Richson: From Jose to Joe


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In today’s competitive job market, your résumé is your personal brand. Even in high school, student are exposed to the idea of engaging in activities as much for the sake of college-application presentation as for the sake of “doing.” And although the stakes may be higher for college students sweating over dipping their toes in the job market, the idea is the same: the more experience you have, the better.

If you’re anything like me, you stress about your résumé’s formatting —  “Does this font make me look basic?” —  and the amount of blank space at the bottom … not so much space that you look lazy and incompetent but not so little remaining that you look overly prepared or un-socialized. One thing not generally given much thought, however, is the name at the top of the paper.

A man named Jose Zamora has recently taken to the national stage to shed light on issues of internalized, implicit bias in the job-acquisition process. After months of vigorous application submissions with no luck, Zamora decided to change his name from “Jose” to “Joe.”

Immediately, Zamora’s applications garnered responses. Having kept his résumé entirely the same with the exception of his name, Zamora had suddenly made himself seem more generic … literally, “Average Joe.”

The implications of Zamora’s story are clear, and unsettling. Zamora did not embellish his experiences on the second version at his résumé; he altered his name toward the American ethnic mainstream.

The magic word in modern employment practice, not to mention college admission processes, is “diversity.” But diversity is a stated goal that can be worked toward; the implicit bias that Zamora faced in the submission of his original r ésumé is, unfortunately, a subconscious element.

Must the working world resort to the same tactics used by teachers when their students peer edit: cloud out the name of the author, so as to keep the reader impartial? It’s a complicated issue, with both history and the nature of the human mind to blame.

From a psychological perspective, when something “comes to mind,” a process of efficiency takes place … when an employer thinks of a capable worker, the mind presents a common template of that potential worker, an average of all related ideals regarding a capable employee. The problem is, the name Joe is closer associated with this template than Jose is. And this is something that, socially, we must actively challenge, for we cannot rely solely on the mind to retrain itself.

How many others share the first chapter of Zamora’s story, never taking on the social experiment of his second installment? It is not up to those who are receiving bias to fix these perceptions; it is up to those who built the foundation behind it.

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