Earlier this year, Chris Hughes, a Victoria man, was awarded payment from Transport Canada after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in his favor, demanding Transport Canada to compensate him with the salary and benefits he would have earned as an intelligence analyst— the job he applied for 13 years ago.
After admitting he had a mental illness during the job interview, Hughes’ candidature was rejected by Transport Canada. The company then blacklisted him and sent emails to federal government departments that tainted Hughes’ image, resulting in him becoming unable to find a job in his field.
Hughes’ case is a great example of hiring discrimination based on implicit bias toward mental illness. It’s possible for anyone to have implicit biases about something or a group of people. Unfortunately, whether we’re aware of our attitude or not, rejecting an aspiring worker based on beliefs and stereotypes not only hurts them, but also hinders the employer’s potential of finding the right candidate.
Chris Hughes’ case is also a human rights violation. Employers are required by law to give equal treatment without discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, age, disability, citizenship, and more. They must also give equal opportunities to women, Native American peoples, people with disabilities, and visible minorities. On top of that, employers must accommodate workers in a way that reduces or prevents discrimination in the workplace (including job duties). But workplace discrimination is highly common, and some of the most prevalent forms include racial bias, ageism, and mental health stigmatization.
Some may be rejected because of their non-western name alone. Resume whitening is a term referring to workers adopting anglicized names (or shortening their names) on their resume to seem more attractive to employers. Philip Oreopoulos, economist and researcher at the University of Toronto, conducted research in 2015 in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal about resume whitening. Resumes were submitted online across several disciplines with applicants’ real names, and other copies were sent with a mere name change. With all three cities combined, the study concluded that resumes with western names were 35% more likely to receive a call back than resumes with Indian or Chinese names.
The same study asked recruiters why they believed employers discriminate against applicants with non-western names, and they stated it was because employers worry that such applicants lack proper social skills and language fluency.
But just because someone’s native tongue isn’t English, doesn’t mean their language skills aren’t strong. Having workers from different ethnic backgrounds may bring in new customers or solidify relationships with existing ones if they see that there’s someone who looks like them; customers will feel more comfortable speaking with that worker, maybe even talk in their native tongue. Cultural diversity also brings in different perspectives, which creates innovation.
Older workers may be afraid that their age will be a barrier to employment. While employers might think that older workers aren’t up to speed with technology, the use of any tech device can be taught. Older workers are more likely to stay at the company for several years and remain loyal, unlike younger workers, who are usually more interested in moving up the corporate ladder, which means changing companies when a more attractive opportunity arises. Senior workers may have a larger and stronger network of professionals to tap into than their younger peers as well. On top of that, having several generations working together allows young workers to learn from older ones and vice versa.
According to CAMH, 39% of Ontario workers indicated that if they were facing a mental health problem, they wouldn’t tell their managers. Aspiring workers with mental illness fear confessing their issue will blemish their professional image. However, many people at work secretly have mental health problems they either hide from their employer or developed while working there.
It’s understandable why someone will want to hide their mental illness— employers could fear late starts, sudden absences, or erratic behaviour. But there are ways to lessen such behaviours. The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) released a report in 2018 that included solutions to hiring and retaining aspiring workers such as allowing flexible hours, extending lunch (for better rest), and discretionary use of sick days.
Again, sometimes biases are unconscious, but that’s no excuse for treating someone unfairly. Educate yourself and your employees on discriminatory workplace practices. There are several ways to prevent unfair hiring:
- Include a thorough discrimination module as part of employee training in every department, followed by open conversations amongst coworkers.
- Use software to screen applicants or mask the names of all applicants while reviewing resumes.
- Implement bias interrupters: small adjustments to your hiring criteria, performance evaluations, worker compensation, and other systems that prevent or reduce discriminatory guidelines.
- Design the work environment with people with disabilities and mental health challenges in mind.
- Have an open heart and lead by example.
It’s important not only to educate yourself on hiring discrimination, but to continuously seek learning opportunities that will help you dismantle what you think you know about a particular group of people so that you can better your cultural knowledge and overall wisdom.
Joséphine Mwanvua | Contributing Writer