The Gap between Immigration and Employment: A Policy-Capturing Analysis of Ethnicity-Driven Selection Biases

Article excerpt


Research over the past two decades has identified the impact of job irrelevant variables on selection decisions. Many of these variables reflect stereotypes associated with ethnicity, age or other factors. This study uses a short-listing simulation with 183 New Zealand managers to assess the impact of ethnicity, migration status on short-listing in a condition of labour scarcity. The policy-capturing approach was complemented by in-depth interviews. The findings include significant schema-driven, selection penalties for minority and migrant applicants that are moderated by worker scarcity. This supports new models of social categorisation that include employer motivation in selection decision-making. At a practical level, it suggests that a 'screen in' approach to short-listing may reduce employment discrimination.


In recent years, New Zealand has witnessed an influx of immigration, broadening the ethnic diversity of the population and the workforce. Demographic projections indicate that an increasing number of ethnic minority groups will be strongly represented in the New Zealand population and labour market (Statistics New Zealand, 2006). However, despite current skill shortages (Department of Labour, 2006), indications are that ethnic1 minorities remain a disadvantaged group in terms of employment outcomes (Ward and Masgoret, 2004; Wilson, Gahlout, Liu and Mouly, 2005). Thus, the question is, "How and why migrants and members of ethnic minority groups still face obstacles to full employment in New Zealand?"

In assessing the suitability of applicants, the 'reasonable' employer attempts to find the best fit between applicant skills and abilities and well-defined criteria for the job. However, employment decisions are not always rational processes, and may incorporate biases. Research over the last two decades has identified the impact of many job irrelevant variables on selection decisions: factors, such as age (Johnson and Neumark, 1997), accent (Kalin and Rayko, 1978), gender (Heilman and Martell, 1986; McDonald and Hakel, 1985), physical attractiveness (Dipboye, Fromkin and Wiback, 1975), disability and weight (Arvey and Faley, 1992), nationality (Hubbuck and Carter, 1985) and sexual orientation (Reza, Marin and Wadsworth, 2002). These variables have all been shown to result in stereotyping with negative consequences for selection. At the individual level, selection biases lower the probability of receiving a job offer and reduce expected returns to job search (Carmichael and Woods, 2000). At the organisational and societal level, these same biases distort labour markets and reduce the efficient and effective utilisation of talent (Watts and Trlin, 1999).

The purpose of this article, therefore, is to report on a study which investigated the effects of ethnicity and recent migration to New Zealand on the perceived suitability of applicants for early career 'professional' positions. Using models of social categorisation that include employer motivation in selection decision-making, the article presents findings from a structured survey questionnaire and interviews to assess hiring preferences of employers in the health sector. The article commences with a discussion of the process of discrimination and ethnicity and employment, followed by a conceptualisation of selection bias. The methods used in the study are presented, followed by the key findings of the study. The article concludes with a discussion and a summary of how the findings can be applied both theoretically and practically.

The Process of Discrimination

The term 'discrimination' is expressed negatively in the context of employment, though the term is defined - without negative or positive connotations - as judgment based on perception of differences. When these differences are salient and relevant to the job, we would see this as best practice in employment. It is only when discrimination is premised on factors that are not relevant to the job that good employment principles are violated. …


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