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Nearly three decades ago I was recruiting for the Australian head office of an Asian international airline. The hiring manager, a white Australian, told me he didn’t want any Asian candidates for a junior accounting vacancy as “…they all just go back home if there are any family issues in their home country”.

Thankfully, it was one of the very few explicit racist requests (which I ignored) that I received across my 14 years as an agency recruiter.

I suspect most Australians presume this sort of attitude is no longer in evidence in this country’s workplaces.

Although explicit racism in hiring may be rare, a recent Australian study unequivocally shows that name-based racism, whether conscious or unconscious, remains disturbingly high.

The study, published in The Leadership Quarterly, was investigating the level of name discrimination in Australia by submitting mock-up job applications for positions advertised in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne.

The study is one of the largest international discrimination studies and the first resume study in the world to include leadership roles.

The four hypotheses

Hypothesis 1: Ethnic discrimination in recruitment is higher for leadership jobs than non-leadership jobs.

Hypothesis 2: Ethnic discrimination increases in the recruitment of leadership jobs, when jobs require customer contact.

Hypothesis 3: Ethnic discrimination increases in the recruitment of leadership jobs, when job advertisements emphasise individualism.

Hypothesis 4: Ethnic discrimination decreases in the recruitment of leadership jobs, when job advertisements emphasise learning, creativity, and innovation.

The methodology

A team of experts designed more than 12,000 identical resumes for more than 4000 job applications and altered the applicant’s name to represent different ethnicities.

They applied for roles that required varying levels of experience, from senior management jobs to entry-level positions.

The applications were across 12 different occupations as follows: accountant: 1,242 job applications, paralegal: 518, marketing professional: 1,219, HR professional: 1,083, personal care assistant: 792, electrician: 1,078, admin worker: 1,237, sales assistant: 1,275, receptionist: 1,206, waitstaff: 941, construction labourer: 954, and cleaner: 761.

Job advertisements were assessed for emphasis on customer contact, individualism, or learning, creativity, and innovation, and whether these attributes influence the degree of discrimination against ethnic minorities in the recruitment of leadership positions.

The results

i) For leadership positions: Applicants with English names received 26.8% of positive responses* for their job applications, while applicants with non-English names received 11.3% of positive responses, a 57.4% reduction in positive responses.

ii) For non-leadership positions: Applicants with English names received 21.2% of positive responses for their job applications, while applicants with non-English names received 11.6% of positive responses, a 45.3% reduction in positive responses.

iii) Customer contact a key differentiator: Ethnic discrimination for leadership positions was even more pronounced when the advertised job required customer contact. In contrast, hiring discrimination for leadership positions was not significantly influenced by whether the job advertisement emphasized individualism or learning, creativity, and innovation.

iv) Arabic names discriminated against the most: Applicants with Arabic names were the most likely to face discrimination, followed by Indian, Chinese, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Greek applicants.

* positive responses =  voicemails or emails from the employer requesting contact from the candidate

Lead researcher Mladen Adamovic said the results proved discrimination was widespread in the Australian job market.

This approach to hiring is a massive own goal for Australian employers.

How sympathetic can you be to employers when they complain about candidate shortages when the evidence strongly suggests that many of these same employers reject suitable candidates for non-competency reasons?

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