Friday, November 2, 2012

Race Discrimination In Hiring Practices In Malaysia

You’ll probably read about this in the papers tomorrow or Sunday (the Malaysian Insider has the scoop today – just ignore the headline, it’s not accurate), but I attended a very interesting seminar this morning at Universiti Malaya.

The topic: “Does race matter in getting an interview? A field experiment of hiring discrimination in Peninsular Malaysia”

Race is obviously a touchy subject in Malaysia, and frankly there’s not enough research into the area of discrimination to provide informed evidence on what is a potentially flammable subject. There is a lot of subjective and anecdotal evidence, but hardly much in the way of hard reproducible statistics.

This is where this new research comes in. What the two researchers, Lee Hwok Aun and Muhammad Abdul Khalid, have done is to send resumes (differentiated by race and academic achievement) to job advertisers in engineering and accounting fields. The number of people calling back counts as interest in the candidate.

What the results show were fascinating, though I won’t go into all the details. On an overall basis, Malay candidates are on average 16.7% less likely to be called, and the effect is stronger in engineering than in accounting. On a side note, the overall call-back ratio is just 13.1%.

Some of the other findings:

  1. Chinese language proficiency matters more than English (in fact it appears to be the single most important determining factor, apart from race), and the effect is stronger in engineering jobs;
  2. Which university you go to matters, but even more so for Malays – being a UiTM graduate appears to be a relative handicap, though less so in engineering than in accounting;
  3. Academic qualifications also matter, but is also a more significant factor for Malays than for Chinese candidates;
  4. And before anyone starts grumbling about racism, the preference for Chinese candidates is pretty much across the board, whether the company doing the advertising is Chinese controlled, foreign controlled, or (astonishingly) Malay controlled.

So here’s some firm evidence that discrimination is alive and well in Malaysia.

I have to digress here and differentiate between racial discrimination and racism – these are not the same. In the sense used here, racial discrimination (a revealed preference) in hiring is  not synonymous to racial stereotyping or inherent prejudice.

One of the things discussed in the Q&A (interestingly enough, brought up by a Malay participant), was that those companies whose customer bases are mainly Chinese, or do a lot of business with Chinese majority countries, would have a natural – and rational – preference for ethnic Chinese staff. Consider that Mandarin is usually specified as a job requirement, yet is not the main Chinese language spoken in Malaysia. Hiring discrimination in this scenario would then be just good business sense.

And the fact that discrimination in favour of Chinese candidates is present even in Malay-controlled firms suggests that racism – while it can’t and shouldn’t be discounted – isn’t the only, or even the most important factor at play.

But that’s speculation on my part – this study provides no answers to that other question about racial discrimination: Given that it exists, why does it happen? And for the answer to that, we’ll have to wait for someone to take on that particular research challenge.


  1. Tuan H

    The study is focused on detecting and measuring discriminatory actions in hiring practices. Although this is very significant indictor, it is a very limited proxy to measure employment opportunities for engineering, science and technology graduates, particularly for Malay graduates from local universities.

    Given the strong and now measured preferences (proven by this study) to hire Chinese graduates by Chinese controlled companies, Foreign controlled companies, and even Malay controlled companies, and the preferences among the GLCs, to hire graduates who qualified from foreign/international universities (not covered by this study), it must be a huge problems for Malay graduates to get jobs in the private sector. Public sector jobs are very limited too, since the full implementation of the privatization policy.

    The study show us that there is a problem. What we need to do now is to map the size of the problem. If we can establish the size of the problem, then we could determine the appropriate policy response to the problem.

    The Government (ministry of human resource) could easily tabulate

    a. Number of jobs being offered (annualized basis)
    b. Number of fresh graduates (Malay, Chinese, Indians and others)
    c. Number of graduates currently unemployed and not employed in the jobs they have studied for,
    d. Estimate the number of Malay graduates that would be unable to get engineering, science and technology jobs

    It is almost certain that the problems is a large one. Before hopelessness and frustrations set in, and remember too that most of them have to huge PTPTN loans to service, appropriate policy response is required and urgently.

    The Government cannot leave it to the market forces to solve this problem. We need to think of IMPORTING jobs into Malaysia as one of the strategies to create more jobs, in fact enough jobs to absorb the number of graduates available.

    There are many engineering and professional jobs that had left North America and Europe for China, VIetnam, etc. We need to identify these CHina and Vietnam bound companies and offer to then sweetened JV deals,including tax holidays and other incentives.

    PNB, Khazanah, KWSP and other agencies should rethink their investment strategies and programs. Sustainable job creation targets should be made highest priority.

    Certainly job creation projects must tower over the current capital intensive projects, including floating mega IPOs, equally massive real estate investments in London, NY, Sydney, etc. Or putting massive financial resources into skyscrapers projects such as the 118 storeys Menara Wawasan.

    We need to re-allocate some of the investments funds into manufacturing JVs. THis would create adequate jobs for the young. The deserve to have a good start in life.

    Thank you

    1. Entreprenuer SolutionNovember 2, 2012 at 11:50 PM

      You are right about manufacturing JVs. Even retail JV is good. This problem is due to the lack of ideas from UMNO leadership.

      They have no idea but they want to cling to the leadership. They end up working with the chinese tokeys to the detriment of the Malays.

      But I have to disagree with you on "Certainly job creation projects must tower over the current capital intensive projects, including floating mega IPOs, " these actually are paper pushing exercise.

      In the case FGVH, the Malays settlers today is the same as before listing. But, BUT, Nazir Razak and co already got their fat listing fees...hehe.

      The workers remain the same. BUT the arrangers got fat fees and are now smoking cigars!

      Menara Wawasan owned by PNB should employ 100% Malays engineer. The rest should be on contract. Lets see if Umno has the leadership on this. Its a job generator for the Malays unless PNB Hamad give its to the Chinese from China as they give better return..hehe.

      Even KWSP is not spared. KWSP owned KFC yet it sells and buy back KFC. why I wonder? So someone can get cash of course. Where are the unions who look after EPF? Why the silence?

      Those foreign companies who took in Chinese or Indians engineers found to their dismay that they dont have loyalties and they tend to setup their own competitive companies to be their own towkays.

      Failing to find jobs is not the end. UMNO must create entrepreneur from these intelligent and well educated Malay youth. They just need a guiding hand.

      If UMNO dont know how to solve this problem, the Malays youth will sooner or later solve it during PRU13.

      RM500 in 55 years is not going to cut it. Thats what you pay Ananda Krishnan for Astro for 6 months!

    2. GoldTrex, the problem is that while UMNO build the universities, they failed to create the factories to take up these graduates. Currently all the figures you want is available. 40,000 unemployed graduates, and triple that for unemployed graduates.

      The jobs? 100,000 jobs in Chinese oil palm plantations paying RM600. Who in their right would work there?

      So why is UMNO allowing our forests to be raped by greedy Chinese capitalists? If the graduates are given land to work on themselves like Felda maybe there will be more takers.

      So the mismatch of graduates and palm oil plantations is the result of policy makers ignorance. EG someone from MPOC, Yusof Basiron want to cut down our forests to 33 percent!! The fool. Why? Because US used slaves to cut down their forests so we must achieve 33% too to be industrialised?

      What, cut forests to be industrialised? Yes, read it all in NST exposure today. His idiocy is for all to read.

      And if the 40,000 graduates dont want to carry the heavy palm oil? Hire poor migrant workers.

      These will further salaries down and it will be only a matter of time before the Malays get angry with people like Yusof Basiron who talked through his a!3$s.

      We need factories,but not old, dirty chinese hand me down furniture factories,and labour intensive. We need modern factories using educated manpower.

      Then what we say as discrimination is just human nature. You want to work with your own race where possible. So create more Malay industries and you will see no one ask for mandarin..hehe

  2. I couldn't tell but are the test results controlled for "qualifications"? I know it is hard to define, but I think to fully confirm racial discrimination, we have to account for qualification etc. Otherwise, there would be missing variable bias.

    1. Shihong,

      Yes, CGPA was one of the variables included in the study, as was language proficiency.

  3. You sounded surprised when you shouldn't. As for the "Malay" firms you mentioned, ah' reckon they are run by kopi O Malays or to put it mildly, pseudo-Malays.

    Seriously speaking, this is NOT news to me at ALL. Not by a mite. In Singapore, discrimination extends beyond job advertisements. Active discrimination is practiced even with regard to salary. It is an old story and explain substantially inequalities and other such disequilibrium which many are unwilling or rather willingly not willing to confront or accept:

    or here

    (note: on purchase)

    I don't want to infringe on any copyright or stuff like that..but just a teaser:

    Table 5 shows the results from GLSE technique of pooled time-series regression
    analysis of the three base-income models. The findings show that Malays and Indians have
    greater returns from education than Chinese do. But when holding education at constant,
    Chinese have higher returns (S$8,239) for being members of the majority group. Malay
    workers receive S$5,958, and Indian workers receive S$3,247 for being members of
    minority groups. This reflects discriminatory factors that work against Malay and Indian

    So what you heard at UM is hardly new or shocking. Its just in the nature of the beast..ahem.ahem. Just wondering if anyone had done a similar study as above in Malaysia. That would be more revealing of the Chingkie p.. hahahahahahaha....oops racism there..Warrior (wink, wink, blink...hahahahaha)

    Warrior 231

    1. warrior,

      I was not surprised by the presence of discrimination, but some of the dimensions of what was found are surprising.

      Feedback, both at the seminar and in comments elsewhere, suggest that Malay discrimination against Malay graduates is very real, and not the product of the ali baba syndrome. Nevertheless, I have my own speculations as to the cause.

      Second, there have been a few studies on discrimination in Malaysia based on income surveys - that's one reason why this one's so interesting, because it isn't.

      I'll post the references as soon as I can dig them up.

  4. Just for fun. mossied over to the Malaysian Insider by clicking on the link you provided. Found the report very much tame but the headline was sure befitting....nothing wrong there

    But more importantly, went to the comments section and fell down laughing at the excuses the apparently ching or pseudomalay brainless and cockless bigots were spewing especially comment no 2. I mean how more unreal can one get, spewing garbagey excuses to rationalise the unforgivable. Surely slimepoops of the lowest order!

    But then again, I shouldnt have done that especially when I cricked mah' back when I fell....ooooooooh mah' poor back ..all on account of a cocksuckling Jahabar's shitty really hurts now....can i hold you liable and compensate me for any treatment i have to undergo to reconfigure it?

    You should put up a warning for poor folks like me the next time..before we venture into the unknown....... ;>0 How are we to know Jahabar's arselickers have a weird and sick sense of humour!!

    Warrior 231

  5. Or else it could simply be meritocracy and free market forces at work...

    All of which are heresy as far as the warrior is concerned.'s like perusing Robert E. Howard novels!

    1. Jasper,

      Free market forces and meritocracy only result in equitable outcomes if initial conditions are the same. If they aren't, and in Malaysia case its very clear that endowments of wealth and incomes were not, then the outcomes will be unbalanced and unfair.

      In any case, if merit was the only criteria, we would expect to see much smaller differences between high CGPA and low CGPA, but the study actually finds very little difference - race is a far bigger determinant.

    2. Are you referencing REH in terms of the racism in his stories? It was hardly uncommon at the time, but if you want a more egregious example try Sax Rohmer or even Edgar Rice Burroughs.

    3. As ER Burroughs would probably say:

      "The chattering classes do make the most asinine and idiotic of monkey noises while holding a yellow banana close to their gobs."

      and name dropping is not my cup of tea either.......(LOL)

      Warrior 231

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. warrior,

      There's only so much I will tolerate, don't try my patience. Whatever differences or past history you may have with Jasper, I don't know and I don't care. In my house, keep it civil.

  8. Agreed that in your house, we should keep it civil. But civil discourse means exchange of opinions based on facts or debunking them with facts.

    We may have differences in opinion as we have had ( and me, I mean) but 'civil' demands we contest with.....civility not ad homineming others like this when we have not provoked any pigs in the first place:

    "all of which are heresy as far as the warrior is concerned."

    And why pick on me when I am minding my own tipple. But if there are some mongoloid brains who think they want to they are welcome. Only thing, I reserve the right to respond with my Luger, no questions asked, no regrets expressed, no remorse in retrospect, no apologies after the fact and thats the game with the Warrior here, anywhere. And if the blog administrator can allow the above, then in the name of fairness, he should allow my response, unpalatable though that might be.

    This is the second time this has taken place, the first under the guise of Gaius here:

    (By the way, tailing me everywhere under the orders of Singapork SB's disinformation pigheads aint gonna faze me one iota)

    I am not into calling for a ban like some cowardly bastards are wont to do when they cannot argue or debunk with facts by dint of their genetically determined inferior intellect. I dont buy that crap of censorship or banning and I dont even deign of going there..but if some pigs can think they can act funny, they should also remember the pig hunter is also liable to shoot back.

    The decent thing would have been to leave those comments on as a warning to pigbrains everywhere, that if they wanna play dirty it can get filthier. But it is your blog and you set the house rules and i respect you for that. Rest assured, nothing personal against you though. Enough said.

    Warrior 231

    1. warrior,

      Jasper's statement, in my judgement, did not constitute an ad hominem attack. His statement was with respect to your opinion and not on you. Your comments however definitely crossed that line. You can dispute his opinion of your opinion within reason but not to the point of personal attack.

      I've been lenient about these issues in the past, as I've no wish to muzzle legitimate debate or airing of differences of opinion. I'll even let past the occasional swear word - but your was too OTT for me to ignore. Youngsters read this blog too.

  9. and one final observation. I found this on your code of ethics, which is a very good set of principles, kudos to you.

    I take full responsibility for my own words and for the comments I allow on my blog. Unacceptable content will not be allowed, and comments that contain it will be deleted. Unacceptable content is defined as anything included or linked to that:

    Is being used to abuse, harass, stalk, or threaten others
    Is libellous, knowingly false, ad-hominem, or misrepresents another person,
    Infringes upon a copyright or trademark
    Violates an obligation of confidentiality
    Violates the privacy of others

    Just wondering since stalking, ad homineming was allowed in the rascal's comments whether the code has been suspended? And if that is the case, my deleted comments should not have suffered the fate they so undeserved.

    'Oh whither the justice they preach in such highfalutin tones only to succumb to their basest desires when a storm of caprice and a bout of whimsy catches their fancy. Weep not my banished comments for your lives were snuffed in perfidy but may your infamy echo to eternity'

    Warrior 231

  10. While you are getting those references, it pays to get some fresh air and notice what is happening at places where "meritocracy" thrives best (or is claimed to be ..hahahaha):

    I loved this comment though:

    "So, if there are Singaporeans out there who deny that there is racism here, then they are highly delusional." (Sarah, comment no 2)

    It rings a bell somewhere.......hahahahahahaha

    And yes, merinocracy (a system where spotless white Merino sheep thrive best) sounds way better and more befitting than meritocracy ever could....hahahahahahaha

    Warrior 231

    1. As I said before, its not the discrimination that surprised me - I've had personal experience of it myself, not just in hiring, but in everyday operations - but the dimensions of it. By that I don't mean its prevalence, but the specifics.

      For example, why do employers say they want English proficiency, when what they actually look for is Chinese proficiency (the study even incorporated good/bad English in the resume cover letters)? Why are accounting grads from UITM more discriminated against than engineering grads? Why is there so little difference in discrimination between high and low CGPA (quality matters, but not as much as you'd think)? What explains the poor callback rates for private universities (for Malays and Chinese both)?

      There's a gold mine of stuff in this study that income surveys just can't capture.

  11. Only because I'm curious, did the authors publish this? I'm interested to see the methodology involved - reminds me of one of the experiments in the first Freakonomics book.

    1. Jason,

      It's still in working paper form. I'll email you the draft when I get it.

    2. I'm guessing it's gonna be hard to get a peer review in for this one now :)

  12. Typically a chinese SME will opt for chinese for a simple reason. Work culture and communication.

    The same goes for Malay SME.

    I've been interviewed by a chinese SME owner for a job posting. Why they call me is a mystery. At the end of the interview, he honestly said to me, it will be hard for us to communicate, as most of the meetings and discussions are in chinese. It is not like they cannot speak english or malay but it wont be the same and effective.

    To change this work language will be difficult for everybody. That company only have 1 Malay staff, front desk girl.

    1. tyshll, a friend with years of experience with Japanese factory, was call for interviews by Chinese owned factories.

      It was eye opener after the clean, systematic working in a Japanese environment.

      There are no systems in local Chinese company mostly family owned. They asked if he can handle the pace?!! WTF he worked with workoholic Japanese for years. Obviously a study done was right our industry are dirty, polluting and they are owned by Chinese. And with no supervision they dont realise they are dirty and polluting.

      A more systematic approach to manufacturing should be implemented by UMNO. Products design and manufacturing is well documented in most industry. Buying a well run factory from Japan or Korea is one way. This is better than letting the Chinese to bring their cousins old factories from Taiwan and installed them in Johor and then asked Mustapha Mohamed for14,000 cheap workers!

      Factories in China like Foxcon, are high tech and low pay leading to suicides. But the end result ipad is love by the world. Well worth a few Chinese lives as Jobs would say. And Jobs really gave his life for iphone...hello Jobs..

      Are the Chinese disriminating against anyone in business? Not if there is money to be made. Is IOI or IJM interviewing tens of thousands of Chinese to cut their palm oil in Sabah and Sarawak? No, they are clamouring for Indians from Bangladesh who speak not a word of Mandarin.

      So how can you say there are discrimination? Would you say that the Askar Melayu Diraja discriminate against mandarin and indian speakers? Of course not, the name itself says Askar Melayu Rejimen.

      Conclusion, people react to situation of profit and circumstances. If you speak Tamil well, you should consider applying for the Indian Army..hehe.

  13. A rose is a rose by any other name.....

  14. I commend what Hwok Aun and Muhammad Abdul Khalid did for the following reasons.

    (1) We're beginning to use research appropriately to understand the challenges that Malaysia faces. Some may say that it is nothing new or that they knew it already, but unless we systematically investigate something - we will continue to rely on hunches, personal experience, prejudice, ideology, etc. to inform public debates and public policies.

    (2) By doing this research, and making it available, in some ways, it de-politicises the issue. Because now we know the research methods, the sample, the theory, the framework, etc...We can move away from talking over each other, to talking to each other using the frame of reference.

    (3) It provides a starting point. Granted, there much more to be done.

    (4) and hopefully, it can lead to more evidence based policy making.

    Here is a paper by Andrew Leigh et al. along the same lines - which also shows that 'racial discrimination' also exists in Australia. Leigh et al. also provides possible reasons for this.

    Malaysia really needs more policy based research, more debates based on facts, and less rhetoric.

  15. Hi the paper published already? if so do you have it? can you email it to me?

    1. Amry,

      The paper hasn't been published as yet. I'll post on it when it has.

  16. Please add this points to your research:

    1. Chinese in MNC's, government sectors, SME's or any organization will only hire their own race.

    2, Most job agencies are controlled by CHinese; they only attend to Chinese applicants.

    3. If the interviewer is Chinese, a non-Chinese will be asked weird questions & will most likely fall out.

    4. Chinese are racist in nature.

    Best regards

    1. @anon

      Since I'm part Chinese, I should probably be offended.

      But here's a funny story: A (Chinese) friend of mine from Singapore was telling me that Singapore is being taken over by Indian expats, and they only hire their own people, and not locals. The irony, eh?

      Looking further abroad, the recent Brexit vote hinged on suspicion of immigrants, as is the rise of Trump in America.

      I don't think the Chinese are racist in nature; I think it's really a part of the human condition. The phenomenon of xenophobia, fear of the Other, is well known in literature, sociology, psychology and economics.

    2. corect normaly they hired only muthu

  17. Racist attitudes are made by those with frogs up their arseholes and a fucked up mentality.
    You can have a brilliant Chinese economist, a brilliant Indian phyicist and a brilliant Malay doctor/surgeon. But in the minds of some fuckheads, racism is the norm !