Does your name work for you? - New Canadian Media

Does your name work for you?

A rose by any other name is still a rose, or so the Muse wrote, but Shakespeare may have been a little more circumspect had…

A rose by any other name is still a rose, or so the Muse wrote, but Shakespeare may have been a little more circumspect had he visited Canada in the 21st century. Here, your name can either work for you or against you, as a researcher has just established.

There have been scores of studies on why immigrants are not faring as well as their forerunners in Canada’s job market, but the work of Prof. Philip Oreopoulos (previously at the University of British Columbia and now at the University of Toronto) offers a simple, yet elegant, explanation. To summarize his most startling finding, “Overall, the results suggest considerable employer discrimination against applicants with ethnic names or with experience from foreign firms.”

The second aspect of this finding is well known; that foreign experience is deeply discounted, and in most instances, counts for nothing. And, although there has been anecdotal evidence – remember the Quebec immigrant who was able to win compensation from a company after complaining of discrimination based on his name? – nothing comes close to the hard evidence contained in the study entitled, “Why Do Skilled Immigrants Struggle in the Labor Market? A Field Experiment with 6,000 Résumés.”

Some of the novelty, of course, comes from the way Prof. Oreopoulos came to his conclusions. Over a period of seven months, his team sent out 6,000 fictional résumés in response to advertisements for vacancies in the Toronto area. Only those ads that accepted applications by e-mail were used for the study and four different CVs were sent in response to each job posting –

  1. CV with a Canadian name, Canadian qualifications and Canadian experience
  2. CV with a foreign name, Canadian qualifications and Canadian experience
  3. CV with a foreign name, foreign qualifications and Canadian experience
  4. CV with a foreign name, foreign qualifications and foreign experience

This so-called “résumé audit study” was modelled on similar research conducted in Boston a few years ago, comparing callback rates between job applicants with black-sounding names and those with “white” names. To the researchers’ surprise, “white” applicants got 50 per cent more callbacks than “black” ones.

For the Canadian study, the researchers used a random combination of English/British, Chinese, Indian and Pakistani names – both male and female – as well as a select list of prestigious universities from these foreign nations. (Incidentally, Canada gets most of its immigrants from China, India and Pakistan, although having a foreign name does not necessarily mean one is a new Canadian or a recent immigrant.) Let me summarize the study’s conclusions –

  1. That applicants with English names were 40 per cent more likely to be called for an interview compared to those with foreign-sounding or ethnic names
  2. Employers value Canadian experience much more than Canadian academic qualifications
  3. If you have between four and six years of Canadian experience, it really didn’t matter where you got your academic credentials from – Canada or abroad

The last two seem to make intuitive sense, but surely rejecting CVs just because the name on top sounds “foreign” must come as a shock to all Canadians. It speaks to a much deeper malaise.