28 November 2023
Reflections from the Green Park Global Talent Conference
Raj Tulsiani outlines the negative effect of microaggressions in the workplace and highlights how leaders can use the #MyNameIs Campaign to promote inclusivity in their organisations.
You might think it’s a small thing, but mispronouncing someone’s name is a common microaggression faced on a daily basis by ethnic minority groups. The term ‘microaggression’ refers to the kind of remarks that seem fairly innocuous, but are actually demeaning slights, for instance, “Your English is great!” or “Where are you really from?” When ethnic minorities suffer these mini-insults day in, day out – however unintentional they may be – it can be demoralising and chip away at their sense of belonging. Clearly, this has serious implications in the workplace, with knock-on effects on performance and productivity. But there are things we can do to change this, starting with getting names right. That’s why I’m championing phonetic name spelling through the #MyNameIs campaign – and I want 1,000 organisations to join me.
Mispronouncing a name may seem an innocent mistake to some, but it can actually give a very negative message, particularly when it is consistently repeated: ‘I can’t be bothered to find out how to say your name – you’re unimportant’. A poll by Race Equality Matters, an organisation co-founded by Green Park to drive action on racial inequality, confirms this idea. It revealed that 73% of respondents from over 100 organisations had had their name mispronounced. They told us it made them feel “disrespected”, “not valued or important” and “that they didn’t belong”. When we look at the psychology, it’s probably no surprise.
As Organisational Psychologist and leadership expert, Joyce E. A. Russell, said:
A person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality. Some might say it is the most important word in the world to that person… It is a sign of courtesy… When someone remembers our name after meeting us, we feel respected and more important.
In short, our names are intimately tied to our self-image; to who we are as individuals. Your parents picked your name from millions of options and chose it just for you. When we get someone’s name right, it makes them feel recognised, comfortable and gives them a sense of belonging. This is especially important for ethnic minorities who may feel less accepted or included. When we don’t get people’s names right, it does the opposite – and that can undermine organisations’ efforts to improve race representation in the workplace. For those that are trying to increase diversity and inclusion, correct name pronunciation can make a lot of difference. Teams that lack diversity may not have come across names from outside their culture, but, with a phonetic spelling policy, getting names right becomes a lot easier. It’s a small but significant step that can help employers retain diverse employees and ensure that they thrive. After all, if employers are going to tell their teams ‘bring your whole self to work’, they should make sure people are called by their whole, correct names.
That’s why we are championing simple, practical ways to get people’s name pronunciation right, through the Race Equality Matters, #MyNameIs Campaign, encouraging organisations and employers to:
Its free and easy to get involved and with Race Equality Week round the corner, (7th to 13th February), there’s no better time to implement these changes. And with the pandemic forcing us all online, they can be particularly helpful. By including phonetic spellings on Zoom and Teams meetings, everyone will know how to pronounce participants’ names. The same goes for virtual events. With #MyNameIs, we can make phonetic spellings standard practice.
How to get involved