Connections make a difference

In Canada, many people work to fight against racism. Despite our efforts, it sometimes seems impossible to completely eliminate. Racism is present in many aspects of our society from employment, to housing, to our day-to-day interactions.

How many times have you seen a job posting that says, “This employer is equality-seeking and welcomes applicants from diverse races, genders, and abilities” ?

As a Settlement Counsellor, I work to help individuals from the Karen community access employment. With limited employment prospects in our city, this can be a challenging task. Through my experience, I have found that when you look for a job in Canada, having a non-European name can make it difficult.

A few months ago, I heard through a friend that a business in Hamilton was in the midst of hiring over 150 positions and in need of workers. We were very excited about how this could benefit the many people in Hamilton looking for work, particularly in the Karen community.

What we hope is that the Canadian employment landscape will begin
truly seeing all people as equal, regardless of the spelling of their name.

First, my friend visited the factory to talk to the hiring staff and advocate for our community so that Karen people in Hamilton could be considered for some of the positions. The staff requested resumés and we gathered ten in total and submitted them to the company.

The applicants waited for an answer.

Eventually, after ten months, we realized no one who applied for a job was called back for an interview. We were not sure why this was the case. Karen people are known for having a very high work ethic and those who applied had Canadian work experience. What we have realized is that the jobs that Karen people have been able to secure in Hamilton have solely been through connections. I have noticed that because the names on our resumés are different from the dominant society here, their applications seem to get overlooked by employers.

Many people in the Karen community work at greenhouses and in nurseries. This is not by chance – it initially started when someone from a local church hired two Karen families to work at a greenhouse. After a few months of working, the families brought more of their friends and the company began hiring more Karen people. Through referrals, other greenhouses began hiring them as well.

What we hope is that the Canadian employment landscape and the people who make decisions in it will begin truly seeing all people as equal, regardless of the spelling of their name; that more businesses will choose to be like the greenhouse and nurseries that give people an equal chance.

Article by Semula Horlings | Photo by Michelle Drew

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