After One Works With People Who Are Different, The Fear Factor Goes Down

My friend Billy Wilson is a recent immigrant from China with a advanced degree in physics.  But – surprise! – that was not the name he was given at birth.

As we enter the lunar Year Of The Rooster, however, he is not about to seek to appear anything but “American” while he searches for a job.

Not a very unique or surprising story, but a recent Canadian academic study demonstrates, once again, why it is so ubiquitous.

“People with Asian names are less likely to be called for job interviews than people with English names and equivalent or lower Canadian qualifications. … [at larger companies they] had a lower callback rate of 20.1 per cent, whereas in smaller organizations the numbers are nearly doubled at a 37.1 per cent lower callback rate.”

One of the authors of the study said that “It should be stressed that at every size of employer and at every skill level, the disadvantage does remain. … [the study] very clearly shows that employer decisions and biases actually play a role in the disadvantages that minorities face.”

The “fear factor” plays a part in this bias, since “when an employer thinks about filling a vacancy, they want to fill it in with someone they are comfortable with, someone who is like them.  After one works with people who are different, the fear factor goes down. Then they are able to see differences can be used as a means of advancement.”

So can anything be done?

Well, I guess someone like my friend can change his name, but that hardly seems like a workable societal strategy – or just.

The study authors offered some better ideas:

  1. “Internships and educational job opportunities give people a chance to show what they can do. They provide opportunities to help people better understand how to become successful in a work environment and help erode the ‘othering’ of people who may be different.”
  2. “It’s important to have an integrated strategy. There’s no one thing that’s going to change how people feel about people who are different from them. You have to tackle it at different levels.”
  3. “There are interventions that can change implicit biases. It’s not that these things are not changeable. You have to be aware of your own biases, and make a conscious effort to counteract them.”

Takeaway: Amid the unnecessary current chaos and fear imposed upon people who are different, who do not have “American” last names, it is sobering – and disturbing – to see that this issue is not only an American one.



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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]