Your ethnic-sounding name may make it harder to find a job

When managers are searching for good candidates for their open accounting manager roles, solutions architect position, controller title, or whatever it may be, they might just be overlooking qualified people without even knowing it.

It’s well-established that job applicants with ethnic-sounding names working in English-speaking countries like the US, UK, and Canada, get fewer job opportunities than people with recognizably “white” or English-sounding names. Now a newly released study from Canada adds some detail on just how hard it is for people with recognizably ethnic names to even get their feet in the door at many companies, — despite being highly qualified and educated at the same schools as other employees.

That suggests that companies aren’t necessarily picking the people based on the best experience or abilities, which could be hurting overall performance. Companies with diverse staff perform better financially, according to consulting firm McKinsey, which cited numerous studies.

A new analysis from the University of Toronto and Ryerson University shows that equally qualified applicants with “Asian” names — a broad category that includes names perceived as originating in India, Pakistan, or China — were 28% less likely to score an interview at Canadian companies than applicants with “Anglo” names, even when all the job candidates had been educated and employed in Canada.

“This means that for every 100 calls received by applicants with Anglo names, applicants with Asian names received only 72.2,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers suggested that discrimination was the only possible reason for the difference in employers’ choice of candidates, since all the candidates has similar qualifications, including equivalent degrees. All had also lived and worked in Canada all their lives.

The data included examples of Anglo-Canadian names like “Greg Johnson” and “Emily Brown”; Indian names used included “Samir Sharma” and “Tara Singh”; Pakistani names included “Ali Saeed” and “Hina Chaudhry,” and Chinese names included “Lei Li” and “Xuiying Zhang.” The researchers seem to have only examined fully ethnic names and said they did not carefully examine the outcomes for people with Anglicized first names combined with Asian-sounding last names.

Fear of ‘heavy accents’

In one startling paragraph, the University of Toronto researchers described why employers didn’t even call back the applicants with Asian names: open discrimination based on names.

“[Employers] indicated that an Asian name suggested the possibility of language problems and heavy accents,” the University of Toronto researchers wrote.

But the researchers didn’t buy that excuse from the employers.

“The information in the resumes — including the Canadian education and experience — would contradict this concern, and in any case the employer could easily check by means of a quick telephone call. The ‘language-difficulty’ rationale was also challenged by the fact that rates of discrimination were similar regardless of the extent to which the job required communication skills. So employers had no evidence to base their concerns about the language skills of the Asians from which they received resumes,” the researchers concluded.

Bigger companies discriminate less

The new analysis also took a closer look at just how often large companies, with more than 500 employees, called in candidates with ethnic Asian names, compared to small companies.
Overall, large Canadian employers discriminated against candidates with Asian names about half as often as smaller employers did.

The specific size of the organization had a lot to do with these decisions. The Asian-named applicants with all-Canadian qualifications “had 20% fewer calls in the largest organizations, 39% fewer in the medium size organizations, and 37% fewer in the smallest organizations” of fewer than 50 employees, the researchers said.

In 2020, Diversity Inc. named 50 U.S. companies to be the most diverse companies in the country. Here are the top 10:

  1. Marriott International, Inc.
  2. Hilton
  3. Eli Lilly and Company
  4. ADP
  5. Accenture
  6. Mastercard
  7. Comcast NBCUniversal
  8. Abbott
  9. TIAA
  10.  Toyota Motor North America, Inc.

A common occurrence

Many studies have shown that employers favor “white-sounding” names in Western countries including the United States, France, Sweden, Germany, and the UK. A Swedish study in 2007 found that candidates with Swedish names “received 50% more call-backs than Middle Eastern names,” the University of Toronto and Ryerson researchers noted.

English-sounding names are also favored over names that sound African-American when it comes to hiring, according to a 2003 study. The researchers did a field experiment where they sent almost 5000 resumes to more than 1300 employment ads in Chicago and Boston newspapers for jobs in sales, administrative help, clerical and customer services. They recorded how many people were contacted for an interview. Half were sent with stereotypically White sounding names like “Emily Walsh” or “Greg Baker,” and the other half with stereotypically Black names like “Lakisha Washington” or “Jamal Jones.”

There was a stark difference in who made it to the next round of the hiring process, with resumes of White-sounding applicants getting 50% more callbacks. The report also claimed that despite the a company claiming to be an “Equal Opportunity Employer,” they were just as prejudiced as others.

The evidence of discrimination hasn’t gone without notice by minority job applicants, who are increasingly pushing back.

Silicon Valley data mining company Palantir Technologies, whose largest shareholder is billionaire Peter Thiel, is embroiled in an ongoing lawsuit filed by the US Department of Labor. The lawsuit alleges that Palantir discriminated against Asian job-seekers — even those reportedly as qualified as whites — and relying on an unfair referral process.

‘Discrimination in new forms’

The authors of the study about Asian names concluded with questions about the modern workplace that many companies will have to confront: “What types of employers reject applications simply on the basis of an applicant’s Asian name? And what types are unwilling to pursue applications with Asian names, even with Canadian qualifications or possibly even with some foreign qualifications? Are the ‘Asian-name averse’ employers representative of older or more traditional segments of the labour market, where skills may be required but matter less than finding employees who will be part of ‘the gang’ at work? ….These are important questions because they may suggest whether changes toward a more advanced and ‘knowledge-based’ economy is likely to break down vestiges of racial discrimination, or whether they simply maintain and practice such discrimination in new forms.”