Australia’s love for ‘White-sounding’ names keeping Indians out of key leadership roles

"All candidates were born in Australia, worked in Australia, and went to an Australian school or university."

By Amit Sarwal and Jai Bharadwaj

New research published in The Leadership Quarterly says that applicants with six ethnic group names are 57 per cent less likely to be considered for leadership roles and 45 per cent less likely to be considered for lower job positions.

Lead researchers Dr Mladen Adamovic and Prof. Andreas Leibbrandt say:

“Our study provides one theoretical explanation by showing that recruiters in Australia are less likely to consider ethnic minorities as leaders, because ethnic minorities experience more hiring discrimination for leadership than non-leadership positions in our study.”

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Dr Adamovic, who conducted the study in Australia before moving to work at King’s College in the UK, said the results were disappointing but not surprising.

Ramesh Prasad Gangwar* (name changed on request) told The Australia Today, “I migrated from Singapore to Sydney after working in a multinational company as an auditor in 2012.”

Representative image: Job interview (Source: CANVA)
Representative image: Job interview (Source: CANVA)

“Despite a master’s degree and five-year experience under my belt, it took me more than 130 applications to secure a basic entry-level job.”

“The worst part was I had to anglicise my name and identity to get going in the Australian job market,”

said Mr Gangwar.

The current study is one of the largest international discrimination studies and the first resume study in the world to include leadership roles. The six different ethnic groups include are“` Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Arabic, Chinese, English, Greek, and Indian. 

The following common Indian names were selected for the different ethnic groups based on websites forebears.io and behindthename.com, prior research, and feedback from ethnic group members.

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Table: Names of job applicants.

For these people, the researchers created 72 resumes, 54 cover letters (our preparations indicated that cover letters are less common for wait staff, construction labourers, and cleaning jobs in Australia), 72 email accounts, and 72 voicemails for all 72 fictitious job applicants. 

The researchers then investigated the level of name discrimination in Australia by submitting mock-up job applications for positions advertised in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

“We submitted over 12,000 job applications, to over 4,000 job advertisements, to investigate hiring discrimination against six ethnic groups for leadership positions. Drawing on implicit leadership theory, we argue that ethnic discrimination is particularly pronounced in the recruitment of leadership positions.”

To design suitable resumes and cover letters, the researchers followed best practices on required skills and educational degrees.

Representative image: Job interview (Source: CANVA)

They say:

“All candidates were born in Australia, worked in Australia, and went to an Australian school or university.”

Melbourne-based Molina Swarup Asthana is the National President of the Asian Australian Lawyers Association.

Ms Asthana told The Australia Today, “The percentage of people of colour in leadership positions is disproportionately low in comparison to our ethnic make-up of the population. The barriers are real and both conscious and unconscious biases exist.”

Molina Swarup Asthana With Andrews Giles, Minister for Immigration

“Having a non-Anglo name is a major barrier as that impacts your application itself at the start of the recruitment process.”

“Also, often labelled as the model minority, of a meek and mild disposition, our leadership styles are considered non-western or not representative of the cohort we are meant to lead.

There is also a strong unconscious bias to slot us into particular roles that suit our race or ethnicity.”

Further, the researchers in the study note that the results proved discrimination was widespread in the Australian job market: “The results confirm this hypothesis.”

They add:

“For leadership positions, applicants with English names received 26.8% of positive responses for their job applications, while applicants with non-English names received 11.3% of positive responses. This means ethnic minorities received 57.4% fewer positive responses than applicants with English names for leadership positions despite identical resumes.”

Representative image: Job interview (Source: CANVA)

Further, or non-leadership positions:

“Applicants with English names received 21.2% of positive responses for their job applications, while applicants with non-English names received 11.6% of positive responses. This means ethnic minorities received 45.3% fewer positive responses for non-leadership positions despite identical resumes.”

In Australia, only 8.4% of workplace leaders are born in a non-English speaking country, although as per the latest census, more than 21% of Australia’s population was born in a non-English speaking country.

Sheba Nandkeolyar Multicultural & Diversity Champion & CEO of MultiConnexions Group.

Ms Nandkeolyar told The Australia Today, “The report outlines the subtle discrimination being faced by candidates with non-mainstream names.”

Sheba Nandkeolyar is CEO of MultiConnexions Group; Image Source: Supplied
Sheba Nandkeolyar is CEO of MultiConnexions Group; Image Source: Supplied

“Often I have heard Indian professionals tell me, that their names are a stumbling block to receiving interviews with potential employers.

Some folks have changed their names and received more instant & positive responses to their job applications,”

added Ms Nandkeolyar.

The researchers observe that the general leadership prototype in Australia also includes the characteristic of being “White with an English name.”

“In modern Australia, business and political leaders often have been White people with English names. In contrast, ethnic minorities have rarely attained leadership positions and even experienced discrimination and exploitation in Australia’s history.”

The researchers observed a very stark difference in the percentage of positive responses for leadership positions. 

They say that in leadership positions 26.8% of the job applicants with English names received positive responses, compared to only 10.8% for Indian names. This difference was “less pronounced” in non-leadership positions with applicants with English names having a positive response rate of 21.2%, whereas those with Indian names had a positive response rate of 9.8% only. 

Dr Fiona Price (Source: Supplied)

Melbourne-based cross-cultural communication specialist and multicultural names expert, Dr Fiona Price says in her work with multicultural names, she found rather something simpler at play: fear of the unknown.

She observes:

“When research findings like these are published, people usually conclude that recruiters are discriminating against candidates with non-Anglo names because they associate such names with poorer English communication skills.”

She adds”

“A lot of recruiters may be anxious about engaging with candidates who have non-Anglo names because they don’t know how to address them or pronounce those names, and are afraid of looking incompetent or even prejudiced if they get them wrong. They may therefore consciously or subconsciously favour candidates with names they feel comfortable with.”

Representative image: Leadership (Source: CANVA)

The researchers also did a survey collaboration with a market research company to see if people can identify the ethnicity and gender of the names as well as the socio-economic status (SES) of the names.

“The correct responses were very high for English (97% correct), Greek (94%), Chinese (92%), and Arabic names (88%). The correct responses were still high for Indian names (71%) but somewhat lower for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander names (59%).”

Dr Adamovic and Prof. Leibbrandt say video resumes can minimize name discrimination by giving Indian and other ethnic applicants “the possibility to present their communication and language skills, potentially reducing prejudices that recruiters could have about ethnic minorities.”

As a way forward, Dr Price suggests that changing recruitment procedures to allow candidates to demonstrate their English language skills along with upskilling recruiters by teaching them about the diverse names they will encounter would be helpful.