Canadian Companies Still Struggling to Overcome Hiring Bias Against Minorities

Joint Ryerson/University of Toronto study shows discrimination is worst in smaller companies

A new report called ‘Do Larger Employers Treat Racial Minorities More Fairly?’ (Full Report, click here) is being released today at an expert panel discussion moderated by Senator Ratna Omidvar. The report examines whether discrimination varies according to the size of the organization and other topics including whether discrimination is minimized through the use of modern human resource management processes. The report shows that small Canadian companies are more likely than larger companies to discriminate against job applicants with Asian names, regardless of the skills and qualifications of the candidates.Hiring_Bias

In a study of data from a 2011 Canadian employment audit, researchers from Ryerson University and University of Toronto assessed the extent of discrimination experienced by applicants with Asian names (Chinese, Indian or Pakistani) and explored whether it varies according to the size of the hiring organization. Among several insights revealed in a review of nearly 13,000 applications for over 3000 job postings in Toronto and Montreal, researchers found that:

  • For jobs requiring a university degree, Asian-named applicants have a 32.6% lower rate of selection for an interview compared to Anglo-named applicants, even when both groups had equivalent all-Canadian qualifications. These jobs required a university degree.
    • The lower rate of interview selection was observed for jobs at both high and low skill levels.
  • Asian-named applicants with some or all foreign qualifications experienced a 45-60% lower rate of interview selection than Anglo-named applicants.
  • Discrimination against Asian-named applicants is twice as frequent in smaller organizations but still significant in large ones.
    • For large employers (500 or more employees), Asian-named applicants have about a 20 percent lower rate of selection compared to Anglo-named applicants (both with equivalent all-Canadian qualifications).
    • Among smaller employers, the Asian-named rate was found to be nearly 40% lower.
  • Extra qualifications may boost the applicant’s chances, but disparities still exist, especially in smaller organizations.
    • In large organizations, having an extra Canadian Master’s degree gives Asian-named applicants an equal rate of selection compared to Anglo-named applicants without the extra degree.
    • In small organizations, even with the extra Canadian Master’s degree, their rate of selection is still 29% lower than for Anglo-named applicants without any extra degree.

“Small businesses employ more than 70 per cent of private sector employees in Canada. Bias in the hiring process may put these companies at risk of missing out on a highly-qualified talent pool here in Canada,” says Senator Ratna Omidvar, founder of and advisor to Hire Immigrants, a Ryerson University-based organization that provides businesses and policy-makers with leading expertise and analysis on immigrant employment and entrepreneurship. “Confronting bias in hiring will go a long way to enabling Canadian organizations to access the best candidates, regardless of their backgrounds.”

The research team will present the full report on Wednesday, January 25 at a panel discussion hosted by Hire Immigrants and moderated by Senator Omidvar. The “Confronting Hiring Bias” panelists include senior human resources executives and immigration leaders who will discuss the report insights and explore strategies that can help organizations implement less discriminatory hiring practices. See event information, below.

 “Unconscious bias by definition is unintentional which makes it even harder to address,” explains Wendy Cukier, founder of the Diversity Institute and one of the panellists at Wednesday’s event. “Understanding the nature and extent of discrimination in their hiring practices will help organizations tackle the persistent challenge of creating inclusive and productive workplaces. The benefits of doing this well are well documented. Organizations need senior leadership to commit. They need to set benchmarks and track progress. They need to carefully examine their processes.  Training is helpful but not enough to drive what is often culture change. Diversity and inclusion should be embedded across the organization’s strategy.  Its not just about fairness and equity or a matter of avoiding reputational or legal risks but reaping significant rewards – access to diverse talent is a key driver of organizational success.”

The report, authored by researchers Rupa Banerjee of Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, Jeffrey G. Reitz of University of Toronto’s Faculty of Sociology and Munk School of Global Affairs and Phil Oreopoulos of the Faculty of Economics at University of Toronto, hypothesizes that many large companies have devoted greater resources to the recruitment and hiring process, with a more professionalized human resources function and an existing workforce of greater diversity – all factors which may contribute to reducing, though not eliminating, bias in hiring.

“These findings are important in further understanding employment discrimination, and for taking steps to address it,” said Reitz.

“Companies, big or small, should be auditing their hiring practices regularly,” said Banerjee. The researchers recommend organizations conduct an anonymized resume test to audit their own bias in the hiring process. They also recommend having multiple people or a committee review resumes instead of just one individual. Additional tactics for reducing hiring bias will be discussed at Wednesday’s panel event.

Informed by the full report, Wednesday’s expert panel discussion, Confronting Hiring Bias: An Interactive Discussion at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto will explore such topics as:

  • Effective best-practices for reducing discriminatory hiring practices
  • Key challenges facing employers seeking to improve diversity and inclusion
  • Viable solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses which may have different HR challenges than large organizations
  • How to use the research to prompt meaningful action within Canadian companies
  • Possible roles for government, educational institutions, labour unions and more.


  • Host: Mark Patterson, Executive Director, Hire Immigrants & Magnet
  • Moderator: Senator Ratna Omidvar
  • Panelists/Speakers: Corinne Prince-St-Amand, Director General Integration-Foreign Credentials Referral Office, IRCC; Wendy Cukier, Director & Founder, Diversity Institute; Nicholas Keung, Journalist, Toronto Star; Dianne Salt, Senior Vice President, Communications, RBC
  • Researchers:  Rupa Banerjee, Ryerson University and Phil Oreopoulos and Jeffrey G. Reitz of University of Toronto.
  • For full event program details, please click here


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