On Campus

UBC study finds people with foreign names face job discrimination

Prof says more research is needed to determine if behaviour is intentional

The answer to the age-old question “What’s in a name?” may well be plenty of discrimination, according to a new University of British Columbia study.

UBC economics professor Philip names even if they have the same education and experience as those with English names. “Some individuals at the margin are not getting interviews because of their name,” Oreopoulos said Wednesday, adding that the employers involved may be contravening the Human Rights Act.

“It is illegal and there is some element of unfairness.”

As part of his research, Oreopoulos tailored 6,000 mock resumes to specific job requirements in 20 occupational categories and sent them to employers with online job postings in the Greater Toronto area.

Each resume listed a bachelor’s degree and up to six years of experience but the study found resumes with names like Jill Wilson or John Martin received interview callbacks 40 per cent more often than identical resumes with names like Sana Khan or Lei Li.

Oreopoulos said the findings help to explain why skilled immigrants arriving under Canada’s point system – with university degrees and significant work experience – fare poorly in today’s labour market.

“Despite this policy, they don’t seem to be doing as well as expected,” Oreopoulos said, adding that he was surprised by the study’s results.

“I wasn’t expecting the gap by name alone to be so large,” he said. “It defined as much of a gap as another study found between blacks and whites in the U.S.”

The professor said he chose to conduct the study in Toronto because of its position as Canada’s largest and most multicultural city and he cautioned against accusing employers of blatant racism.

He said more research is needed to determine whether the behaviour is intentional.

“In settings where people are making split-second decisions like going through piles of resumes and making decisions based on uncertain ambiguous criteria, that’s the environment where people may be making subconscious, stereotype decisions,” Oreopoulos said.

Eyob Naizghi with Mosaic, a Vancouver-based multilingual organization aimed at helping immigrants, called the findings “troubling.”

“What we seem to be seeing is that employers do discriminate against people with non-English based names … and it’s very disturbing and sad,” Naizghi said.

He said much progress has been made in the marketplace in the last 20 to 30 years, but stressed that “we need to do more work in particular with employers.”

Chief Const. Jim Chu, the first chief of police in Vancouver of Chinese descent, said knowledge of a second culture is a preferred qualification for his force.

“From the Vancouver police perspective, in terms of our recruiting, we strive to represent the community,” Chu said.

“For about a dozen years now, we’ve actually had a preferred qualification, knowledge of a second language or culture. So if you are from a diverse community in Vancouver, then we’re very interested in you.”

Oreopoulos warned that his study might not be representative of the entire labour market.

“By only sending resumes to those that accepted online applications, I missed out on other types of employers. In particular, I might have missed out on larger employers which tend to have their own online process,” he said.

The study also found that employers appear to prefer Canadian work experience over education.

Those who had resumes with foreign names and foreign education were nearly twice as likely to earn callbacks if they had held at least one job in Canada.

– The Canadian Press

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