?

On January 20, 2003 the National Public Radio program “Connections,” tried to answer to this. Joining the talk program were Sendhil Mullainathan, professor of economics at MIT, and Preston Edwards, Sr., chief executive office of IMDiversity, Inc., and publisher of this Web site.

Edwards, who has spent his career championing diversity in the workforce suggested that many companies who explain the absence of minorities in their workforce by saying “they’re not qualified, or we can’t find them, need to take a look at their human resource practices.”

“If a company is committed to diversity, they need to make it a goal,” said Edwards. “A CEO will certainly look into why sales are off by 10 percent because that means the company hasn’t met its goals. If diversity is also a goal, then the CEO needs to take a good look at why their recruiting and hiring programs are not meeting that goal.”


Reasons Why and Solutions

But not all agree that diversity is something companies should be looking for.

Callers to the program (and writers to this Web site) range in their opinions.

One caller suggested that blacks were too litigious and that caused small- and mid- sized businesses to screen them out. He admitted that this was only anecdotal reality rather than real reality, and suggested we had to overcome this mindset before blacks would be hired as readily as whites.

Another caller suggested that one way to quickly reverse the problem would be to stop doing business with those companies that do not hire African Americans.

But, according to Mullainathan, the type of prejudice the study found is “low-level and underneath.” Most of the people in the HR departments would not actively discriminate and the name-based discrimination “makes it much more tricky” now to prove discrimination than in King’s times.


Have We Really Changed?

Faced with this insidious form of discrimination, we have much to still overcome. But, does that mean that the “good ol'” hostile, blatant form of discrimination has been eradicated?

One letter we received, in response to the Connections program, wrote:

We have had a growing problem with blacks ever since we passed segregation laws. Blacks have grown ever more arrogant. They go around with chips on their should (sic). They are smart ass (sic) talking. The (sic) breed like a bunch of rabbits and the men fail to take care of their kids. They think everybody owes them.

Clearly, we are now battling that which we always have – and that which even “good” people have difficulty discarding from their perceptions and attitudes.

And it is not just between blacks and whites.

Here is another selection from our email bag:

I am a white man and your beliefs disturb me and you need to realize that the white man will bring down you dirty indians (sic) …

Jennifer Hicks, a prolific writer with more than 700 articles to her credit, lives on beautiful Cape Cod. Her work, focusing primarily on cultural diversity, career issues, women’s issues, travel, recruiting, and technology, has appeared in the ‘Christian Science Monitor,’ ‘NetworkWorld,’ ‘Career Crossroads’, ‘Ecruiting Today,’ ‘HR Exchange,’ ‘Forbes,’ and dozens of other magazines, journals, books, and Web sites. is committed to presenting diverse points of view. However, the viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at IMD.