Facing Hiring Bias

February 28th, 2017

photo HiringBias-Panel-Photo by Raneem Al-OzziThe business case for immigration has never been more pressing as Canada’s labour market intersects with an aging population. Though Canada’s immigration imperatives focus on attracting economic migrants, labour market integration strategies will have to be examined as skilled migrants in Canada’s labour market continue to face barriers to employment.

On January 25th, a dynamic group of city builders gathered at University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs to discuss issues of hiring bias. The event followed the release of a new report called “Do Large Employers Treat Racial Minorities More Fairly?” co-authored by Rupa Banerjee, Jeffrey G. Reitz, and Phil Oreopoulos. Among the report highlights is the experience of discrimination that is revealed by comparing the success of applications from job-seekers with Anglo-sounding names (Greg Johnson, Emily Brown) with Canadian qualifications, Asian-sounding names with Canadian qualifications (Lei Li, Samir Sharma) and Asian-sounding names with foreign qualifications.  The evidence is unequivocal: the report sampled nearly 13,000 applications for over 3,000 jobs in Toronto and Montreal.  Even when applicants have the same Canadian qualifications,  Asian-named applicants have a 32.6% lower rate of selection for an interview compared to Anglo-named applicants. No surprise, then, that experiences of discrimination are more likely to occur when Asian-named applicants also have foreign credentials. Worrisone in today’s entrepreneurial economy, evidence suggests that discrimination may be even more prevalent amongst smaller organizations, partially due to a lack of resources for advanced HR practices. No matter, discrimination can occur at at almost any stage of  one’s employment  including wages and opportunity for promotion.

Seeking Solutions

The event’s esteemed panelists included Corinne Prince-St-Amand, Director General Integration-Foreign Credentials Referral Office, IRCC; Wendy Cukier, Director & Founder, Diversity Institute; Nicholas Keung, Journalist, Toronto Star; and Jeffery Reitz, University of Toronto’s Faculty of Sociology and Munk School of Global Affairs. In a lively discussion moderated by Senator Ratna Omidvar  speakers were pressed for solutions ranging from:

  • bias free screening using anonymous CV’s;
  • procurement and representation as a strategy to increase supplier diversity;
  • offering companies subsidies; and
  • expanding the scope of employment equity to not only review who gets hired but who gets interviewed.

In a discussion of implicit and explicit bias in which speakers shared personal experiences and their experiences as employers, the notion of a  “fear factor” was addressed in hiring practices.  The “fear factor” (unconscious bias) insinuates that employers are more likely to hire people who are similar to them, people who look like them and who they feel most comfortable with. Mentoring and internship programs such as TRIEC, ADaPT, and FIN were highlighted as effective programs that help overcome hiring bias by exposing the host community to immigrant talent and immigrant newcomers to job opportunities. A constant theme throughout the evening was the ubiquitous nature of biases, and how to deal with them, namely ,(1) We all have biases and it is our responsibility to challenge them, and (2) the fear factor (fear of “the other”) is quickly eliminated when we are given the opportunity to work with people who are different than you.  In a closing statement, Ryerson University’s Wendy Cukier reminds us that it’s time to apply what we know about innovation processes to diversity and inclusion.

What Innovation Can Teach Us About Diversity and Inclusion

Outside Canada, NGOs like  We Link Sweden, have put innovation and networking at the core of their newest strategy for newcomer labour market integration. Their pilot employment integration model, the  “Entry Hub” looks beyond new technologies that connect skills to employers, to a physical meeting space allows for meaningful face-to-face connection between job-seekers,  networks and employers.  We Link Sweden identified this lack of coordination between stakeholders as a missed. Today the Entry Hub’s physical meeting facilitates regular interaction between key stakeholders. Programming is developed in collaboration with labour market  actors in the public sector with the dual goal of connecting employers with new talent, and empowering individuals to fully develop their skills.  Among their newest projects is a new approach to hiring bias. Stay tuned!


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