Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Biculturalism in Employee Selection or 'Who Should Get the Job'? Perceptions of Maori and Pakeha Job Applicants in a NZ European Student Sample

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Biculturalism in Employee Selection or 'Who Should Get the Job'? Perceptions of Maori and Pakeha Job Applicants in a NZ European Student Sample

Article excerpt

The current study reports an experiment assessing how Pakeha/European New Zealanders' perceptions of job applicants are shaped by ethnicity, merit and need. A sample of 114 undergraduate students viewed the curricula vitae of both high and low merit New Zealand European/Pakeha and Maori job applicants. Individual versus group need was made salient before participants provided general ratings and recommended salaries for the job applicants. Participants provided more positive assessments of high merit Maori than high merit New Zealand European/Pakeha applicants, but less favourable assessments of low merit Maori in comparison to low merit New Zealand European/Pakeha applicants. This trend was also observed for recommended salaries, but only if individual need was made salient. The implications for employee selection, Affirmative Action policies, and attitudes towards biculturalism in general are discussed.


The issue of personnel selection and minority representation in the workforce is of increasing concern in both private and public organizations. Anecdotal evidence as well as conversations with Maori employees in more senior positions suggests that there is an inherent, but implicit bias in the way selection processes are operating in New Zealand/Aotearoa. The numbers of Maori in the public sector have been increasing up to 2002, but they are still underrepresented and participation increases have levelled off, especially in areas with potential to feed into senior management (State Services Commission, 2003, 2005). The percentage of Maori in the private sector is even lower (State Services Commission, 2003). The present study tries to investigate one particular aspect that might contribute to this situation, namely the perception of Maori applicants in terms of their ethnicity. Three interrelated aspects are investigated in an experimental study with NZ European/Pakeha undergraduate students: (a) the perception of high-versus-low merit Maori and New Zealand European/ Pakeha applicant CVs; (b) whether the manipulated salience of public discourse about individual versus group needs influences perceptions of applicants; and (c) whether perceptions of applicants are resource-dependent. The study contributes to a better understanding of factors influencing perceptions of job applicants among NZ European students and explicitly links research on micro and macro organizational justice, biculturalism and Affirmative Action research.

Biculturalism and Public Discourse in New Zealand/Aotearoa

The ways in which biculturalism is represented and communicated in society have important implications for the meanings and interpretation of Maori/Pakeha intergroup relations, including the perception of job applicants. Wetherell and Potter (1992) undertook a discourse analysis on several controversial areas of Maori versus New Zealand European/Pakeha intergroup relations. They argued that notions of individual rights, freedom and equality are among the resources utilised by Pakeha in opposition to certain aspects of biculturalism. One phrase that summed up this perspective was that 'people must procure what they want through life through their own efforts' (Potter & Wetherell, 1989, cited in Wetherell & Potter, 1992, pp. 181-182). This perspective emphasises the idea that not only do people possess individual rights, but they also possess the freedom to exercise these rights in order to reach a desired outcome. Sibley, Liu and Kirkwood (2006) studied the justifications given for supporting or opposing targeted scholarships to Maori and Pacific Island students. They found consistent discourses of equality in terms of individual merit when asking students to write essays in favour or against these scholarships. The Orewa speech by Don Brash (2004) followed similar lines: 'finally we ask Maori to take some responsibility themselves for what is happening in their own communities.'

Therefore, this liberal view of equality has to be understood in the context of meritocracy (Wetherell & Potter, 1992). …

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