Thursday, May 21, 2009

Economics: Canadian Discrimination--Of Course

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Canada was abuzz this week with the revelation that people with foreign-sounding names are discriminated against here, according to a University of British Columbia study widely reported including by CBC Online. "White-sounding" names on résumés are 40 percent more likely to be called for an interview than those with South Asian or Asian names and otherwise-identical résumés; mixed names (first name "white-sounding" and last name "foreign-sounding") fall in the middle. In fact, the magnitude of the problem is--gasp--similar to that in the United States when otherwise-identical "white-sounding" and "black-sounding" candidates are compared.

This is utterly unsurprising. No Canadian province has the kind of record-keeping laws on job applicants that are in place in the United States. I've written about this before in the context of why I don't recommend that women migrate to Canada. As pointed out in the article, this means that employers are likely in violation of human rights laws. However, without evidence, how can this ever be proven?

I'm generally not a big fan of creating bureaucracy, but this is one area in which the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has the right idea. If companies are required to compile data on how they disposition different candidates, then it not only provides a mechanism to determine if there is conscious discrimination going on, but also helps people realize if unconscious discrimination is occurring.

It's actually not that burdensome to a hiring manager, at least in my experience. It may be somewhat of a burden on human resources departments, but that's one reason why such departments exist.

Yet, in all the hand-wringing about the UBC study this week, I haven't once heard a call for increased record-keeping. If it can be done in the United States, it can be done in Canada.

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