The First Step to An Inclusive Work Culture: Getting Your Colleagues’ Names Right
It’s your responsibility to appreciate and celebrate the diversity of your coworkers
In December 2021, I attended my first work holiday party since 2019. I was enthusiastic to finally mingle and meet new people. (I couldn’t remember the last time I had done that). One of the guests approached me and introduced themselves. Upon learning I am Egyptian American, they fondly shared their experience spending time in the Middle East. They didn’t want to be a typical “American,” so they spent much of their time getting to know the locals in Cairo. They were even more excited when I shared that I lead the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) portfolio at a prominent think tank in Washington, D.C. It was affirming to have a conversation with another professional that vehemently agreed that more must be done to prioritize DEI — and act upon it — in U.S. institutions. They criticized D.C. institutions specifically for being predominantly white and male despite the rich culture and diversity of the nation’s capital. Everything seemed to be going great until they asked me for my name.
I said: “Hadeil.”
They responded bluntly: “Sorry, I cannot say that name.”
Shock. Humiliation. Anger. They seemed “woke.” They seemed to “get it.” Yet, they couldn’t take a brief moment to learn how to pronounce my name.
This was not the first — and will not be the last — time I experienced this type of microaggression. For most of my life in the United States, I resented having such a “difficult” name. I began to ask myself, “Why didn’t my parents think through this?” I wondered if things would have been easier if my name had been anglicized. I felt I couldn’t make lasting professional connections because of my name. I felt alienated and othered. A student I mentored confessed to me that she changed her name to something more “American” at a young age to avoid the same struggles I was facing. She now regrets masking her Latinx background. Who knew names could be such a source of joy for some but also a source of anguish and rage for others?
In his book How to Win and Influence People, Dale Carnegie shares: “Remember that a person’s name…