By Vikram Barhat
In a world where assumptions based on ethnicity can often hamper job opportunities for minorities, Terence King feels like he got a raw deal.
He was born with a Chinese name, Wang Lai Ming, and has what he calls a South Asian appearance. But, he says, many employers in his native Singapore all but told him they wouldn’t hire him for certain jobs because he didn’t look Chinese and those in New Zealand, where he has been living and working since 2000, often overlooked him because of his Chinese name, he believes.
“One time in Singapore, I went for a job interview and aced it,” says King, the son of a Chinese father and a Singhalese mother. “They were looking for a Mandarin speaker to handle the China market, but I did not get the job. I was told I didn’t look Chinese.”
Things didn’t get any better when he immigrated to New Zealand. “I would send out about five job applications a week and not even get one interview call,” says King, who holds a master’s degree in business management from a university in the UK.
Unable to deal with frequent rejections, he decided to ditch his birth name and adopt an English name. “Now things are different for me,” says King, a business lecturer in Auckland. “I’m confident there will always be a job for me somewhere with my English name and qualifications to match.”
There is significant name and accent discrimination exhibited by employers in New Zealand
New Zealand-based Paul Spoonley, a researcher at Massey University, says there is significant name and accent discrimination exhibited by employers in New Zealand that can be tied to assumptions around ethnicity.
“We have surveyed employers, many of whom feel that immigrants, especially from Asia, do not understand New Zealand and local cultural practices,” he says. “They are particularly concerned with English language proficiency.”
King’s is hardly an isolated incident.
Even famous people say changing their names to something less ethnic has helped them along. Indian-American actress and comedian Mindy Kaling (born Vera Chokalingam), actor Kal Penn (real name Kalpen Modi), politician Bobby Jindal (Piyush Jindal at birth) and Canadian-Indian Bollywood actress Sunny Leone (formerly Karenjit Kaur Vohra) all changed their birth names in part to better their career prospects.