Canada has a discrimination problem when it comes to hiring — here’s why

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WATCH: A Northwestern University study shows that visible minorities in France and Sweden are significantly more likely to face discrimination during hiring – Jun 24, 2019

A new study has found that visible minorities in Canada are slightly more likely than those in the United States to face discrimination during hiring.

Researchers analyzed data from 97 previously conducted field experiments in Canada, the United States, Sweden, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Norway and Germany.

In every country, researchers found significant discrimination against “non-white natives” throughout the hiring process. However, discrimination levels were highest in France and Sweden.

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To be included in the study, countries needed to have at least three completed and in-depth field experiments around discriminatory hiring practices.

From those studies, researchers collected data from more than 200,000 fictitious job applications. They categorized fake candidates by race to determine if visible minorities received as many call-backs as their white counterparts. (A “call-back” is an invitation to attend an interview after submitting an application.)

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The results are interesting, but according to lead researcher Lincoln Quillian, they should be understood in the context of the data.

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He works as a professor of sociology at Northwestern University, and he holds an appointment in the school’s Institute for Policy Research.

“I don’t think it’s the case that the countries that aren’t in our analysis have lower discrimination… in fact, if anything, it may be the opposite,” said Quillian.

The nine nations studied were the only ones with enough data to support systematic comparisons across countries.

According to Quillian, it’s quite possible that the nine countries included have substantial data about discriminatory hiring practices because they’re proactive about improving them.

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This would mean that it’s possible that France and Sweden are still much better at non-discriminatory hiring than other countries not included in this report, despite topping the list.

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“I would have loved [to study] Japan, a country that by many anecdotal accounts, has pretty high hiring discrimination against people — especially [those] from other Asian countries,” he said.

Japan didn’t have the requisite three field experiments necessary to be included in Quillian’s meta-analysis.

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“That may be, in part, because it’s not really defined as a big social problem in some of these places [where] there is discrimination,” he said. “It may just kind of accepted, so they’re not trying to document it [or] worry about it.”

Similarly, Quillian has received feedback that some people were shocked to find Canada (tied for third with the U.K.) with higher rates of discriminatory hiring practices than the United States (ranked seventh).

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However, he emphasizes that the difference — not only between Canada and the U.S. but also between the U.K., Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Germany — is very small.

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“Canada looks pretty similar to the U.S., in terms of its level of hiring discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities,” he said.

“Maybe a little bit higher, but the difference higher is within the margin of error that exists… so that could be a result of chance differences. We don’t have a huge base of studies for Canada.”

Understanding the numbers

Relative to the United States, the study found that visible minorities in Canada were 11 per cent more likely to face discrimination in hiring.

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However, Dr. Eddy Ng believes these numbers need to be put into perspective. He’s a professor at Dalhousie University and the F.C. Manning Chair in economics and business.

He says some visible minority groups will do better than others — it all depends on the region and the occupation.

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“I think discrimination happens at a higher level because of a tendency to associate certain cultural and ethnic groups with certain professions,” he said.

For example, the study found that both Black Canadians and Asian Canadians experienced similar levels of discrimination.

For the former, Ng believes Black Canadians are more often wrongly associated with low-level jobs, such as janitorial work.

“There’s a tendency to hire somebody from a lower socioeconomic background,” he said, of low-level job applicants.

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Alternatively, Asian Canadians tend to “go for” professional managerial jobs, which leads to discrimination among the population.

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According to Statistics Canada, Asia is Canada’s largest source of immigrants. (Between 2006 and 2011, 56.9 per cent of immigrants who arrived in Canada were from Asia.)

It’s Ng’s view, the large number of Asian-Canadian immigrants, who in turn apply to managerial roles and experience discrimination, could negatively impact Canada’s ranking in the study overall.

Companies need incentives

It costs money to become a more diverse workplace, and Ng says most companies won’t willingly partake unless they foresee a monetary return on their investment.

“Most employers put in place diversity and inclusion practices because it’s good for business,” said Ng. “Right now, it’s pride month, you’ve probably seen employers changing the corporate colours of their logos to include the pride flag because they want to attract those clients.”

Another example is when banks in areas with large Indigenous populations will seek to hire Indigenous people, in an effort to reflect the customer base they’re trying to attract.

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“Unfortunately, not all ethnic groups are equally attractive to business,” said Ng.

He’s conducted several studies on the topic, all of which have found that what’s best for the business outweighs moral values when it comes to decision-making by CEOs.

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“Employers have actually leaped past public policy… but most practices are very selective,” he said. “They only do it if it benefits the business.”

Canada still has work to do

Ng believes that Canada’s federal diversity plan — known as the Employment Equity Act (EEA) — is outdated and limited in scope, which could explain why Canada was one of the countries with the highest levels of discriminatory hiring practices.

The purpose of the EEA is to ensure no one is denied employment for reasons unrelated to ability. Specifically, it aims to make the workplace more equitable for women, Indigenous Peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.

“It’s very limiting because it only pertains to employment, and it only covers the federal government [or] public service,” Ng said.

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The EEA is federal legislation, and as such, it only applies to industries which are federally regulated under the Canadian constitution. This means it can only enforce diversity and inclusion practices on three main industries: financial services, telecommunications and transportation.

“It really covers a small portion of the Canadian workforce,” said Ng. This is unfortunate because in the industries where diversity policy is enforced, it works.

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Ng also takes issue with the EEA because it only applies to the workplace, where as in the U.S., affirmative action also extends to education.

“This is a failing in Canadian public policy,” he said.

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An easy fix, says Ng, would be for the federal government to review the Employment Equity Act every five years — as was mandated when the EEA was created in 1986.

However, it’s only been reviewed once since — by Prime Minister Jean Chretien in 1995.

“It was scheduled to be reviewed again by Harper’s government, but he prorogued Parliament and the parliamentary committee [created] to review the Act was dissolved,” said Ng.

Were the EEA to be updated, Ng would recommend that it expands to include maternity and paternity leave, as well as senior citizens.

“We need to modernize,” said Ng.


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