Sikhs often suffer workplace discrimination as a result of maintaining their religious articles of faith – particularly the turban, uncut hair or the kirpan (sword). In many of these cases, qualified Sikhs are not hired or are asked to remove these items in order to qualify for a job even when these articles of faith do not interfere with job requirements.
However, in employment, such discrimination isn’t always so obvious, and can occur long before an employer has even seen the candidate.
A recent study out of Simon Fraser University in Canada showed that despite overt official policies such as Employment Equity in Canada (similar to affirmative action in the United States), job recruiters or employers discriminate among candidates for a position simply on the basis of the candidate’s name:
According to the study, Canadian-born individuals with English-sounding names are significantly more likely to receive a callback for a job interview after sending their resumés, compared to internationally-born individuals, even among those with international degrees from highly ranked schools or among those with the same listed job experience but acquired outside of Canada.
When the researchers asked the recruiters about the reasons behind the relative lack of interest for candidates with less English-sounding names, the responses expressed a concern about how those candidates would fit in:
Employers were more likely to overlook those with non-English names even if an applicant explicitly stated his language skills and only had experience in Canadian universities and jobs.
The researchers interviewed recruiters responsible for callback decisions, although “very few” agreed to participate, Oreopoulos said.
“It was clear that there were concerns about language and social skills,” he said.
While recruiters expressed these concerns, the researchers discuss in the study that the discrimination occured even for jobs where language was not as important a skill, or when job-seekers demonstrated suitable language skills on their resumé:
If name-based discrimination arises from language and social skill concerns,we should expect to observe less discrimination when 1) including other attributes related to these skills on the resume, such as language proficiency and active extracurricular activities; 2) looking at occupations that depend lesson these skills, like computer programming and data entry; and 3) listing a name more likely to be an applicant born in Canada, like a Western European name compared to an Indian or Chinese name. In all three cases, we do not find these patterns.
Thus, there is a disconnect between what the recruiters use as an explanation, and what is shown in the data. In what could be an example of microaggression, the researchers theorize this disconnect is consistent with “‘subconscious’ statistical discrimination”, as recruiters are under pressure to find qualified applicants quickly and avoid bad hires that might be a result of someone who doesn’t speak English or have the right social skills. However, the likelihood on whether a candidate is going to get a call back is based on the “Englishness” of that person’s name, regardless of their qualifications and experience outlined on their resumé.
This form of discrimination is subtle and difficult to pinpoint, but the Simon Fraser University study demonstrates that such a bias does occur. This difficult job market makes the English-name bias more significant and is an added challenged faced by many job-seekers – right at the beginning of the job hunt – who come from minority communities.