What’s In a Name?

What’s In a Name?

In 2014, Corinne Moss-Racusin, a researcher at Stanford, conducted an experiment where two identical resumes were submitted for review with the only difference being the first name: John or Jennifer. The result was that Jennifer was perceived, for the most part, as under qualified and not worthy of mentoring. If she was offered a salary package, it was $4,000 less than John.

In a very recent study, scientists asked 500 university students to rate approximately 400 male and female names. Interestingly, the results show that people use a first name to judge everything from personality to performance at work. Not surprisingly, female names are viewed as warmer and less competent than male names. To check your name out click here or go the article in the Daily Mail entitled “What does your first name say about YOU?”

This research reinforces the idea that warmth and competence tend to be the first characteristics we judge strangers on. It is a primitive throwback to when we need to know whether strangers are “friend or foe”; to know whether a person has the ability to help or hurt us. These quick judgements are based on fast processing and mental short cuts that are automatic and typically based on information we learned in childhood. As a result, the majority of this information is now unconscious and implicit, allowing us to form schemas and stereotypes without realizing it.

One consequence of using fast processing to make quick judgements is that gender stereotypes can become easily activated, resulting in participants generally assuming that women’s names are associated with kinder but less capable people.

This gender stereotype (men being competent and women being warm) is reflected in almost all of the gender blind spots I discuss in my book Understanding Gender at Work. The blind spot that stands out most, in relation to these research findings, is the misreading of feminine gender habits as an indication of a lack of confidence. I hear many stories from young lawyers about these misinterpretations. One involved a young lawyer being told that her wide-eye wonder was showing her lack of confidence. There could be lots of reasons for this expression but the one that was chosen was rooted in gender stereotypes. This reinforces that impressions are important and impression management is key for advancement.

Certain gender approaches can reinforce impressions of reduced competence and confidence. In childhood, most girls are taught to fit in and not stand out; consequently, women tend to understate and minimize their credentials and experience when they reach adulthood. Men, in contrast, have been encouraged to stand out all through their development period, and thus tend to overplay their strengths and experience. Research consistently shows a 30% difference in confidence levels between men and women. Thus, when men and women are evaluated using a masculine yardstick, women are disadvantaged.

If this tendency is not known by the interviewers, they will take the statements of the job candidate literally. Young women tell me that they are now correcting the impressions made after interviews by telling the interviewers about this tendency based on their knowledge about gender habits and blind spots. McKinsey goes so far as to have a gender bias buster in the room during evaluations of job candidates. Their job? To shine a light on any false assumptions that may occur based on gender blind spots.

Each time I hear about a knowledgeable young woman shining a light on and correcting impressions made by misreading gender habits, I am delighted. When I hear about women and men standing firm to help their colleagues in meetings when ideas are stolen or frequent interruptions occur, I am thrilled. Naming and correcting are happening more and more as awareness about gender habits grows, and this knowledge is being used for positive change.

You too can help change happen. Learn the tools and techniques for standing up for yourself, standing firm for your colleagues and helping others understand about gender at work. I am so proud of and encouraged by the young women who are doing so.

Author: Delee Fromm

Lawyer, psychologist, and author Delee Fromm has taught and coached for over 25 years. As a former partner at a large law firm, she practised commercial real estate for 17 years. Prior to her career in law, she was a neuropsychologist. As a consultant since 2003, she provides services to a variety of international law firms, corporations, banks, and governments. A large component of her business involves women’s advancement programming. She is a coach with the LSUC’s career coaching program and on the advisory board of Young Women in Law. She is an activator with SheEO. She lectures at several Ontario universities and has contributed content for Lexis Practice Advisor Canada. She is the author of two books including Advance Your Legal Career: Essential Skills for Success published by LexisNexis Canada and Understanding Gender at Work: How to Use, Lose and Expose Blind Spots for Career Success. Learn more here

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