‘Matthew, you’re hired. Good luck next time, Samir’

Name discrimination an issue in hiring process in country’s 3 biggest cities: Research report
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/22/2011

Jobseekers with foreign-sounding names are significantly less likely to receive callbacks after sending resumés to prospective employers than those with Anglophone names, according to a study from immigration research centre Metropolis British Columbia in Vancouver.

“We were holding constant the rest of the resumés so they all had Canadian experience, Canadian education, solid credentials, extracurriculars, et cetera but, even then — somewhat surprising to me — the names continued to play a significant role in someone’s likelihood of getting called back,” said Philip Oreopoulos, an associate professor at the University of Toronto and co-author of Why do Some Employers Prefer to Interview Matthew but not Samir?

The authors sent out about 8,000 resumés across Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver for various online job postings. The jobs required at least a bachelor’s degree and four to six years’ work experience. Some resumés had common Anglophone names, such as John Smith or Emily Brown, while others had popular Greek, Indian or Chinese names.

People with Anglophone names were 47 per cent more likely to receive a callback than those with Indian or Chinese names in Toronto; 39 per cent more likely in Montreal; and 20 per cent more likely in Vancouver, found the study.

“Employers have lower callback rates for non-British- sounding applicants, even when resumés are identical and even when such differential treatment is illegal… But employers are reporting they are not doing this intentionally,” said Krishna Pendakur, co-director of Metropolis British Columbia.

“The law that applies here is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms… and the fact that employers may not intend to discriminate against people with foreign-sounding names is not enough.”

Subconscious or implicit discrimination may be the reason why recruiters are less likely to call back applicants with foreign-sounding names, found the study.

An applicant’s name or country of origin may trigger particular stereotypes that cause employers to overweigh these concerns and underweigh the offsetting factors on a resumé, it said.

“When recruiters are flipping through resumés, the first thing they see is a name and, before anything else, they get a reaction from that name…and, for some people, it may be difficult to get that initial stereotype out of their heads,” said Oreopoulos. “It might make the difference to look farther or not.”

As part of the research, the authors also interviewed 33 managers and recruiters. One of the main reasons offered for why name discrimination occurs at the hiring level was the concern around language ability. But this is not very plausible since all the information on the resumés concerns Canada so it is extremely unlikely an applicant would not have acquired sufficient English skills, said Pendakur.

“This claim about languages almost just can’t be the true reason… it seems to me like a shortcut,” he said. “One reason is we just have built-in biases that we aren’t very aware of and, when they’re brought to our attention, we come up with stories to justify them.”

‘Fear of the unknown’

Recruiters and HR professionals may be hiring fewer applicants with foreign-sounding names due to “fear of the unknown,” said Robert Waghorn, senior communications manager at Monster in Montreal.

“There’s the utmost suspicions of, ‘They won’t be a cultural fit, they won’t know the nuances of the workplace.’ There’s concerns of the communications capability, both written and verbal.”

But this is often not the case, said Waghorn, who said he frequently sees many Vietnamese and Haitian Canadians speaking fluent Québécois on the streets of Montreal.

Interviewees also stated the pressure to avoid making a bad hire and the demand to make quick decisions influenced their applicant selection.

One way employers can eliminate this discrimination is by masking the names on resumé files before they go forward to HR, said the study. They could blank out the names entirely and leave that field empty or replace the names with “Candidate One... Two... or Three.”

Or employers can ask applicants to put their contact information on a separate page at the end of the resumé, which can be ignored or removed during the initial decision-making process, said Oreopoulos.

“Try to avoid the name (because) it hasn’t any relevance to the role itself, but look at the words on the paper — do they match the position that’s needed to be filled?” said Waghorn. “It’s kind of like saying, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’”

Eliminate bias with training

Employers should also offer training to recruiters to help them become more aware of their potential biases.

“Some sectors of the economy have clearly undergone a bunch of training to undo these patterns,” said Pendakur. “In Vancouver, there’s no bank you can walk into where the staff is all white. Somebody in the financial sector got to believing it was profitable for them to have a staff out front that looks a little bit like the clientele they face.”

It’s in the best interest of employers to eliminate name discrimination to ensure they can find the best person for the job, said Oreopoulos.

“If a recruiter, before understanding the rest of the characteristics on a resumé, shuts down someone because of a name, then you never get to realize that candidate actually has superior skills than anyone else being considered,” he said.

Diversity bringsnew perspectives

Having employees from various backgrounds on staff can bring new perspectives, mindsets and approaches that can be beneficial to the business, said Waghorn.

Eliminating name discrimination from hiring practices will become even more important as the competition for talent increases because it offers employers access to a larger market of workers, said Pendakur.

“If you’re an employer in Toronto, 45 per cent of workers are non-white and if you’re not really taking those applications seriously, then you’re shutting your eyes to almost half the potential workforce and almost half the potential good people.”

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