By Aru Kaul
I was six years old when I found my passion for storytelling—spending hours a day writing about anything and everything. I knew from a young age this was what I loved to do and, as fate would have it, I was accepted to the School of Journalism’s undergraduate program at Ryerson in 2019.
As a then-18-year-old fresh out of high school, I was excited to begin my university career and gain experience in journalism. I knew I would have to work harder than I did in high school, but I was ready to do it all. Less than a week into the program, I created my first professional resume.
I used this to apply to entry-level jobs that I still haven’t heard back from to this day.
I wasn’t discouraged; I figured that I wasn’t getting these opportunities because I didn’t have a lot of experience. I took a break from applying and instead focused on finding ways to strengthen my portfolio. I started contributing to campus newspapers and magazines, joining clubs and I even created my own passion project—Aru’s Views, an online page for those in marginalized communities to share creative work. When I felt ready, I started applying to jobs again.
I began to notice a common trend with all of the applications that fell through; they all had my full name on them. My full name—which is Arundhati—is a Hindu name that means “washed by the rays of the sun.” Even though I don’t go by it, I thought it made the most sense to write my full, legal name on my resume. I was wrong.
“What was unprofessional to her was a method of protection for me”
According to a joint 2016 study by researchers at Harvard, Stanford and the University of Toronto, job candidates from marginalized communities often “whiten” their resumes while job searching. This means changing their “foreign-sounding names” to something more Western sounding.
There is absolutely nothing Western about either of the names I go by, but I figured I would have better luck with the shorter one. I started applying again, this time with my shortened name, Aru. After doing this, I actually started to get some callbacks—which I had mixed feelings about. Other than using a shorter version of my name, I wasn’t making any drastic changes to what was already on my resume.
During this time, I met a white girl in one of my classes who had a lot of the same interests as me. We decided to apply to a writing opportunity on campus together. While we were looking over each other’s applications, she asked me why I didn’t write my full name. I responded by saying that I’ve just always gone by Aru. She told me that she had a nickname too, but would never write that on an application because it’s “unprofessional.”
I was taken aback by this comment. What was unprofessional to her was a method of protection for me.
When you hear the word ‘professional’ in the context of the workplace, what comes to mind? A lot has to do with how you present yourself.
According to a 2019 article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, whiteness and its associated behaviours are seen as the norm for professional standards. For example, things like tattoos, piercings and certain hairstyles are often considered ‘unprofessional,’ when in reality they just aren’t part of Westernized norms.
I got annoyed and snapped at her.
I told her that I wish I didn’t have to protect myself by shortening my name because it doesn’t sound white. I could feel my face turning red and the girl quickly apologized, adding that she had never thought of it like that before.
It’s no wonder why she hadn’t. The journalism industry is far from an exception when it comes to pushing whiteness as the social and professional standard.
In an article from Canadaland published in 2016 titled “Just How White Is The CBC?” the podcast network found that almost 90 per cent of the public broadcaster’s staff are white. It’s no secret that Canadian newsrooms are still predominantly white, which could be why it’s hard for white journalists to understand that not everyone has it as easy as them.
Newsrooms are not only predominantly white, they are also predominantly male. While there are more women than men who study journalism or communications, men are the ones who take up the majority of leadership roles in newsrooms, according to a 2021 report by the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ). I see this reflected in my own journalism classes. Sometimes, I can even count the number of male students on one hand. Why does this change after graduation?
When I decided to go into journalism, it was because I wanted to do something I love and pursue something I’m good at. It hurt me to think that no matter how much I pushed myself to be better, it ultimately didn’t mean anything because I am not a cisgender, heterosexual white man.
I eventually stopped reading emails where the first sentence was ‘thanking’ me for my application, since I already knew what the rest would say. I started developing imposter syndrome and would often ask myself if I even deserved to be in the journalism program. I had no idea that what I was feeling was more common than I thought.
“There is absolutely nothing Western about either of the names I go by, but I figured I would have better luck with the shorter one”
Imposter syndrome is the persistent doubt about one’s abilities or accomplishments coupled with fear of being exposed as fraudulent or undeserving.
A 2020 BBC article looked at women, especially women of colour, that are more likely to go through imposter syndrome in their careers than their white male counterparts. Emily Hu, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles told the BBC that people are more likely to face imposter syndrome if they don’t see anyone who looks like them or with the same background in their field.
I have since come to accept that being a woman and a person of colour are two things that I cannot change about myself. What I can and have changed is the way I approach this situation.
Now, as I approach my fourth year of university I have a lot more knowledge, experience and, most importantly, confidence. I have worked in arts, culture and sports journalism, and have expanded my content creation skills beyond just writing. I still don’t have all of the answers, but I know I have the ability to change the white male narrative that has long permeated news media in Canada.