According to a recent study conducted by the Quebec Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (Quebec’s Human Rights Commission), equally skilled and qualified candidates are 60 percent more likely to be invited to a job interview when their family name is of “Québécois origin” (as stated in the study) than if it sounds like a name of African, Arab or Latin-American origin.
The goal of the study was to measure the extent of discriminatory hiring practices existing in Quebec, and revealed a net discrimination rate of 35 percent. Put another way, one in three people whose name identified them with a racialized group was excluded from the interview process.
“This study reminds us that the workforce integration challenges that certain ethnic and racialized groups face, whether they are immigrants or not, are not only due to skill and experience issues, but also to employers’ discriminatory preferences,” said the president of the commission, Gaétan Cousineau.
The study, headed by sociologist Paul Eid, shows that employers tend, often unconsciously (really!?), to seek out “people like themselves,” or sometimes even tend to avoid certain groups that are perceived negatively within Quebec society. It is easy for those who do not experience the effects of racism to claim ignorance or deny its reality. Racist ideology exists at the individual, institutional or systemic, and societal levels.
Cousineau’s statement gives credence to the notion of race as primarily centred on social processes that seek to construct differences among groups with the effect of marginalizing some in society. This notion remains a potent force in society today.
Why such a study in Quebec?
There, more than anywhere else in Canada, immigrants experience significant difficulties accessing employment. Indeed, of all Canadian provinces, Quebec has the highest gap between the unemployment rates of immigrants, especially visible minorities, and the native born.
And this, despite the fact that Quebec has been responsible for choosing its immigrants in the “skilled workers” category for the past 15 years based on criteria designed to facilitate the selection of candidates most likely to integrate successfully. These immigrants still face considerably greater socio-economic challenges than those born in Quebec or long-established immigrants from Europe.
Most people know that racism exists in many different forms and is pervasive in our society (Canada as a whole). Despite human rights legislation and proactive measures to address racism or racial discrimination, it is still embedded in our institutions, organizations and ways of thinking.
However, having welcomed these immigrants based on Quebec-specific criteria, why are Quebecers unwilling to help these immigrants thrive, reach their full potential and integrate into their society? This is counterproductive and damaging to their society.
So we have another study that says racism and racial discrimination must be recognized in order to combat their effects. Well, I am sick of reading these studies on racism by individuals, institutions and government that end up nowhere. Nothing constructive or real comes from them. The only thing these studies do is remind us that the issue is not gone or resolved.
What must be done to remove such racist ideology and reverse racism?
Thanks to my French ancestors, I carry the good name of Saint-Cyr. And on my mother’s side, the good Turkish-Greek name of Thrasybule. I also do not have an accent when I speak French or English. When an employer saw my name on a curriculum vitae or called me on the phone, they could not tell that I was black. Thus, I have never felt that I was excluded from interviews. However, when I showed up, you could tell who was mystified and taken aback that I am black—not what they were expecting at all. But they quickly got over it!
I hate to say it, but it was (and still is) a pleasure to confound people with mistaken conceptions! However, I guess now with social media and public online profiles, employers can get a look at who is coming before they get there. I am sure that some employers are using and will continue to use these new media to avoid hiring certain people, despite human rights law, which prevents discrimination in hiring based on race, nationality or ethnic origin.
But what can be done? Human rights commissions across Canada hear these types of cases all the time, but they can only do so much (not many succeed or even get heard) and they can only hear the cases that they know about. And it’s hard enough to know that an employer has engaged in discriminatory behaviour, let alone to prove it. Do we just have to be patient? Do we need to do a better job of educating citizens and actively rooting out false prejudices? How about these “unconscious” biases against people who appear different?
I suppose it is difficult for people who do not carry conscious prejudices to understand the mindset of those who do, and easy to simply dismiss them as backward or racist. But that is hardly a productive attitude, particularly for those who are denied the job opportunities they need to succeed and integrate. So tell me: does this new study tell us anything that might help us break down the ethnic barriers? What would you do to bring change to Quebec and Canada as a whole?
We may see, over time, that Canadians are becoming less prejudiced toward others, especially as kids grow up in an increasingly multicultural environment, but we still need solutions today to help adults survive and thrive.