What’s In a Name?

  • by Mack McKelvey
  • Jun 08, 2016

Before moving to Denver in the summer of 1995, I had been an intern for a U.S. Congresswoman; I had volunteered on Presidential, Gubernatorial and local elections; I had worked for the same restaurant and Marriott hotel for several years. I was a solid high school student and recent college graduate.

When starting my first job hunt, I remember the painstaking process of building my first resume, researching the best companies in my area, and finding the right contacts within HR at those companies. Before submitting, I carefully tailored each cover letter and resume for each position. As days went by, I found myself constantly checking my email and answering machine (don’t judge, it was the nineties). Days turned into weeks. I hadn’t receive a single response to the dozens of resumes I submitted.

As this Fortune article details, my friend Alexandra, who also lived in Denver and faced a similar silence when she applied for jobs; told me that she shortened her name to Alex and had great results.

There really wasn’t a way to shorten my name, so we thought about changing my name from Erin to Aaron, but we weren’t quite sure that was legal, so we brainstormed potential nicknames. We came up with “Mack”, which was short for my last name.

I sent the same tailored cover letter and resume to the same companies a few weeks later; the only difference was my name. I changed it from Erin McKelvey to Mack McKelvey. I received immediate calls for interviews from nearly 70% of the companies.

I will say that every hiring manager was surprised to see a woman walk through the door (HR hadn’t prepared them for that fact), when they were clearly expecting to see a man.

Did I get interview offers as a result of clear gender bias (because I had changed my name from a female to a more masculine name?)? To this day, I don’t know. I never asked.

I do know that I did not get an offer for full-time employment based on those interviews; I was offered a contractor role (through an agency) with AT&T. It was there that I met my first mentor who helped me get into my first real role in my career.

So my initial resume name change only got me into the room–it didn’t get me the job.

But since then, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve worked incredibly hard, had terrific mentors and I can look back on those early days with a bit more fondness now.

Fast forward to today. I have worked in the tech industry for 20 years–so I can only speak for this industry. It is better than it was, but two decades later, we should all be asking why are there still so few visible women?

  • If you look at a technology company today and the management team is 100% male (or even 80%), there should at least be questions.
  • If you look at at technology company today and it is 70% (or more) male, there should at least be questions.

At your company, if everyone is in the same age range, of the same gender, or of the same ethnicity–you should really be asking yourself–do I practice hiring bias, even unintentionally? Or is it something else?

For start ups, all the experts say that your first hires are your most important. If you are hiring all men from the beginning (all the people you know and have worked with in the past), perhaps attracting candidates from another gender, ethnicity, etc. may become harder as you grow. Are you creating an unconscious path for biased hiring in the future?

There aren’t simple answers here, certainly not every homogeneous company was built based on bias. But if we don’t stop and look around and question how we are hiring, cases like those mentioned in the Fortune article will likely continue.

There’s a flip side to this discussion–the idea of having a professional name. Again, there’s not a one-size-fits all approach here either. For me, becoming Mack McKelvey, has enabled me to separate my personal and professional lives. I’ll explore this in a future article on personal branding.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.


Categories:Best Practices

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