Study: Indians and Malay Women Wearing Hijab Face More Discrimination When Applying for Jobs in Malaysia

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Cent-GPS researcher Zaidel Baharuddin speaks about the result of a recent survey entitled ’Racism in Recruitment: Racial Bias For Entry Level Jobs’ March 7, 2019

KUALA LUMPUR, March 7 — Malays and Indians are more likely to experience discrimination when applying for jobs in the private sector, especially women of the two ethnicities, a survey by a think tank found.

The Centre for Governance and Political Studies said its study concluded that Malays and Indians face more hurdles to secure job interviews compared to Mandarin-speaking Chinese applicants who topped all callback rates from hiring companies.

The survey was an experimental study in which Cent-GPS researchers posed as seven different applicants from all three major ethnic groups, but with the same qualifications and other criteria deemed necessary to make them prime candidates.

“So is there ethnic discrimination? The answer is yes but not just for the Malays, the Indians suffer the worst,” Cent-GPS senior researcher Zaidel Baharuddin said at a media briefing here.

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To test if there was ethnic preference, Cent-GPS made all applicants list Mandarin as intermediate. This way, the study could see if employers that sought Mandarin-speaking prospects would have other quality preferences other than language.

The results, Zaidel said, was astounding. From all seven candidates, the Chinese applicants received the highest callback rate with the female (Nicola) topping at close to 50 per cent, followed by the male applicant (Gabriel) at just above 32 per cent.

For the third highest, a female Malay applicant named Zulaikha, had far lower callback rate of 13.2 per cent followed by Nur Sakinah at 9 per cent.

Between the two Malay female applicants, the callback rates for the candidate that did not wear a hijab, Zulaika, was about three per cent higher, suggesting employer bias against hijab-wearing applicants.

As for the remaining candidates, an Indian female applicant, Kavita, received the higher callback rate compared to the Malay male applicant, Saddiq. The rates were 8.9 per cent and 7.8 per cent respectively.

The Indian male applicant, Thivakar, received the lowest callback rate at just 3.66 per cent. This meant the Indian male, despite having the same set of skills and qualification as the rest, was the least preferred applicant among the seven, and likely the most prejudiced.

To further demonstrate the discrimination, Cent-GPS noted Nicola only needed to secure two interviews to get one callback compared to Sakina, who needed to go through 13 interviews. At the bottom end, Thikar needed to go through 27 interviews to get a single callback.

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The think tank claimed the results suggest when companies say they seek Mandarin-speaking applicants, it was more about getting Chinese candidates and not so much about proficiency. This explained the high callback rates for Nicola and Gabriel. 

“Mandarin requirement is just a smokescreen to hire Chinese candidates,” the think tank suggested.

Zaidel said the findings point to clear race-based discrimination in ethnic Chinese-dominated private sector employment, a taboo subject that often fuel racially-charged debates.

And any discussion about alleged Chinese-based discrimination will almost certainly prompt accusations of Bumiputera-preferential treatment, particularly in public sector employment. Cent-GPS said it would look into the issue as well.

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Regardless, Zaidel urged some level of government intervention to address employment discrimination, like tax incentives for companies that promote diversity, among others.

Race-based discrimination, the Cent-GPS researcher noted, have indirect effects on productivity as companies fail to utilise available talents.

“You’re missing out on all the good talents because they don’t get chosen (based on their ethnicity),” he said.

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