Malay grads losing out in job ‘race’

A new study discovers that Malay graduates stand a lesser chance in being called up for an interview compared to their Chinese counterparts.

Teoh El Sen, FMT

Does race matter in securing an interview? Apparently so, according to a new study which found that a Malay fresh graduate was 16.7% less likely to be called up for a job interview in the private sector compared to their Chinese counterparts.

The study, funded by the University Malaya Research Grant, was jointly conducted by Lee Hwok Aun, a senior lecturer from the Department of Development Studies at Universiti Malaya (UM) and Muhammed Abdul Khalid, a Research Fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaya (UKM).

The academic paper was presented at a public seminar in UM this morning.

Both researches said they aim to “empirically and objectively” investigate racial discrimination in the private sector labour market in the Peninsular Malaysia, which was talked about but its prevalence not studied.

However, they stressed that the focus was on incidences of discrimination and not on the reasons behind it, including racism, prejudice or bigotry.

The “first of its kind” study was based on a field experiment where fictitious resumes of Malay and Chinese applicants were sent to job advertisements in Peninsular Malaysia.

A total of 3,012 resumes were sent to 753 engineering and accounting jobs advertised on and between August and December 2011.

For each job, the researchers sent out four fake resumes according to race and their academic qualifications. All the “applicants” were male with no prior working experience but have a basic qualification in the field being applied for.

The number of responses from employers, which have been divided into “Chinese-controlled, Malay-controlled or foreign-controlled”, are then recorded for each category.

One of the main findings of the study was that the total resumes sent, only 13.1%(396) received callbacks, of those, 4.2%(63) were Malay and 22.1%(222) were Chinese. The study also found that the quality of applicants appeared to matter more for Malays than for the Chinese.

There was also a difference between industries, where engineering companies were responding to 25% of resumes by Chinese applicants and only 3% of resumes by Malay applicants while in accountancy, a lesser 19% Chinese applicants received callbacks compared to 6% of Malay applicants.

It was also found that discrimination against Malay applicants is highest among foreign-controlled companies, followed by Malay-controlled companies, then Chinese-controlled companies.

Malay firms discriminating Malays?

Interestingly, Malay applicants applying to Chinese-controlled engineering firms are more likely to be called back than if they applied to Malay-controlled firms. A Chinese applying to a Malay company also has about the same chances as a Malay candidate.

Employers that stipulate Chinese language proficiency as a job requirement also favour Chinese applicants. Chinese-controlled and foreign-controlled companies are significantly inclined toward Chinese resumes.

“The data do not directly inform the motivation of the observed discrimination. Nonetheless, our findings suggest that employers are generally predisposed favourably toward Chinese, substantially due to compatibility factors and unobservable qualities not revealed in job applications, and are more selective toward Malays, which results in fewer but considerably qualified applicants getting callbacks.”

“This study underscores the complexity of labour market discrimination and its policy implications,” said the study.