Shannon Proudfoot

The Carrie Martins and Matthew Wilsons of the world simply have an easier time in the Canadian job market than the Hassan Khans or Min Lius, new research reveals.

Job applicants with English-sounding names on their resumes are 40 per cent more likely to be called for an interview than those with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani names, according to a University of British Columbia study released Wednesday.

“Employers may be statistically discriminating by name and immigrant status because they believe these characteristics signal a greater chance of inadequate language or social skills,” says Philip Oreopoulos, an economics professor at UBC. “Obviously, the other possibility is that employers simply prefer to hire individuals of similar ethnic or language backgrounds.”

Whether it’s intentional or not, they could be missing out on the best candidate and curtailing job prospects for recent immigrants and second- and third-generation Canadians alike, he says.

It’s well known that immigrants – and especially recent arrivals – struggle in the labour market, Oreopoulos says, with unemployment rates twice those of Canadian-born people and wages 35 per cent lower. But researchers have long puzzled over why, particularly since that’s true even for those admitted under a points system that attracts highly educated and skilled immigrants who should be able to integrate easily.

In an effort to understand why, Oreopoulos and his team sent out 6,000 resumes in response to 2,000 online job postings in the Toronto area for occupations including computer programmers, administrative assistants and accountants. They rotated the faux resumes between English- or foreign-sounding names and education and experience obtained in Canada or abroad, using Chinese, Indian and Pakistani names because those countries are the biggest sources of Canadian immigration right now.

Oreopoulos was surprised by the huge gap in callback rates based solely on the names at the top of the resumes. However, he points out that the 40 per cent difference in Canada is similar to a U.S. study that found a 50 per cent gap in callbacks for resumes sent out under typically black and white-sounding names.

Jihad Aliweiwi, executive director of Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, a community services organization in Toronto, thinks he might be the exception to this rule because he was educated in Canada and started his career with anti-racism organizations. However, he knows discrimination by name is a reality for others, including a friend who changed his surname from Mustafa to Martin and had interviews and job offers within weeks.

The UBC research also found that employers were drawn to Canadian work experience, with the resumes containing foreign names but Canadian work experience getting callbacks at twice the rate of those with foreign names and experience, regardless of education.

Manjeet Dhiman, senior director, services and business development for ACCES Employment, an immigrant employment centre in Toronto, says it’s simply human nature to gravitate to what’s familiar, but they try to show employers the value of foreign experience and a diverse workforce.

Some of their clients express anxiety about their names, she says, and although it’s not something the centre recommends, some opt to anglicize their names on their resumes to improve their chances.

Dhiman believes the demand to fill Canada’s skills shortage with immigrant talent in the near future may push employers to be more open-minded.

“A lot of these names, if you start to become familiar with them, they’re not hard to pronounce,” she says, adding that she sometimes gets mail addressed to “Mr. Manjeet Dhiman” from people who can’t interpret her Punjabi name. “This is not just for immigrants, but because we’re such a multicultural country this impacts Canadians as well. Employers have to be open to accepting people with these different types of names and backgrounds because that’s Canada.”