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Ask us Anything: Getting Name Pronunciation Right

In the first of our ‘Ask Us Anything on Diversity and Inclusion’ series, we respond to a question about tips to improve name pronunciation.

Getting the pronunciation of someone’s name right is important. It’s respectful. It promotes inclusion from our very first interaction with colleagues and customers.

Some of our clients are trialling new technologies for name pronunciation that we think are a tangible symbol of respect for cultural diversity in the workplace.

These new tools present an opportunity to get pronunciation right even before we’ve talked with a person. Tools like namecoach or nameshouts work by recording your name (in English and, if desired, in other languages) and then sharing this in email signatures by clicking ‘Hear My Name’. Name pronunciations can be either user-generated or drawn from a large database of audio name pronunciations.

‘Name mispronunciation can be a source of distress or concern for many in our workplaces.’

We like this innovation because name mispronunciation can be a source of distress or concern for many in our workplaces. We hear this in focus groups with employees as part of our diversity and inclusion diagnostics. Many consider it a microaggression in the workplace. As Curtin University Associate Professor Sender Dovchin wrote in The Conversation last year: “Name microaggressions can present as names being mispronounced, misspelled, misunderstood, misgendered, or mocked.” Just last month, Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan said name discrimination is still prevalent in Australia. ‘Name discrimination is a form of racial discrimination’ – it’s never acceptable and there’s no place for it in Australia,” Tan said.

We also know from research by the Australian National University that job applicants find it easier to get a job interview if they have an Anglo-Saxon name.

Of course, we can take simple steps without the aid of technology to get name pronunciation right. When we’re not sure how to pronounce someone’s name, the first thing to do says award-winning inclusion author and strategist Ruchika Tulshyan, is to ask the person to pronounce it and actively listen. ‘Listen carefully to where the person puts emphasis, and where the inflections are … Make an effort to listen intently and ask if you’re saying it correctly.’

And if we’ve had that embarrassing experience where we’ve realised we’ve been mispronouncing a name for some time, the best thing to do, according to Ruchika Tulshyan, is to apologise, ask them how to pronounce it, and to proactively practice in private to get it right.

After all, this is part of our broader push towards increasing psychological safety and inclusion in the workplace.

About Dr Katie Spearritt

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