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Ethnic Names: Katie Kern on how an ethnic name can impact your career prospects

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Katie Kern, Partner is the COO of Media Frenzy Global. Katie has also served on the board of directors for YWCA of Greater Charleston and TAG Marketing society.

Katie, what does diversity hiring mean to you?

It’s about removing bias from the hiring process and providing equal opportunities and access to jobs to everyone. I can speak from an US perspective only, I can’t discuss other countries, but it’s a long history of discrimination based on origin, race, religion, age and even gender. The hiring practices are slowly changing to address bias in the hiring process as it is easier and more comfortable to build teams of people that look and act as one another. Many studies prove that diverse teams are better performing and have a positive impact on company’s bottom line. Yet, it takes time for the hiring practices to be adjusted in line with this reality. Educating the hiring manager as to why diversity is important to the bottom line of the company is a good first step.

I couldn’t agree more. Especially when entering new markets, it is essential to have knowledge about the culture and preferences of your target audience. Having onboard someone who has experience with that market, was born there or lived there is a big advantage.

You started your career with Reebok, then founded a business of you own. People who are familiar with the hiring practices of both enterprises and small entrepreneurial companies are rare and I am really happy to have you with us today. Could you please share some best diversity hiring practices that grabbed your attention?

Companies, regardless large or small, have to actively ask for a diverse pool of candidates. At Media Frenzy, we hire millennials and Gen Z and ask universities to provide us with candidates who are diversified in their thinking as this adds value to the entire department they will be working for. We have a broad ratio of male and female team members and make sure that all groups are represented and people with disabilities are given a chance. In the marketing industry, still, there are very few Latin American and African American people on executive positions and to address such trends, we make sure that at Media Frenzy everyone is presented with the same career advancement opportunities, regardless of ethnical origin, gender, race or religion.

Fantastic! As the CEO of an HR Software company focused on diversity hiring, I believe that it is in the hands of the business to address the bias and ask for more diverse candidates. You mentioned that Media Frenzy is hiring students and graduates and a few days ago I interviewed two professors who said that even now universities and students don’t enjoy equal attention by the big business. What is your opinion?

Absolutely. Especially the Historically Black Universities are still underrepresented and rarely on the top of the list for many companies. I am very fortunate to be living in Atlanta as here we have a city-wide initiative encouraging diversity, inclusion and equity programs and the companies are incentivized to adopt such programs. We look at all universities, and I have to say that often students coming from underrepresented universities are brilliant and have the potential to become the future leaders of America.


That’s a fantastic initiative and I hope that more cities will adopt it. A few studies suggest that even the name of the candidate may lead to bias and determine which CV’s out of a big pile float to the top. Even more, the name may impact the payrate and career advancement prospects of the candidate. In your opinion, is the name related bias still widespread?


Well, I was smiling because Katie is actually my nickname given to me by my family and friends. Initially, when I graduated from university, I used my ethnic-sounding birth name. I applied for many jobs but received very few responses. Then, one day I decided to have my nickname on my resume and the flood gate opened. That’s a real-life case study I am living and walking in and for sure the ethnic name bias is still there.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. What about candidates who mention that they were volunteers or studied abroad as part of an exchange program? To me, such experiences curiosity and willingness to give back to society but many hiring managers are of a different opinion.


True, often candidates who studied abroad are seen as dreamers who will never be satisfied by their career and will be seeking somewhere else. Sometimes, students are even advised by their career coach to exclude such experiences from their resumes. It is sad, as you need to experience a foreign culture in order to understand your clients abroad. Business is done differently around the world and studying and living abroad tremendously enhances the adaptability and communication skills of the students.  


There are some companies that pay their employees to volunteer abroad as part of their CSR (corporate social responsibility) programs but the number is very small. Changing the mindset and breaking stereotypes is a slow process. In this regard, what are the challenges associated with diversity hiring? Is the access to a diverse talent pool, the hiring bias or something else?


Well, for us it is not necessarily a challenge, diversity is always on the top of our minds. It is a company policy that there needs to be diversity when hiring. Having 3 candidates very similar to each other is not enough, managers have to proactively ask for diverse candidates.

On the other hand, diversity and inclusion programs may result in ticking boxes instead of bringing onboard candidates who think differently and will approach the same problem from a different angle. It is the diversity of thought that is not on the hiring checklists. It is in human nature to gravitate around people who look like us, speak like us and act like us. Only an open-minded hiring manager can embrace a diversity of thought and bring in candidates who may have different world views, be dressed less formally than usual or express themselves in a different way but who could add tremendous value to the company. It takes someone who is not only having a degree in HR but who is also well-traveled, experienced various cultures and sees everyone’s strengths.

Many companies have dedicated D&I roles, but these people need to be given the power to go to the HR department and ask for a more diverse candidate pool, run internal and external campaigns with the marketing department and to communicate the vision of the company.