“What’s in a Name?” Part 2: How to Make Names Count for Inclusion in the Workplace

By: Angie (Min Ah) Park

Last week, we discussed why names matter for inclusion in the workplace and how habitually mispronouncing colleagues’ names can negatively impact employees’ wellbeing and be detrimental to the organization’s DEI goals.

If you are unsure about the importance of names in organizational inclusion, it’s highly recommended that you read Part 1 before continuing.

This week, as promised, we will talk about 3 examples of next steps that leaders can take to build a culture of fairness and belonging for all employees, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or the uniqueness of their names.

  • Invest the time and effort to learn your colleagues’ names.

Ask and listen. In first-time meetings or introductions, pay close attention to how people introduce themselves, including their pronouns and the correct pronunciation of their names. If you are unsure, take the intentional second to ask. Then listen carefully to the proper pronunciation–where the necessary emphasis and inflections are. Thank them for their time.

Note that your way of trying to “soldier on” with a name without asking and butchering it in the process or making it solely the other person’s responsibility to correct you can cause further awkwardness and embarrassment for the other person. 

If you have the time prior to a meeting, do your research. Many people today share the correct pronunciation of their names through their Linked In profiles or by offering the phonetic spelling of their names on their website pages or email signatures. There are also a number of websites available online that offer pronunciation tools. 

Once you have learned the proper pronunciation, practice saying the name a few times prior to the engagement. Make this practice a conscious habit.

  • Build a culture of honouring everyone’s names.

Make it a norm rather than an exception to respect everyone’s names on your teams and among your colleagues. Implement a practice of sharing the phonetic spelling or pronunciation of everyone’s names through internal profiles, email signatures, or during meeting calls. 

Rather than singling someone out or putting them on the spot, adopt a consistent culture of honouring each other’s names and taking the time at the beginning of a call or an ongoing interaction to learn everyone’s names as a team. In other words, make it a norm to respect the diversity of your colleagues.

  • Check for unconscious biases and create effective checks and balances.

This is not a one-size-fits-all measure. Identify the roots of name-based discrimination in your organization and reshape recruitment processes to eliminate unconscious biases, if necessary.

While adopting a name-blind hiring process–where names of applicants are removed from their resumes–can be a starting point to mitigating some unconscious biases in initial recruitment, researchers warn that this isn’t quite the “magic bullet” solution to all problems. 

There are still several possible indicators of job applicants’ race and ethnicity from their volunteer and work experiences to the schools that they attended and the communities they have grown up in. Even after the “first hurdle” of the resume stage, biases can also creep up in the interview process. Moreover, organizations with an internal referral-based system of hiring may not benefit from a simple name-blind hiring process.

Invest in the Learning and Development of organizational leaders and recruiters for them to gain a deeper self-awareness of their conscious and unconscious biases. Consider the evidence of name-based discrimination as an indicator of larger, underlying biases and barriers at play. Then, review the organization’s culture, practices, and policies to increase fairness and inclusivity, based on where the current gaps are.

That's the end of our two-week feature on the importance of names to organizational inclusion!

Check out THG’s blog for more articles on a variety of DEI-related topics, and for more customized and comprehensive DEI training solutions, explore THG’s learning experiences here!