Your name may dictate your apartment, degree, and career: Kutty

Ironically, although singling out the federal public service and its pilot project, Kutty is silent on the overall numbers which are largely representative of the visible minority population who are also Canadian citizens – 15 percent (some visible minority groups do better than others).

Above chart shows the 25 year trend for women, visible minorities and Indigenous peoples:

Having found the perfect rental property near the law school, a student of mine could not get a call back from the landlord despite repeatedly leaving messages. When a friend of his called, the call was returned within minutes.

Why?

Well, my student’s name was Mohamed. His friend used the name “Joe.”

Many Canadians with non-Anglicized names can speak of similar experiences. A CBC Marketplace segment from last year, for example, explored the idea of implicit bias affecting shoppers, apartment-seekers and job-hunters across Canada, finding that those with “foreign-sounding” names tended to face challenges that the “Joes” of the country did not.

That phenomenon in mind, then-rookie MP Ahmed Hussen — who has since been named immigration minister — introduced the idea of bringing name-blind recruitment to the civil service in Parliament last year. At the time, he said the move would “assist in our fight to end discrimination and attain real equality in our country.”

Ottawa has now adopted as a pilot project involving six federal ministries: National Defence, Global Affairs, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Public Services and Procurement, Environment and Climate Change and the Treasury Board.

According to the Treasury Board, the initiative will “conceal an applicant’s name, email addresses, employment equity information (i.e., gender, visible minority, person with a disability, Indigenous peoples), names of educational institutions, and country of origin at the initial screening stage.” The results will then be compared to outcomes from traditional applicant shortlisting and will be made available in a report due in October.

There is not much available data yet other than figures showing there has been a slight decrease in the number of visible minority applicants from the year 2012-13 to 2013-14 and subsequent years. One can hope that this initiative would reverse that trend.

As with most government pilots, there are surely some critics wondering why the federal civil service is busying itself with such projects.

Well, first off, there shouldn’t be any dispute that this is indeed a problem. A joint study from the University of Toronto and Ryerson University found that job applicants with Asian-sounding names received 20.1 per cent fewer calls from large organizations than those with Anglo names, and 39.4 per cent and 37.1 per cent fewer calls, respectively, from medium-sized and small employers.

A similar study by the U of T in 2011 — one called “Why do some employers prefer to interview Matthew, but not Samir?” — found that employers in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver were about 40 per cent more likely to interview candidates with Anglo-sounding names, as opposed to those with Chinese or Indian-sounding names, even if the candidates were equally qualified. The government’s pilot project aims to remedy this.

The idea is not new, in fact. Countries such as the U.K. and Australia have led the way in this regard. The British Civil Service and some of the large corporations including HSBC, Deloitte, BBC, and the U.K.’s National Health Service, initiated such a program in 2015. Last year, the Victoria Police, Australia Post and Ernst & Young (Australia) joined a recruitment program that strips out gender, age and cultural details.

Here in Canada, many law schools have implemented a blind grading system whereby students’ names are replaced by numbers to avoid instructor bias. And the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has demonstrated the success of blind auditions for years — evolving from a white, male orchestra in the 1970s to one that is now half female and much more diverse.

A name-blind recruitment process for the federal government is hardly more cumbersome in procedure, and the makeup of the civil service only stands to gain. A more reflective service will have more credibility with the populace but will also better understand the public it is serving. Moreover, as a recent study demonstrated there is a positive correlation between diversity and increased productivity.

That said, as many critics point out: name-blind screening is not a panacea — unconscious biases can’t be eliminated with one little recruitment remedy, and candidates will eventually be evaluated face to face. But removing a barrier to diversity in the federal civil service is a positive step, even if it is a minor one.

Let’s hope that this is just one component of a more comprehensive strategy involving: management acknowledging and confronting their own biases; better training on how biases impact decision-making; more objective hiring processes; and a more diverse group involved in the actual hiring process.

Source: Your name may dictate your apartment, degree, and career: Kutty | Toronto Star

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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