Equal opportunity, you say? Study finds race trumps skills in job hunt

The study shows an alarming trend of more Chinese candidates being hired over Indians and Malays despite having equal qualifications

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Photo from Centre for Governance and Political Studies Twitter (@CentGPS).

A recent report from the Center for Governance and Political Studies (Cent-GPS), a Kuala Lumpur based behavioral and social science research firm, concluded that private companies are least likely to respond to applications of Indians and Malays when they send in their resumes.

Drawing from a similar 2016 research by Hwok Aun Lee and Muhammed Abdul Khalid, the 2019 Cent-GPS study hypothesized three major factors that affect judgement in hiring applicants: 1) Malays are at an ethnic disadvantage in the application process; 2) Women’s chances at getting hired are influenced by whether they wear a hijab or tudung; and 3) Mandarin proficiency is a necessary skill in the job hunt.

The Centre sent out 3,829 resumes of seven different people to 547 private companies. Each resume was formatted similarly, including the applicant’s educational background, fresh graduate working experience, residence, and language proficiency (Bahasa Malaysia, English, and Mandarin Chinese). The resumes, however, varied in religious affiliations.

The resulting employment trends from the 2019 research are alarming and did not vary much from the 2016 study.

“Both our female and male Chinese candidates obtained more job callbacks than their Malay and Indian counterparts combined.”

The two ethnic Chinese applicants, Nicola Yeoh and Gabriel Liew, received the most responses from companies at 240 and 179 respectively. Muhammad Saddiq Azmi received 43 responses while Thivakar Gunasegaran fared worst among all at only 20 responses.

Nur Sakinah, who wore a hijab on her resume photo, got 50 responses from the companies at a 9.14 percent response rate. Zulaikha Asyiqin Rashidi, who did not wear a hijab, received 70 responses and fared at 12.8 percent response rate. Kavitha Muthusamy got the least number of responses among the women with only 49.

All seven applicants indicated an “intermediate” proficiency in Mandarin, but only the two ethnic Chinese applicants received the highest number of responses from the companies in which they applied.

The Cent-GPS report concluded that “when companies list ‘Mandarin required’ in their advertisement, it is just a filter to hire Chinese candidates.”

Should these obviously discriminatory employment trends continue, greater numbers of equally qualified Malay and Indian graduates would find it more difficult to secure work in an already cutthroat global job market.