The Problems With That Paper About Malay Job Seekers Being Discriminated In Malaysia

The study claims that race matters much more than résumé quality.

Cover image via Choo Choy May/Malay Mail Online

A study by University of Malaya (UM) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) researchers has been circulating online recently

Photo for illustration purposes only.

Image via Choo Choy May/Malay Mail Online

The study titled 'Discrimination in high degrees: Race and graduate hiring in Malaysia' was published in the Journal of Asia Pacific Economy. The paper discussed the problems of discrimination in hiring and promotion in the country's labour market.

"This paper investigates racial discrimination in hiring fresh degree graduates in Malaysia through a field experiment," the abstract read.

"We send fictitious Malay and Chinese résumés to job advertisements, then analyse differentials in callback for interview attributable to racial identity, while controlling for applicant characteristics, employer profile and job requirements."


The researchers sent out a total of 3,012 résumés made of four types of "candidates" (namely AA Malay, AA Chinese, BA Malay, and BA Chinese) to 753 engineering and accounting or finance jobs posted online. AA would indicate above average candidates and BA for those who are below average.

According to the researchers, the study finds that race matters much more than résumé quality, with Malays — Malaysia’s majority group — significantly less likely to be called for interview.

"Other factors, particularly language proficiency of employees, language requirements of jobs and profile of employers, influence employer biases," they added.

Some key findings that were being discussed by netizens include:

• Chinese résumés register a mean callback rate of 22.1%, steeply above 4.2% for Malay résumés
• Malay-controlled companies call Chinese applicants 1.6 times more than they call Malay applicants
• An AA, high CGPA Malay graduate is less likely to be called for interview than a BA, low CGPA Chinese graduate
• Malays with Chinese proficiency are more likely to be called for interview than Malays without
• English and Malay proficiency stated in the resume, and good English in the cover letter, exert almost negligible impact on callback rates, particularly for Chinese applicants
• Foreign-controlled companies are substantially less likely to respond favourably to Malay resumes

While the results of the study seem to suggest that Malay graduates and job seekers are being discriminated, critics have argued that the study should not be used to generalise the situation in Malaysia.

These are their reasons:

1. The study only researched on the finance and engineering sector whereas there are many other fields of employment

Image via Facebook

A few people have pointed out that the researchers had limited the study to resumes for engineering and accounting or finance degrees.

They opined that the researchers should have extended the study to other fields in the workforce to obtain "more valid survey results" which would be better if the results were to apply to the real world situation.

2. The study has failed to factor in the racial demographics of Malaysia

Image via Facebook

Those who said that the study is flawed argued that the researchers have failed to take into account the demographics of Malaysia, where the ethnic groups Bumiputera (including Malays) are the majority.

They said that with such racial mix, the results would have been inaccurate because the researchers are ignoring the possibilities that real résumés are being submitted by genuine applicants. In this case, critics argued there is a higher chance that a genuine applicant may receive a callback - and he or she would most likely be a Malay - simply because Malays make up the bigger majority.

However, critics do not deny that there is a possibility that employers are motivated in getting a diversified workforce. They said that it is possible that the employers may have already hired a Malay previously, and may choose to hire a non-Malay next, but the decision was not made because of discrimination based on prejudices.

3. The content of the résumés should have been identical

People have pointed out that the experimental design used by the researchers is flawed, whereby the quality of the résumés is not standardised. They argued that it's important to have a standard content when conducting this experiment since curriculum vitae (CV) is an important variable for employment.

However, the researchers have also mentioned in their paper that this was not feasible for the study due to the fact that Malaysians from different races tend to have very different education backgrounds.

"...Malaysia’s exceptional education system, in which Malays and Chinese largely follow separate pathways through school and university, required us to randomly assign attributes to resumes of these race groups, instead of the usual practice of randomly assigning names designating race to comparable resumes," the paper states.

4. Bias

Image via Facebook

Critics argued that the study may be a case where the researchers are guilty of confirmation bias - in which they believe that racial discrimination in hiring is a prevailing problem.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to favour information that confirms a person's assumptions, preconceptions or hypotheses whether these are actually and independently true or not.

Netizens said that perhaps the researchers had gathered evidence and recall information from memory selectively and interpret the data collected in a biased way.

5. Most of the sample of employers come from Chinese-controlled companies

Image via Reddit

Referring to an excerpt from the journal article, some have pointed out that a majority (63.7%) of the sample came from Chinese-controlled companies.

They suggested that with this sample, the results of the study would naturally skew towards the current findings, where Chinese applicants are generally more favoured over the Malays.

They argued that the samples should be more "representative" such as including government-linked companies (GLC). They said that the results might have been different, where Malay résumés may enjoy a higher callback rate.

Those who made this statement operate based on the assumption that GLCs would prefer to hire Malays over those from other races.

The points above do seem to affirm what the researchers wrote at the beginning of their paper about the public's perception on the discrimination in hiring in Malaysia

"The problem of discrimination in hiring and promotion is highly contentious, fuelled by mutual claims of bias, specifically, against non-Malays in the Malay-controlled public sector and against Malays in the Chinese-controlled and foreign-controlled private sector," the researchers wrote.

While many agreed with the findings of the study, several others said that the results are inaccurate or unreliable due to some misrepresentation in the research.

In any case, there is definitely room for improvements for future research and it is noted that this study has opened up the opportunity for Malaysians to discuss the challenges of employability in the country.

To read the full paper, refer to this link here.

Do you agree with the findings of this study? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Speaking of which, here's what hiring managers have to say about young Malaysian graduates:

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