30 Jan 2017

Want a job? Change your surname

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 30 January 2017

It seems many highly qualified graduates from our migrant and ethnic communities are struggling to find meaningful employment.

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According to Statistics New Zealand there’s a concerning disparity between income and employment based on ethnicity. Does institutionalised racism exist within the public sector and private sectors? Is there a "glass, coloured or bamboo" ceiling for these graduates?

No, says Serina Tiaiti, the Manager of the Student Employability & Careers at Auckland University of Technology. As a Cook Islander and Pacific Islander bought up and educated in New Zealand, Serina debunks the concept of the "glass ceiling,"

"That glass ceiling for me, is a myth. I look at some of our graduates who are dispelling that."

The AUT Employability and Careers team was set up early 2015 to support AUT graduates to stand out when looking for a work placement or graduate job. 

"When we're talking about graduates being highly skilled, we're talking about their academic grades. For me it's about overcoming challenges. It's about looking at their soft skills, not just their academic grades. We've had conversations with employers and they need to look at other skills that's going to help them whilst they're studying; volunteering, leadership.”

But some disagree and argue that institutionalised racism is an ongoing  issue facing migrants in this country. You just have to look at current research and statistics.

"Want a job? Change your surname."

Simon Zhu works at the Department of Psychology at Auckland University. His research looks into Asian identity and employment and he claims at least one instance of a high achieving Chinese graduate being advised to change her name to become more employable. "We sent out the same CV with different surnames, and with an Asian name they tended to get a lot less call backs than an Anglicised name."

There is also evidence to suggest gender inequity is affecting the employment prospects of ethnic women in New Zealand.

Statistics NZ, pay inequity according to gender and ethnicity

Statistics NZ, pay inequity according to gender and ethnicity Photo: Statistics New Zealand

Dr Robert Didham from Statistics New Zealand says the statistics for our Maori, Pacifika and Asian communities look pretty bleak. On the subject of educational qualifications Dr Didham breaks it down like this; "This is couched in terms of sex ratios (and here I have used the SR that shows the number of females per 100 males – so if the SR is 150 it means that there are 150 females in the group for every 100 males)"

"Maori: for all ages those with bachelor degrees there around 200 females for every 100 males – twice as many females – for post-grad and doctorates, this is still high at around 170."

"Pasifika: as a total it doesn’t look quite as good but still excellent and above what one might expect if we remember that there are more women in tertiary education than men: for the under 30s those with bachelor degrees there around 190 females for every 100 males – still nearly twice as many females – for post-grad and doctorates this is also around 190.

Given that almost twice as many ethnic women are coming away highly qualified and employable, Dr Didham finds the pay inequity issue puzzling.

"Unfortunately mostly this only reinforces what the others have pointed to – despite the strength [of ethnic women] in cultural, linguistic and educational areas, inequality remains an issue."


Graph showing the ethnic composition of New Zealand Photo: Rahul Watson Govindan

For Nigerian Chinwe Akomah, institutionalised racism is a very real, lived experience. Born in London, Chinwe migrated from the U.K. six years ago and is the media and public relations spokesperson for Auckland Regional Migrant Services.

"There are definite challenges that migrants face in finding work that meets their qualifications, skills and experience. New Zealand is a small country, there are limited jobs."

"Culture and racism is also an issue. It's something I experienced while trying to find work here. There are assumptions made because of the way you look or the name you have, that you will not fit in the workplace."

Iane Namani is the Maori and Pacific Manager at the Auckland offices of CompeteNZ, an industry training organisation responsible for 20,000 learners on their books with apprentices across a range of industries.

"Maori and Pacifika would complete their training at the same rate as the rest of the population but the most compelling issue for Maori and Pacifika is lack of participation, lack of awareness and lack of knowledge."

"Transport is an issue, you need a driver's license. There's a myriad of barriers as to why there's a high unemployment rate among Maori and Pacific."

The former Director of the Office of Ethnic Communities, Berlinda Chin knows of highly qualified graduates from the Somalian community here who have suffered under-employment. She's deeply concerned about the potential for damage to their career trajectories. "Statistics show us that 22.8% of our young people are from multiple ethnicities. What will the future look like for these young people struggling with the bamboo ceiling?"

One future young leader is Muslim New Zealander Fatumata Bah. Fatumah studies at AUT and represented New Zealand at the 33Sixty Commonwealth Young Leaders Programme last year. Fatumata balks at perpetuating negative ethnic stereotype and believes that ultimately,  it comes down to inequity rather than ethnicity.

"You will go far ahead if you know the system and how to work the system. With youth we don't necessarily have that knowledge. It's equity. Why is that some youth have huge issues, and some don't?"

Young Ethnic Leaders, Lincoln Tan, Fatumata Bah and Daniel Gamboa

Young Ethnic Leaders, Lincoln Tan, Fatumata Bah and Daniel Gamboa Photo: RNZ / Lynda Chanwai-Earle