Can we avoid bias in hiring practices?


Good analysis of some of the weaknesses in the Treasury Board and selected departments piloting of masking applicant names to remove hiring bias.

That being said, federal government representation of visible minorities, at 15.9 percent (2016 Census public administration less Canadian Forces, a number slightly higher than the most recent federal employment equity data), is relatively close to the percentage who are also Canadian citizens (17.2 percent, 2016 Census):

Ottawa’s Name-Blind Recruitment Pilot Project was launched in April 2017 to explore whether masking applicants’ names would remove bias in the hiring process for the federal public service. There was a lot to praise in this initiative of the Public Service Commission (PSC). Previous research, including some of our own, has shown that recruiters often react to the name on a resumé, independently of other factors such as education and experience. Our most recent publication (in the March issue of Canadian Public Policy) suggests that much of this discrimination is unconscious and unintentional, so employers actually could benefit from better hires by taking relatively straightforward steps to remove names during the initial stages of the selection process.

One similar and important example is the case of musicians auditioning for positions in popular orchestras in the United States. Traditionally orchestras have been male dominated, and criticized for discriminating against women. Researchers showed convincingly that orchestras that held auditions with the applicants performing behind a screen began to hire more women. Given that auditions are an effective means to observe productivity (music quality), the fact that more women were hired under this method suggests that orchestras previously were missing out on better musicians when gender was known. Most orchestras now audition using screens, showing a desire to avoid discrimination and make better hires. It’s a classic case of win-win-win: a win for women musicians getting more equal opportunity, a win for orchestras tapping a larger talent pool and a win for audiences enjoying better music.

However, the PSC’s hiring bias experiment has yet to yield such positive results. When the project report was released in January 2018, it appeared to show there was in fact “no bias” in federal public service hiring in the first place. This led Treasury Board President Scott Brison to write, “The project did not uncover bias.” National media disseminated this story. The CBC, for example, ran with the headline “No Sign of Bias against Government Job-Seekers with Ethnic-Sounding Names, Pilot Project Finds.” The article states that hiding ethnic-sounding names on resumés was found to have “no real bearing on who’s picked from the pile of applications.”

Unfortunately, this version of the results significantly misrepresents the actual findings of the pilot project. A careful reading of the report indicates that the pilot project was not really designed as a test of discrimination, and the report clearly acknowledged this fact.

The design of the pilot project included two features that would undermine its relevance in assessing the broader use of name-blind hiring. First, the project relied on departments within PSC that volunteered to take part, and within those, job openings were considered for inclusion as they arose; both features introduce a non-random element that undermines the value of the results. Second, and more important, all hiring managers in the project made their decisions knowing that they would be subject to review. For the managers using the traditional method, the awareness that their decisions would be scrutinized and compared with results from name-blind hiring made them more likely to be conscious of bias, and therefore more likely to alter their hiring decisions accordingly.

The procedure in the PSC pilot removed more than the applicant’s name; it also took out all other potentially identifying information — information that might have been useful in assessing the resumé. This was likely why anonymized applications in the pilot were less likely to lead to call-backs.

The report points out that a different study approach used to measure bias, called audit methodology, would have lessened the effect of managers’ awareness of being in a comparative study. Our own study used the audit methodology, in which employers are selected at random and are sent computer-generated resumés for assessment without advance notification. Such a procedure has been employed many times, in a number of countries.

Of course, it’s possible that discrimination against applicants with ethnic-sounding names doesn’t exist in the federal public service. For name-blinding to influence hiring decisions, there must be a problem to begin with. As the report mentions, the PSC is already taking steps to help ensure that the federal government is practising unbiased hiring, and it outlines several important initiatives.

Our research found that bias varies considerably among organizations. We’ve shown in data from Toronto and Montreal that large organizations with over 500 employees practise discrimination against applicants with Asian names about half as often as smaller organizations. This difference may well arise from a tendency for large organizations to have more policies in place to help avoid discriminatory behaviour. The potential benefits from name-blinding may be minimal for the federal government if it is already doing a good job minimizing bias.

However, to conclude that there is no bias in hiring within the federal public service on the basis of the January report — which clearly indicates that the pilot project was not designed to test bias effectively — may move efforts to promote fairness backward rather than forward. There is still a need to follow through on the good intentions that seemed to motivate the name-blind hiring pilot when it was first announced. Ideally, a study on the impact of name-blinding would first identify an organization where clear discrimination occurs, as shown through an audit, and then explore how name-blinding affects the chances of applicants getting an interview, and ultimately getting hired. Tellingly, the report suggested an audit study as a good next step “to improve the understanding of any potential bias during selection of candidates.” In fact, any organization, including the federal public service, that wishes to consider name-blind recruitment as a way to broaden its talent pool would be well-advised to consider an audit as a first step to test for bias.

It can be quite challenging to design an effective name-blind hiring procedure. The procedure in the PSC pilot removed more than just the applicant’s name; it also took out all other potentially identifying information — information that might have been useful in assessing the resumé. This was most likely the reason that anonymized applications in the pilot were less likely to lead to call-backs than traditional applications. One option would be to remove only the name, or only a very limited amount of other information in the resumés that might give away the visible minority status of the applicant. An automated tool for reviewing submitted resumés might be developed to facilitate this approach.

It’s critical that the desire of an organization to burnish its public image not stand in the way of ensuring a fair and equitable process of finding the best candidates for available jobs. It may feel great to say, “We didn’t uncover any bias.” But if bias does exist, it’s better to be able to say, “We found bias and we’ve taken meaningful steps to eliminate it.”

Source: Can we avoid bias in hiring practices?

Asian job seekers face disadvantage even when they have higher degrees, study finds | Toronto Star

More confirmation of bias in hiring processes:

Job candidates with Asian names and Canadian qualifications are less likely to be called for interviews than their counterparts with Anglo-Canadian names even when they have a better education, a new study has found.

Using data from a recent large-scale Canadian employment study that examined interview callback rates for resumés with Asian and Anglo names, researchers found Asian-named applicants consistently received fewer calls regardless of the size of the companies involved.

Although a master’s degree can improve Asian candidates’ chances of being called, it does not close the gap and their prospects don’t even measure up to those of Anglo applicants with undergraduate qualifications.

Compared to applicants with Anglo names, Asian-named applicants with all-Canadian qualifications had 20.1 per cent fewer calls from organizations with 500 or more employees, and 39.4 per cent and 37.1 per cent fewer calls, respectively, from medium-sized and small employers.

“The disadvantage of an Asian name is less in the large organizations, although it has not disappeared,” said the joint study by the University of Toronto and Ryerson University, titled “Do Large Employers Treat Racial Minorities More Fairly?” It will be released Wednesday at a forum at U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

The challenge, the report said, is that more than 70 per cent of private sector employees in Canada work for companies with fewer than 100 employees.

Paul Nguyen, 36, who was born in Canada to Vietnamese parents, said he was not surprised by the findings, as he has seen first-hand how a visible minority colleague with a doctoral degree was passed over for promotion in favour of a Caucasian with a bachelor’s degree.

In fact, Nguyen’s parents decided to change his name to Paul when he was in Grade 8 because his original name, Phuong, was frequently misspelled or mispronounced.

“It just makes it easier for me to navigate in the system,” he said.

The new study follows earlier research led by University of Toronto economics professor Phil Oreopoulos, who found that for every 100 calls received by applicants with Anglo names, applicants with Asian names got only 72. However, his study did not break down company size and occupational skill level.

The applicants in the study had fictitious names that were English (Greg Johnson and Emily Brown), Chinese (Lei Li and Xuiying Zhang), Indian (Samir Sharma and Tara Singh) and Pakistani (Ali Saeed and Hina Chaudhry).

Researchers in the current study further dissected Oreopoulos’s data, which was collected from a field audit that involved sending 12,910 invented resumés to employers for 3,225 real job postings.

Using a standard occupational status scale, researchers classified the job postings into high-skill positions such as accountant, civil engineer or sales and marketing manager; average-skill jobs such as financial adviser and claims adjuster; and lower-skill jobs that included bookkeeper, accounts payable clerk, restaurant manager or cashier.

While the study found the extent of discrimination against Asian-named applicants with all Canadian qualifications was roughly the same for both high-skill and lower-skill jobs (32.9 per cent less likely to get a call versus 30.7 per cent), skill level mattered much more when the Asian-named candidates have some foreign qualifications.

Whereas the Asian-named applicants overall had about a 53.3-per-cent lower chance of getting a call for an interview if they had some foreign qualifications, this rate rose to 58.5 per cent for applicants to high-skill jobs, and fell to 45.7 per cent if the openings were for lower-skill jobs.

“The less favourable response to Asian-named and foreign-qualified applicants at higher skill levels may arise because in those jobs, more is at stake in the credential assessment, so avoiding the issue by not calling is seen as the safer option,” said the study.

Researchers went one step further by looking at how Asian-named applicants with higher levels of qualifications fared compared to Anglo-named candidates with lower qualifications.

For Anglo applicants citing a master’s degree in resumés, the study found, the chance of an interview improved from 69.9 per cent to 81 per cent, or 11.1 percentage points — about the same percentage point increase as for their Asian counterparts (from 45.9 per cent to 56.5 per cent).

Although the positive effect of the extra education was notable, it was not enough to offset the overall disadvantage of having an Asian name. The callback rate for Anglo applicants without the additional degree was still 13.4 percentage points higher than for their Asian counterparts with the additional degree (69.9 per cent versus 56.5 per cent).

Jeffrey Reitz, a co-author of the current study and sociology professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs, said the findings call for the adoption of what’s known as an “anonymized resumé review” process — coding candidates without identifying their names — by Canadian employers.

“Some people are concerned this is something we are doing to accommodate minorities, giving an advantage to minority people by deferring to them,” said Reitz. “But no matter what political correctness is doing, it is not offsetting the problems.”

Blind recruitment can have a huge impact on eliminating some of the employers’ biases, as in the case of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra when it began auditioning musicians behind a screen in 1980, according to a CBC report. The orchestra today is almost half female and more diverse than in the 1970s, when it was dominated by white men.

Rupa Banerjee, another co-author of the paper and a professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, said she is not aware of any Canadian employers using blind recruitment practices.

Legislation such as employment equity measures will not eliminate name discrimination, which can only be addressed through education and training of hiring managers, she said.

“A name matters because it draws on implicit response and activates stereotypes on what a job candidate would be when you only have less than seven seconds to look at a resumé. People judge by the name they see,” said Banerjee.

“Anonymized resumé reviews can’t eliminate discrimination completely. That’s just the initial hurdle. When you go into an interview, you can’t hide who you are and remove your ethnic markers.”

Source: Asian job seekers face disadvantage even when they have higher degrees, study finds | Toronto Star

Shaping the future of Canada’s immigration system

A number of opinions on the issues set out in the current immigration consultations (see earlier Collacott: Immigration ‘conversation” is public relations exerciseIRCC Discussion guide on immigration: What about citizenship?).

In addition to my comments below, views of Debbie Douglas (faster processing of family reunification), Harald Bauder (more funding for settlement, pathways from temporary to permanent residency), Jeff Reitz (greater efforts on employment) and the Conference Board (increased immigration levels, spread across the country):

Having inherited an immigration system plagued with backlogs and heavy-handed enforcement, the Liberal government says it’s keen to hear what you think needs to be done about Canada’s immigration future.

Since the beginning of the summer, Immigration Minister John McCallum and his parliamentary secretary, Arif Virani, have held more than two dozen roundtable meetings across Canada with settlement services organizations, businesses and community groups to get their thoughts.

Although the meetings are by invitation only — more are coming in August — the public can submit ideas by email to the minister. Since early July, more than 2,500 online submissions have been received. Submissions end Aug. 5.

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will be reviewing the feedback from Canadians to help guide decisions on how many people we will welcome in the coming years and the future of immigration in Canada,” said a department spokesperson.

While the final report won’t be ready till at least the fall, the Star interviewed a group of immigration experts to weigh in on the national dialogue by identifying gaps in the system and offering solutions.

Meaningful and accessible citizenship:

Andrew Griffith, a former director general at the immigration department, said Canada largely has its immigration policies and programs right, but an independent review by a royal commission would be helpful.

He said the consultation questions are biased towards economic class immigrants and miss out on important areas such as citizenship.

“Most immigrants choose to become citizens as part of their integration into Canadian society. If we believe in immigration integration, we should support political integration, in addition to economic, social and cultural,” said Griffith.

“The main instrument for doing so is citizenship, given that allows for full participation in the political process.”

Canada’s naturalization rate has been declining, from the peak of 93.3 per cent for immigrants who came before 1971, to just 36.7 per cent among those who arrived between 2006 and 2007.

Griffith said Ottawa must set targets for naturalization as a benchmark, to assess whether its policies strike the right balance in making citizenship accessible and meaningful.

Officials must also regularly review citizenship requirements to ensure that different ethnic groups and immigration classes (economic, family and refugees) have comparable outcomes. Reducing the hefty application fee from the current $530 would make citizenship more financially accessible.

Source: Shaping the future of Canada’s immigration system | Toronto Star

The Hill Times has the political reaction to the (trial balloon?) of differential immigration fees:

The federal government is seeking public feedback on letting some immigration applicants pay more for faster processing.

That idea is one of many put forward in an online consultation document the government is asking members of the public to fill out as it gears up for an overhaul of the immigration processing system.

The NDP’s immigration critic and a pair of Liberal and NDP MPs say bringing in a two-tiered Canadian immigration system is out of the question.

“I wouldn’t support it,” said NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.). “By doing that, effectively you’re saying you can buy your way into the system and bypass everybody.”

“They’re absolutely creating a two-tiered system if that were to proceed,” she said.

However, Liberal MP Peter Fonseca (Mississauga East-Cooksville, Ont.) and a Toronto immigration lawyer say such a system could help to improve immigration processing.

The issue is one close to MPs’ hearts as much of their constituency work is tied up in helping constituents with immigration questions, including application processing.

Many MPs have two staffers in their riding offices and at least one attends to constituents’ immigration needs. The most common complaints of constituents about immigration issues are related to long delays in the processing times of applications for family reunification, refugees, spousal sponsorship, temporary foreign workers, visitor visas, and Canadian citizenship applications.

Immigration reform

Immigrants are not a monolithic voting block

Ethnic_Voting_Cochrane_SlideGood panel organized by the Munk Centre:

If the Conservative Party is banking on the immigrant and ethnic minority vote to win them the election, as some believe they did in 2011, they might need to revisit that narrative.

“They do well with white immigrants, not visible minority immigrants. I think there is a disconnect with the narrative and reality,” says Chris Cochrane, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

Cochrane took part today in the University of Toronto’s Munk School panel, “Courting the Ethnic Vote: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 2015 Federal Election.” The panel of experts discussed a variety of topics facing ethnic minorities, from the racialization of candidates to the importance of diversity in politics.

Jeffrey Reitz, the president of the Harney Program in Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies at the Munk Centre, moderated the panel and opened it by discussing the traditional voting narrative of immigrants in Canada: for generations, immigrants voted for the Liberal Party of Canada, because “they were the party of open immigration,” or for the New Democratic Party, because they were the “party of the underdog.”

There was an apparent breakthrough for the Conservative Party in getting the ethnic vote when the former minister of citizenship and immigration, Jason Kenney, embarked on a major outreach effort during the last federal election, said Reitz.

“Old-stock Canadians with conservative values meet new-stock Canadians with conservative values, that was the story.”

“There is no question about the dominance of the narrative of Conservative inroads among immigrant communities,” said Cochrane, but his findings show different conclusions.

But immigrants who have moved to Canada from the Middle East showed an almost equal vote distribution amongst the parties. South Asians voted strongly for the Liberals, and African immigrants voted for the NDP. The Conservatives were favoured by Europeans, East Asians and Americans.

“A story of a massive special immigrant vote that abandoned the Liberal Party, and shifted to the Conservative Party, outside of Quebec doesn’t seem to be consistent with the data.”

Cochrane’s findings on ethnic minority and immigrant voting patterns came from the “exit surveys” conducted by the research company IPSOS. They surveyed over 100,000 Canadians in the past three federal elections — including over 12,000 immigrant voters.

“This is a unique data set that allows us to look at small communities and discuss it with high statistical confidence, he told iPolitics.”

“Outside of Quebec, the immigrant as a whole mirrors to a larger extent the vote of other Canadians, and is equally heterogeneous. There is a lot of variation in diversity in the immigrant community — just as there is in the non-immigrant community.”

Source: Immigrants are not a monolithic voting block (paywall)

Another good presentation was by Erin Tolley, looking at the news coverage of immigrants and minorities in Canadian politics, sharing the results of her forthcoming book, Framed: Media and the Coverage of Race in Canadian Politics (see her earlier op-ed in the Globe Parties pigeonhole visible minority candidates)

Study finds high levels of equality for Muslim women in Canada

Participation_Rates_Religion_Compared_to_ChristiansI have yet to analyze second generation participation rates by religion but for all generations (the vast majority being first generation) show greater differences as shown in the above chart (compared to Christians) than the Reitz study, which uses more recent NHS 2011 data than  2001 and 2006 Census data.

However, his points on ethnic origin being a more important determinant than religion make sense:

Reitz said the study’s findings should dispel misperceptions about female subservience restricting Muslim women in Canada to roles in the home. While recent Muslim immigrants demonstrate more gender inequality than some groups, the data for others under far less public scrutiny such as Hindus and Sikhs are not much different. National culture in the country of origin makes a bigger difference than religion itself. For example, gender inequality is greater for Muslim immigrants from Pakistan than from the Middle East or Europe, regardless of individual strength of religious commitment. Similar patterns of difference by country of origin are found among Christian immigrants.

“Most tellingly, second-generation Muslim women in Canada are just as active in the workforce as other groups,” said Reitz.

Work force participation rates for women compared to men have long been viewed as a prime indication of the extent of gender equality in the Canadian population.

It made sense to use the same measurement to examine attitudes about gender among immigrant populations, said Reitz.

He had another motive as well. “Exhaustive data in a peer-viewed study is important for satisfying academics and other researchers, but the larger point is to reach the wider public and dispel some harmful myths.

“The idea that Muslims hold values that make it difficult for them to integrate into Canadian society is misguided,” said Reitz. “It also suggests how international politics can affect our attitudes toward immigrants.”

Study finds high levels of equality for Muslim women in Canada.