Commentary by: Arvind Magesan in Calgary, AB
Statistics Canada has released new data from the 2016 census that shows more than any other G8 country, Canada is a nation of immigrants. One in five Canadians (21.9 per cent to be exact) were born in another country.
Immigration is a significant component of Canada’s population growth and evolving demographic composition. The census data shows more than 1.2 million new immigrants came to Canada between 2011-16. Immigrants are also typically younger and more educated than the average Canadian.
Not surprisingly then, immigration is often touted as a necessary condition for sustained economic prosperity. And yet in spite of their ostensible importance to the Canadian economy, immigrants themselves have yet to catch up to other Canadians in terms of economic outcomes.
Economists refer to this catching up as “economic assimilation” and often measure it using the “native-immigrant wage gap” — the difference between the average wages of immigrants and those whose families have been here at least three generations. The persistence of this wage gap is a feature common to economies in the Western world that rely heavily on immigration.
As an economist and a child of immigrants myself, I was curious to delve into the census data to understand how this gap has evolved over time and across major cities in Canada — and to get a hint of what may be at the root of it.
The first thing that surprised me is the gap has not changed much over the past 10 years. Census data from 2006 showed, at a national level, first-generation immigrants earned wages 12.6 per cent less than the average wage of native Canadians. In 2011, the gap dropped slightly to 10 per cent, but the new census data shows it’s climbed significantly to 16 per cent.
Importantly, the gap is a countrywide phenomenon. Looking at the three of the most popular destinations for immigrants in the past decade — Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary — the gap in 2016 sits at 25, 17 and 23 per cent respectively.
Interestingly, the gap doesn’t only exist for first-generation immigrants, but also for the children of immigrants (second generation, i.e. Canadians born to immigrant parents). The new data shows at the national level, second-generation immigrants earn 5.4 per cent less than natives.
The obvious question that follows then is: What is the source of these gaps?
Canada is an especially interesting case given the “points” system used to screen potential immigrants, where language, education and job skills are key determinants. And for the first time, the census has reported that about six out 10 new immigrants came here under the so-called economic admission category, meaning they have the skills “to enhance and promote economic development.”
Given the way immigrants are screened before entry, one would expect relatively quick integration into the Canadian economy and a convergence in wages. But this is clearly not the case.
The reasons put forward to explain the wage gap range from employer difficulty in assessing immigrant education credentials to outright discrimination. Economists refer to two types of “discrimination” in the labour market context, “statistical discrimination” and “taste-based discrimination.”
In the former, employers use observable traits (such as race) to make inferences about something like productivity. For example, an employer sees a job applicant with brown skin. The employer isn’t prejudiced towards brown people, but is worried (stereotypically) the employee is going to want to take trips “home” to Sri Lanka and would need a lot of vacation time. So the employer hires someone else equally qualified. Taste-based discrimination is more what we think of as prejudice — not wanting to hire someone purely because of skin colour.
Identifying causal factors that explain the wage gap is a difficult task - individuals who immigrate to Canada do so by choice. These choices are a function of a host of factors that could potentially jointly explain the decision to immigrate and labour market outcomes, including personal characteristics, job experience and education, to name just a few. Identifying discrimination in the labour market, and separating between taste-based and statistical discrimination, is even harder.
However, a 2011 study by University of Toronto economist Phil Oreopolous takes an important step in this direction.
In the study, thousands of computer-generated resumes were mailed out to companies that had posted ads searching for employees. The resumes were randomly assigned either a foreign or a “white” sounding last name, and were otherwise identical. The result: The resumes where the applicant had a foreign-sounding last name were less likely to receive a call back than identical looking resumes with a “white” last name.
When the author followed up with some of the recruiters, the overwhelming reason given for overlooking resumes with a foreign-sounding name was that they anticipated difficulty with language. Specifically, recruiters expected a lack of fluency in English, problems with communicating at work and difficulty for customers and co-workers in understanding a foreign accent. In other words, recruiters were statistically discriminating between job candidates based on their names.
The census presents an opportunity to study the importance of English proficiency for the gap in labour market earnings between immigrants and native Canadians in 2016. The census provides information on wages, immigrant (and generation) status, as well as the language most commonly spoken at home.
Specifically, guided by the findings in Oreopolous’s study, I looked at how the gap in average wages changes when English is spoken at home. (For the purpose of this study, I looked at communities outside of Quebec, where French is the dominant language.) In 2016, 63 per cent of new immigrants living outside of Quebec most often spoke a language other than English or French while at home.
The latest census data says the native-first generation immigrant wage gap is 16 per cent at the national level. Once we examine whether immigrants speak English at home, things change — the wage difference is just 5.8 per cent. But for first-generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home, the gap jumps to 27.3 per cent.
For second-generation immigrants, there is barely any gap for those who speak English at home (0.7 per cent) but it’s still a significant gap for those who don’t speak English at home (a whopping 45.7 per cent).
This pattern also holds in the major metropolitan centres in the English-speaking parts of the country, which attract the most immigrants.
Interestingly, at almost 25 per cent, Toronto has one of the largest city level wage gaps in the country, explained at least in part by the fact that new immigrants tend to land in Toronto first and are more likely to be unemployed for a period of time. The three largest cities in English-speaking Canada, which also attract the most immigrants, also have gaps larger than the national average.
In Ottawa, immigrants of either generation who speak English at home actually earn more than natives on average. While it may be tempting to attribute the major differences across the cities to differences in culture, they are more likely due to regional differences in industrial composition and attendant labour demand.
The wage gap for immigrants who don’t speak English at home is very large. In Toronto and Calgary, first-generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home can expect to earn 37 per cent less than natives. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the gap across all cities for is larger for second generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home.
Though these patterns are striking, they should not be interpreted as causal – immigrants can’t necessarily start speaking English at home and expect to see their future earnings increase. There are unobserved qualities of individuals that may correlate both with the tendency to speak English at home as well as with labour market earnings potential. Without holding these fixed in some way, we can’t say whether there is a causal relationship between English skills and the gap in labour market outcomes.
But supposing that the findings here are suggestive of a causal relationship, why does speaking English at home matter so much?
One obvious answer is that individuals who speak English at home speak better English in general — and this would mean better communication at work. This would be consistent with the worries that the recruiters in Oreopolous’s study had when deciding who to call back. Or perhaps individuals of foreign descent that speak English at home tend to have other important skills on average.
But another possibility is the labour market discriminates against individuals with weaker English skills even when English is not important for productivity. Sorting between these different explanations (and others) will require more data and a deeper look.
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
Employers and participants at the 2016 Diversity@Work Conference learned that creating diverse workplaces is about more than just hiring more newcomers.
“Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected and supported. It’s about focusing on the needs of every individual and ensuring the right conditions are in place for each person to achieve his or her full potential,” said keynote speaker Zanita DiSalle, who is Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC) regional vice president for West Brampton.
She explained that diversity reaches should include all those traditionally “excluded” groups such as women, visible minorities, LGBT, aboriginal and indigenous people, persons with disabilities and millennials.
“Diversity without inclusion has no meaning. Without inclusive practice, there is no respect to people’s difference,” DiSalle continues.
The role of the conference
About 150 participants, including job seekers, employers, human resources professionals, diversity consultants, lawyers and students attended the conference, held on Feb. 19 at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management.
The conference organizer and executive director of Skills for Change, Surranna Sandy, expressed how important she feels the conference, now in its seventh year, is.
“We want employers to particularly understand the value and the role immigrants can play to make their businesses very successful. We look at different things, for example, how diversity helps you [business] make more money, helps you gain more customers, helps you retain your staff. This year, we look at the future for diversity, what strategies and tools you need to have,” Sandy added.
One speaker, filmmaker Ian Sun, explored how the technological revolution changed workplace diversity. Ontario Human Rights Commission’s chief commissioner Renu Mandhane was also present to discuss perspectives on human rights and diversity.
Workshops during the day focused on different approaches to diversity and inclusion, such as how to create inclusive workspaces; understanding and minimizing unconscious bias in hiring; the gender identity and expression toolkit to create authentic workplaces; and best practices for workspaces with multiple generations.
Experiences of diversity and inclusion
In her keynote, DiSalle explained that when she came from Jamaica to start her new life in Canada, she immediately realized the difference between her and her classmates after dressing in her traditional bandana shirt to go to kindergarten.
“I heard one lovely little girl tell her friend, ‘Don’t touch her, or you will become brown,’” she said. “Do we have diversity? Yes. Is it inclusive? No.”
To further illustrate how our physical differences are only skin-deep, DiSalle played a video created by the Ad Council titled “Love Has No Labels”. It features people on the street watching as pairs of skeletons on a screen talk, kiss and hug.
When the pairs come out from behind the screen, it’s revealed that among the skeleton pairings are are same-sex couples, interracial couples, seniors and people with disabilities. This is meant to demonstrate that love takes many forms, but at its core, it looks the same.
Diversity in the workplace
Part of the day’s discussion addressed whether applicants’ foreign-sounding names, accents and credentials could be barriers during the interview process.
Employers also discussed how they could help newcomers develop social and language skills in the workplace so that they can fully integrate into the organization.
When asked about how to foster diversity while hiring to fit job requirements, DiSalle answered: “For our hiring process, we found objectivity is essential rather than subjectivity.
“Because [of] this objective process we have, we ensure that we have different stages of interview process that are based on objective measures and objective questions. Depending on how people do in different stages, we determine whether or not they move to the next stage.”
While affirmative action in job and university recruitment continues to be a subject of debate, DiSalle stressed that an objective approach to hiring aims to recognize all the skills employees bring to the company.
“Inclusion is looking at a person as a whole — not just their education, physical characteristics, cultural background or work experience, but how all the elements work together, ” said DiSalle.
Including the millennial generation
The conference also heard from young people who are eager to participate in the job market.
“We just started a diversity consulting firm, specifically for attention of the millennials and diversity in workplace,” said Shanthiya Baheerathan, a fellow at Studio Y experimental consulting firm at MaRS Discovery District, Canada’s largest innovation hub located in downtown Toronto.
“In our education and workplace system, we start to realize that diversity is representation, rather than inclusion, “ Shanthiya explained.
She explained that representation is just having people in the room, as opposed to having people in the room who are meaningfully involved in the workplace.
“This is not just race and gender or ability. It's a wide range of things, which includes age, especially as 20 per cent of the population and 40 per cent of the workforce will become the representative of the millennials.”
“I think workplaces should really move towards to making themselves more inclusive,” she concluded.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
by Vicky Tobianah (@vicktob) in Toronto
It was the second day of my new job and my new co-worker turned to me and asked me that fateful question: “So, what's your background?” I began telling her all about my background - where I studied (McGill University) and how I decided to move back home to Toronto after graduating, landing a job here.
She looked at me with a blank expression. I clearly misunderstood the question. “No,” she said, “You look different. Where are you from?”
I thought of answering with my typical response - born and raised in Toronto. But that usually gets blank stares too. So I said what people normally want to hear - the answer to the question I often get from strangers or new faces. “My parents were born in the Middle East – I’m Lebanese and Jewish.”
“Ohhh,” says my co-worker, curiosity abated. “That explains it all.” Finally she feels satisfied enough to go back to work. But I don’t. Every time the question appears I think of saying - what does looking different mean? And even if I do, why does it matter? What drives people to want to know your ethnic background?
As Canadian As You
I’m not alone. As Canada aims to keep its number of immigrants at 250,000 per year, more and more immigrants are entering the Canadian workplace with questions about who they are and where they come from – and second-generation Canadians, like myself, often get asked the same ones.
“There’s no one best way to respond to the ‘what’s your background,’ type questions. It all depends on why the person is asking,” explains Tana Turner, who has been working with businesses to leverage diversity for organizational success for 27 years, and is the principal consultant of Turner Consulting Group. “I’m originally from Jamaica, I don’t have a Jamaican accent, but even today people ask me where I’m from instead of assuming I’m Canadian. Depending on who’s asking I may say I’m from Scarborough. It’s a way of showing them, why are you asking? I’m as Canadian as you.”
While the question may offend some people in the workplace, she points out that it also may just be a way to get to know you and make a connection. “I know I sometimes ask people where they’re from, because it’s interesting. We’re a country of immigrants; everyone has interesting stories. Sometimes, the person may share the same background and they’re trying to make that connection. Sometimes, people ask as a way to make immigrants seem like they’re not Canadian.”
Knowing Your Rights
For Gary Pieters, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, a non-profit organization that works with the public and private sectors to provide educational programs to address racism in society, uncomfortable questions in the workplace are just one of many issues of inequality that new Canadians have to deal with.
“Definitely asking people where they’re from or making comments about people’s backgrounds, assuming they’re a newcomer when they’re not, reinforces this notion that certain people belong here and certain people don’t,” says Pieters. “We also find other issues such as the racialization of poverty. Many racialized people end up landing precarious jobs – jobs that are contract, short term, have no benefits, low wages too and race, place of origin or nationality become a barrier to progression in the workplace.”
He says first and foremost, Canadian immigrants need to educate themselves on their rights in the workplace.
“There are fair accommodations practices and fair employment practices specifically to allow everyone the right to work, that are designed to avoid those types of things,” he adds.
Sometimes, the best practice is simply to educate those around you. If questions about race or nationality bother you in the workplace, perhaps the best answer is to ask what it means to look Canadian or “look like you’re from here.” After all, spend just five minutes on the subway any morning and you’ll see an abundance of “different” faces. If these different faces are the majority, perhaps being “from here” can describe any number of “looks”.
Vicky Tobianah is an experienced writer, editor, and content strategist. She has a Bachelor of Arts, Honours from McGill University in Political Science and English Literature. She is passionate about the future of digital media. Find her work at: www.vickytobianah.com
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit