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The Victorian government hopes that by removing a person’s name and other identifying factors from a resume, the applicant may be more likely to secure employment.
Mosiqi Acharya

23 May 2016 - 5:51 PM  UPDATED 23 May 2016 - 5:51 PM

She's a 21-year-old performing arts student, using one name with her friends, and another name with her family. Jean tells SBS, “My full name in Chinese is Tong Zhang Xin. And in English, I do have an English first name, so it's Jeanette and then it's Tong Jin Yen. But I just generally go by Jean."

The Chinese Malay international student says she goes by Jean Tong in Australia, because it's easier socially and professionally. "We've all got the same qualifications, or similar qualifications and the idea that you're not going to be able to use them, just because your name is not an explicitly Anglo-Saxon name, that's really concerning."

The Victorian government, and more than 20 public and private organisations, are trying to combat what's known as "unconscious bias" in the workplace.

Unconscious bias has been named as one of the reasons Australians of non-English speaking backgrounds may miss out on employment opportunities.

A new government-backed pilot program in Victoria aims to address potential discrimination by having some personal details removed from the application process.

They've launched a pilot program called 'Recruit Smarter', which would make parts of an applicant’s CV anonymous. The 18-month pilot will assess which personal details – including name, gender, age and location – should be de-identified during the application process.

Robin Scott, Victoria's Minister for Multicultural Affairs told SBS, "Should people have to address their own identity when they're seeking work? I think the answer to that is no. We live in a multicultural, diverse society and people should be judged on their merit." 

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Westpac Bank is among those trialling the program. Director of Westpac's Womens' Markets, Inclusion and Diversity department, Ainslie van Onselen says diversity is important for innovation.

"We'll be de-identifying certain information, so we will remove the name, remove the address, the email contact, the school that the applicant went to, and any interests.

And also we'll be removing cultural background, as well. And that will then be assessed, by our recruiters, in talent acquisition, and then a short list will be applied thereafter."

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Lorraine Ngwenya was born in Zimbabwe and came to Australia when she was 14. She threw herself into education but couldn't secure employment. "I did finish my degree and I looked for a job for the longest time, and I wasn't able to find something, and it could have been discrimination, it could have been an issue of diversity, I don't know."

Ms Ngwenya now runs a program called 'Useful Link', aimed at helping young people find work. She says she's received many examples of unconscious bias, "If we're supposed to be this diverse nation, and we embrace culture and all of that, why should people feel the need to change their identity, to get something as important as a job."

An Australian National University study discovered just how difficult it can be for some people of non-English speaking backgrounds to find a job.

For example, Indigenous applicants needed to submit 35 per cent more applications than someone with an Anglo-Saxon sounding name.

Middle Eastern community members, needed to submit 65 per cent more applications.

And for someone with a Chinese name, they had to submit 68 per cent more CVs, just to get an interview.

Is your name stopping you from getting the right job in Australia?

An interesting parliamentary debate is taking place right now in Canada on name-based discrimination and promoting name-blind resumes as a solution. Amit Sarwal talks to Usman W. Chohan, who is researching on economic policy reforms at UNSW (Canberra) and has extensive experience in private, public and academia sector policy making.