Friday, 10 March 2017 02:34

Looking Beyond the Name on a Resumé

Commentary by Vivian Li in Toronto

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare gave us the famous line “What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” While he was stating, with a noble intention, that it’s not the name of a person but their content and character that truly matters, we know that in 2017 our relationship with our own names and how they’re perceived by others isn’t so simple.

Names matter. For many people they’re a major reflection of our identities, origins, family histories, and the expectations and wishes of our parents symbolized onto us by the very word we use to not only personally identify with but also to introduce ourselves to the world.

When it comes to employment, recent research has shown that names definitely do have an impact on how people are perceived and unfortunately this can manifest in a negative way.

A newly released joint University of Toronto and Ryerson study shows discrimination and hiring bias are present when it comes to applicants with Asian (defined in the study as Indian, Pakistani or Chinese) names. In a study of data from a 2011 Canadian employment audit, researchers analyzed nearly 13,000 job applications for over 3000 job postings in Toronto and Montreal.

Even when all qualifications were equal and the individual was Canadian in origin, the study found that applicants with an Asian name were 28 per cent less likely to get called for an interview compared to applicants with a more traditional Anglo-based name. The callback rate for an interview deteriorates even further when the applicant’s education or work experience was from outside of Canada.

Small vs. Big organizations

The study also shows that smaller companies exhibit even worse discrimination than larger organizations, likely due to lack of resources and internal diversity awareness programs. In companies with fewer than 500 employees, the chance of an applicant with an Asian name and of Canadian origin getting a call for an interview was 42% less, and this drops to a staggering 68% less when the applicant’s education and work history was international.

Following the release of the study, RBC and Ryerson University co-sponsored a panel discussion event moderated by Ratna Omidvar, Senator and Visiting Professor, Global Diversity Exchange at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. The goal was to explore the challenges discovered by the research and identify ways to eliminate these types of persisting hiring biases.

Hiring from the community

As an Asian Canadian and one of the RBCers who were invited to the event and discussion, my feelings were hopeful but also bittersweet. On the one hand, I continue to be very proud of working for a company like RBC where 33 per cent of our workforce is made up of visible minorities, surpassing the Canadians average of 25 per cent by a sizable margin.

In my role as Senior Manager, Inclusive Recruitment, I know from a wide range of personal experiences that hiring from the community to serve the community has always been one of our most effective and rewarding guiding principles. We’ve passionately built a suite of forward-thinking programs designed to help immigrants and new Canadians build their career at RBC, including ourCareer Edge internship and TRIEC mentoring programs, and RBC volunteers also actively participate in various speed-mentoring events with newcomers to help us look beyond a resume and meet the person behind the name.

Visible minorities are also highly represented in our own recruitment team, which helps us build the cultural competency needed to truly understand the nuanced needs of new Canadians and leads us to address unconscious bias when it comes to screening resumes.

On the other hand, if the study indicates that society in general still interprets minority status negatively then it unavoidably has a potentially negative impact in organizations all across Canada.

Hiring biases

Canada is an immigrant country and by 2035, almost 100 per cent of the Canadian population growth will depend on immigration. Hiring bias against minorities will hugely impact our ability to build competitive advantage both as a company and a country.

So what can we do differently?

We often talk about how diversity is the mix and inclusion is how we make the mix work well together. The bottom line is that in order to make the mix work well together, each one of us needs to look within and examine our own conscious or unconscious bias. It is human nature to favour people who are most like us and view people who are in our own groups as being more favourable than “the others.” A lot of the time, addressing unconscious is about asking ourselves uncomfortable questions (see graphic alongside).

With that in mind, my challenge to everyone is this: the next time you’re looking at a resume and decide to put it aside, pause for a moment and ask yourself why you are doing it… and then look at the name.

Vivian Li is a Senior Manager responsible for inclusive recruitment at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Prior to her experience in RBC, Vivian worked as an HR professional with Bell Canada.

Published in Economy
Thursday, 14 May 2015 01:30

People@Work: “Negative References”


Reference checks are a necessary part of the hiring process, but can be make-or-break for jobseekers, particularly newcomers..

Photo Credit: Creative Commons 

Q: My boss recently told me that she gave a bad reference for a former employee, who also happens to be a recent immigrant. She seemed to enjoy the putdown. How do I make sure she does not do the same to me? 

Advice for the Employer - by Tana Turner

Reference checking is usually the last stage of the hiring process. Some companies use reference checks to confirm the hiring decision while some conduct reference checks on all the job candidates they interview and use it in their decision-making process. However it is used, reference checks help organizations reduce legal liability for negligent hiring.

Reference checks can validate the information provided by the candidate (e.g. the candidate's current or last position, job roles and responsibilities) and check the candidate's past job performance, skills, strengths and weaknesses. Organizations should not ask questions about a job candidate's personality or character, as responses can be highly subjective and unrelated to the candidate's ability to do the job. They should also be careful not to ask questions that could lead to a discussion of any of the human rights protected grounds, such as place of origin, family care responsibilities, disability, etc.

Organizations should also check more than one reference because a reference may provide a poor reference because of personality conflicts or other issues unrelated to their skills and abilities to do the job. Checking three references also provides a more complete perspective of the job candidate.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Organizations should not ask questions about a job candidate's personality or character, as responses can be highly subjective and unrelated to the candidate's ability to do the job. - Tana Turner[/quote]

Newcomers may need to provide out-of-country references or references from volunteer positions. While time zones and language differences may create challenges to checking out-of-country references, employers committed to hiring the best person for the job should make the effort to contact these references. 

If the references speak another language, the hiring manager can ask a colleague, someone from a community organization, or an external interpreter to conduct the reference check.

In addition, it is important for employers to understand the cultural context of the newcomer’s country or region. For example, some cultures stress teamwork rather than independent work, so the candidate's reference may not be able to assess how well the person works independently.

Conducting reference checks for newcomers may be more time consuming but it helps the organization hire the best person for the job, while avoiding potential discrimination against newcomers.

Tana Turner is Principal of Turner Consulting Group Inc., an equity, diversity and inclusion consultancy firm in Toronto.

Advice to the Employee – by Fo Niemi

If you’re concerned about your manager giving negative or incorrect references about yourself, there are several ways to address this situation:

  • Have an open discussion with your manager regarding your work performance during which you can delicately raise the question as to whether eventually, if you seek employment elsewhere, he or she will provide you with a reference. If your manager hesitates, you may want to explore the source of this hesitation. If you see more reluctance, don’t push the discussion, as it would be more positive to return to this issue at a later date
  • Get a reference in writing. This will give you a good idea of your manager’s opinions and a written letter of reference can stand the test of time (and a change of heart at a later date from your manager)
  • Have a trusted friend pose as a “reference checker” and contact your former manager. If, by doing so, you realize your former manager is not giving you a positive reference, you may want to contact another supervisor and request a more balanced reference from the company
  • Ask a former colleague instead of your manager
  • Ask former colleagues what your manager says about you. This kind of information gathering is particularly important if you suspect that your manager may give you a negative reference despite what he or she promises you. Based on what you hear, you can develop strategies and ways to either go around these references, or find someone else in the company to provide you with more balanced references.

If you learn that your former manager is giving you references that are incorrect, biased or even defamatory, you may want to write a formal letter to request that the manager provide only objective and correct references about your work and that he or she refrains from comments that may tarnish your personal and professional reputation.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Get a reference in writing. A written letter of reference can stand the test of time and a change of heart at a later date. - Fo Niemi[/quote]

If the references are from your immediate supervisor, you may want to write to a senior manager, or even the president of the company, to request that corrections be made. Always use a professional, polite and constructive tone.

If a future employer insists on a reference from your last manager, and you do not believe that the latter can provide a positive reference, you may want to be frank with the future employer and explain, without going into too much detail, why it would not be feasible to do so, but that you can provide references from other former employers.

Fo Niemi is the executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), a Montreal-based civil rights organization.

The Big Picture - by Hamlin Grange

References are a useful source of information for any prospective employer and an essential part of the recruitment process. However, references can damage a person’s career, especially if they give an inaccurate impression of a person’s ability to do the job.

Employers need to be aware of the power they hold to harm an employee’s professional reputation when they issue a reference that is uncharitable at best and inaccurate at worst.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Employers need to be aware of the power they hold to harm an employee’s professional reputation when they issue a reference that is uncharitable at best and inaccurate at worst. - Hamlin Grange[/quote]

A supervisor who boasts about giving a former employee a bad reference is lacking leadership skills. She or he may even be deliberately using the potential of a bad reference as a way of intimidating current employees or to get even with a former employee.

Either way, this is a poor management style and may even be contravening not only the company’s management standards, but potentially other labour and human rights laws.

Ironically, many HR directors say they get very little insight from references. And references are usually used only to supplement what the prospective employee may have said in the interview.

According to one survey, three in five employers (62 per cent) said that when they contacted a reference listed on an application, the reference didn’t have good things to say about the candidate.

The survey also found that 69 per cent of employers said they have changed their minds about a candidate after speaking with a reference; 47 per cent they had a less favourable opinion and only 23 per cent had a more favourable opinion.

Often, many former employers are uncertain about what they can or cannot say because they have a legal requirement to be fair and accurate so they often just confirm that the person worked for them and say very little more.

However, refusing to provide a letter of reference may constitute an act of bad faith on the part of the employer, especially in cases where the employer has promised that a letter of reference would be provided or if an employer withholds a letter of reference as a negotiating tool in exchange for acceptance of a severance package.

Hamlin Grange is President of DiversiPro Inc. He is a diversity, inclusion and intercultural development trainer and consultant.

Adjusting to a new workplace is often a challenge for new immigrants. This column, People@Work, is intended to help new Canadians navigate occupational challenges and provide advice on how to integrate into the Canadian workplace. Have a workplace dilemma? Send us your questions for our expert panel to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please note that their responses should not be considered to be legal advice. 

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Published in Commentary
Saturday, 13 April 2013 20:13

Diversity amid Adversity


Tough times bring out the best in people – or the worst. The recent brouhaha over the hiring practices of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) should surely tell us that we are just as parochial as everybody else, although we like to be known as an open nation, with our largest city being the multicultural capital of the world. RBC’s travail is even more ironic because its CEO and president Gordon Nixon is the toast of this country’s multicultural industry, with his bank having won the “best diversity employer” award many times over.

Let’s be clear: this storm was not about offshoring or high unemployment or even the lingering effects of the global recession in Canada. It was raw emotion. The RBC employee who blew the whistle must be given credit for identifying a storyline that resonated with Canadians from coast to coast: She or he was upset because they were being asked to train their replacements, who happened to be from India. For most Canadians, that was inhumane and insensitive, although it would have been hardly the first time a large corporation resorted to this sort of phased transition.

And, look at the fallout. Canada’s corporate champion for diversity was forced to climb down after initially defending his bank: “The question for many people is not about doing only what the rules require – it’s about doing what employees, shareholders and Canadians expect of RBC.” Nowhere does the letter make clear how exactly the bank fell short of expectations, but by then it was no longer a rational discourse; it was laden with emotion.

Here’s a typical example of the sort of venting that was directed at the RBC: “M____ and I, and our four sons, have been having serious discussions about this story almost daily. This story will, in some ways, change the course of our dealings with RBC … [Your] hiring/layoffs approach has tainted/damaged the reputation of the Royal Bank of CANADA (emphasis in original)! Not very Canadian, in my view!”

National outburst

By all accounts, the reaction was both visceral and unanimous. Virtually nobody dared stand up and say, “This happens all the time; why are we making such a big deal? As a small trading nation, don’t we need to compete globally for goods and services?”

Why does this happen? Why can’t we pause and think rationally in the midst of these manufactured crises?

Part of the answer is happenstance. Many different elements just happened to come together to cook up what we in the media refer to as a “perfect storm.” A large bank which made $7.5 billion in profits last year was retrenching 45 employees using a ‘backdoor route’ to hire a smaller number of foreign workers through an Indian company that seemed to be a bit too cozy with the Canadian bank. The RBC employees were in the middle of training the very same “foreigners” who were rendering them jobless. It didn’t matter that Indians have developed something of a global reputation as the world’s favourite backroom office and that their IT professionals have been deployed to virtually every nation on earth. India has also consistently ranked No. 2 on the list of immigrant source nations for Canada.

We are optimistic that something good will come of this national outburst. Nixon’s full-court apology in an “Open Letter to Canadians” should cool things for the bank. Similarly, a long-overdue review of the Temporary Worker Program should bring down the number of short-term foreign labour from the insanely-high figure of 300,000. Clearly, this program has been abused if Tim Hortons is hiring abroad, at a time when there are about 1.4 million jobless Canadians. The government should be more rigorous when companies claim they can’t find Canadians to fill jobs and there is no excuse to allow a 15 per cent difference in what will be paid to foreign workers: there should be pay parity.

Above all, we need more creative HR professionals who are willing to groom and train the next generation of Canadian workers, whether they be native-born or immigrant. Our immigration policy is based on meeting the future demands of the Canadian workplace. Corporate hiring managers should be expected to do more than finding round pegs to fill round holes. We should never again have a situation when there are 1.4 million unemployed and 300,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada. - New Canadian Media

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Published in Commentary

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved