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Matthew or Samir: who would you hire?

New study says job applicants with “foreign-sounding” names receive fewer call backs
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BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY
BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

According to a new U of T research study called “Why Do Some Employers Prefer To Interview Matthew, and Not Samir?,” job applicants with English-sounding names are more likely to receive call backs from employers than those with foreign-sounding names.

In their study, U of T researchers Philip Oreopoulos and Diane Dechief found that regardless of language proficiency, experience, or education, people with Anglophone names get the bulk of call backs compared to their counterparts with Chinese, Indian, or Greek-sounding names. The research explores why Canadian immigrants struggle in the labour market and is a continuation of a similar Toronto-based study conducted by Oreopoulos in 2009.

To come up with the figures for their research, Oreopoulos and Dechief sent out roughly 8000 fake resumes online to different job offers in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Each business, with few exceptions, received four types of resumes that had: 1. an Anglophone name with experience and an undergraduate degree obtained in Canada, 2. a foreign name with Canadian experience and education, 3. a foreign name with an international degree and Canadian experience, and 4. a foreign name with international credentials.

When the results came back, Oreopoulos and Dechief found that job hopefuls with English names are 47 per cent more likely to get call backs in Toronto but only have a 39 per cent advantage in Montreal and a 20 per cent one in Vancouver.

Oreopoulos said that the results were a reflection of the Canadian immigration point system, which “lets in individuals based on their ability to assimilate.”

According to Dechief, a common explanation recruiters offered was that to employers, a name can signal a possible lack of language and communication skills that might not be apparent on a resume.

“Most suggested that the bias was conscious and was out of concern for language problems and applicants potentially not fitting in,” Dechief said.

Oreopoulos said, however, that they observed a different form of discrimination in the study. He suggested the discrimination is “implicit” and done at a subconscious level.

“Someone who is going through resumes very quickly, without looking farther [than the name], gets an initial reaction. They immediately enforce a stereotype about social skills, no matter what else is on that resume that would address that concern,” said Oreopoulos.

“We suggest that for some people, the initial first reaction they get from the name drives that behaviour … and for some people it makes the difference between getting an interview or not.”

Dechief and Oreopoulos recommended that firms and businesses should mask the names of applicants before the initial interview selection process. They suggested hiding names on online applications and asking for them to be written on a separate sheet attached to a hard copy of a resume.

“Given the results of the study, it seems that firms and businesses are likely missing out on some great talent,” commented Dechief. “It would not be difficult to explore this practice on a trial basis, to determine whether such practice leads to better hiring.”