HR overlooks applicants with non-western names

by Stephanie Zillman10 May 2012

HR overlooks applicants with non-western namesThe Australian Human Rights Commission has said there is a growing trend of immigrants adopting Western names in the hope it will get them hired.

“There are still elements of race discrimination in employment. It is certainly present and problematic,” Disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes told HC.

His comments come in light of research released by the Australian National University which confirmed significant differences in call back rates. The research suggested that “ethnic minority candidates would need to apply for more jobs in order to receive the same number of interviews”.

The report, ‘Does Racial and Ethnic Discrimination vary across Minority Groups?’ showed that discrimination occurred differently across a range of groups. Those with Italian names, and indeed those candidates who form more established migrant groups, suffered less discrimination than Chinese and Middle Easterners. “Unfortunately, there are definitely people in Australia who make employment decisions on a racist bias. We like to call ourselves a tolerant society, but this happens a lot more often than we think,” Innes said.

Further, the commissioner said he was not surprised by examples of immigrants changing their names.

Gabriella Hannah, formally Ragda Ali, legally changed her name after finishing TAFE and struggling to find employment. Despite applying for junior sales positions which required no experience, and having worked for two years as a junior sales clerk, she didn’t receive any call backs. “I didn’t receive any calls so I decided to legally change my name. I applied for the same jobs and got a call 30 minutes later,” Hannah said.

The ANU investigative paper suggested that employers may be forced into perceived ‘socially acceptable’ responses, rather than acting on their actual belief.

Amid the skills crisis, one Canberra-based business consultant is stunned at how frequently applicants are overlooked because of their non-Anglo sounding names. “I would hesitate using the word racism but I think it is a complete lack of understanding of what it means to be a person with a different background. We are ignoring a real, and vital and economic opportunity on our doorstep. It really is incredible,” Peter Gordan from Economic Futures Australia told the Canberra Times.

Gordon added that despite the government's best efforts, he is frustrated by the lack of interest among ACT businesses in hiring the available talent from overseas.


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  • by To agree or disagree 15/05/2012 2:22:37 PM

    I work in a multicultural company, in fact I am the only 'Anglo' in it. However from talks with other people I can understand the reticence of some places to employ people with 'ethnic' sounding names, particularly Asian and Middle Eastern. Part of this stems from the desire to have people working for them who may have a better grasp of the English language and be easier to understand. How many times do you hear compliants from people frustrated by dealing with overseas call centre staff whom they cannot understand?

  • by Not impressed 15/05/2012 2:43:02 PM

    To agree or disagree, are you serious? Just because my parents gave me a name honouring my heritage/ethnicity does not mean that I have an inadequate grasp of the English language. Your ignorance is astounding.

    To those of you who also have a difficult to pronounce name, rest assured that if what is being reported is true, we are better off not working for a company that lets people with this type of thinking make important recruitment decisions. Colonialism ended a long time ago for many of us and there is no reason why we should pay homage to our former colonial masters by having to change our names to “normal English” names so ignorant people can feel more comfortable. In fact if they are happy to make such a decision based on this factor alone, I am pretty sure our appearance will be off putting enough for them to make the working environment a place we most probably would not want to be in.

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