“Whitening” the Resume


In the late nineties, I was a journalist with CBC TV in Toronto, doing a documentary series on new immigrants to Canada.

The TV cameras followed one man and his wife on their journey from Shanghai to Canada, and in his early weeks of settlement in Toronto. They had worked as electrical engineers in power plants in China. Now, like most new immigrants, they were starting over.

We were there when they moved into their one-bedroom apartment above a convenience store. We were there when they went to the local job placement office to search for openings and to update and print off their resumes. And we there when they bumped up against the stark reality of discrimination.

I knew him by his real name, which was, of course, Chinese. His accented English was quite good because he studied English in China. We talked frequently during those weeks, exchanging phone calls to catch up on his efforts to find a job.

Then one day I got a message written on a sheet of paper that “Andrew” had called. I didn’t recognize the name. Once I called back, I recognized his voice right away. He was the same person I’d been talking to all those weeks, except his new name was Andrew.  I asked him why he had changed his name. He said that acquaintances in Toronto’s Chinese community had advised him to change his Chinese name to a “Canadian name” if he wanted to get a job. That’s what Chinese immigrants have to do, he was told. Once he change his name, his phone began to ring.

I recalled that story today as I read a Toronto Star story about a new study by University of Toronto researchers. According to the study, 40% of non-white job seekers are “whitening” their resumes in order to get called for job interviews. Names such as the Chinese “Lei” become “Luke”.

That’s not the only change applicants are making to their resumes in their effort to ‘whiten’ their profiles.

multicultural workforce

Only 10% of African-Canadians who included experience with African-Canadian organizations were invited to interviews, but that rate jumped to 25.5% when they deleted that experience from their resumes.

I can relate to this. When I was recruited by the CBC in the late 80’s, a manager on the hiring panel asked me if I could be “objective” covering the black community in Ottawa because he noticed I had indicated on my resume that I had volunteered with a few black community organizations. I told him I could be objective and that because of my involvement in the community I had unique access  to the black community other reporters did not have. I also pointed out that my resume also included my volunteer work with the YMCA and that I am certain I would be able to objectively cover stories about the Y. I got the job.

Sonia Kang, the lead author of “Whitened Resumes, Race and Self-Representation in the Labour Market” says the findings show that job applicants from racial minority groups are fighting back against discrimination.

In our practice here at DiversiPro, we have heard these stories over and over.  They are not new. We have been told of immigrants changing their names, their accents and their experience to be more acceptable to other Canadians.

We’ve also heard from immigrants from former British or French colonies in the Caribbean and elsewhere whose European names have disguised their race or ethnicities until they turn up for a job interview – only to find the welcome mat withdrawn.

It’s discouraging to hear the results of the research. But the encouraging news is that new immigrants and people from racial minority backgrounds are finding ways to adapt and work around a system that is not often based on merit but how well a hiring manager believes a job candidate will “fit” into the organization.

I have no doubt that such short-sightedness has deprived companies of competent, hardworking individuals who could have contributed to the bottom line.


Iceland: The Best Place for Women?

When Canada’s new Prime Minister, JustinTrudeau, was asked by a reporter why 50% of his government ministers in his Cabinet were women, he said, without missing  a beat,
“Because it’s 2015.”  At the time it may have seemed like a trite response from a Prime Minister, but it signalled a remarkable change in the narrative about change and diversity — particularly for women.

Canada's Parliament

In an opEd piece in the Globe and Mail Mr. Trudeau said: “Every day, I meet incredible women who inspire me to be a better feminist and a better person. Women can do (and be) anything they want. But powerful cultural change cannot happen when only half of the population works toward that change. Men need to act, set examples and be role models.”

But as progressive as Canada’s new government – and its Prime Minister – may appear to be, today many women are looking to Iceland and other countries for the strides they have made in increasing the participation and wages of women in the workplace and in leadership roles.

The World Economic Forum says Iceland is the best place to be a woman. And according to the World Bank, Iceland is also the safest country to have a baby and where more women are serving on boards.

And although many Canadians may take price in gender parity in its federal government, Rwanda and Finland are well ahead: In Rwanda 64% of its politicians in parliament are women and 63% of Finland’s government ministers are women.

China has the highest number of self-made female billionaires. South Korean has the most female millennials with a university education. In tiny Estonia, 67% of doctoral level mathematics are women. (So much for the stereotype that girls can’t do math.)

Today is International Women’s Day and we should celebrate the outstanding women — living and long dead — whom have done incredible things to make this a better world.

Perhaps we should not be saying Happy International Women’s Day but “Hey! It’s International Women’s Day and its 2016!”