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Do foreign names cut job chances?

To a chorus of protest from employers, a number of German local authorities and companies are launching anonymous job application schemes. The name and background of applicants are initially removed from CVs.

German employers’ organisations argue that companies are already doing enough to combat discrimination. But Christine Lüders, head of the German government’s anti-discrimination agency, maintains that people over 50, women with children and people with foreign names still have less chance of getting a job. Their applications are the first to be binned.

Unemployment among young people from immigrant communities is higher than the average for their age group in many European countries. Figures for the beginning of 2008 showed that highly qualified immigrants in the Netherlands were twice as likely as their Dutch peers to be unemployed. Recent research from the University of Utrecht shows that smaller firms are simply not willing to employ people from immigrant communities.

It remains to be seen whether anonymous job applications will help much. Many immigrants complain that they are not given a fair chance during job interviews after being shortlisted. German companies are worried by the prospect of even more complicated application procedures. There are, however, European companies which actively seek out people from immigrant backgrounds. They want their staff to reflect the multiculturalism of the general population.

There was a time when Dutch legislation led the way. The 1994 Equal Treatment Act outlawed discrimination on the grounds of sex, age, ethnic background, nationality, religion and sexual preference. Comparable pan-European legislation came later.

After years of squabbling, a trial was eventually launched in the eastern Dutch city of Nijmegen in 2008. This compared the treatment of anonymous CVs and application letters with ones detailing name and ethnic background. This research showed only slight differences in selection results. Similar conclusions were reported by the Manpower temp agency following its own research.

There has been little debate about anonymous applications in the Netherlands since these trials ended.

“It’s not an issue in the Netherlands,” explains a spokesman from the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW en MKB). The discussion forum comprising the government, unions and employers – the Social Economic Council (SER) – agreed just a year ago to continue allowing businesses to decide for themselves how they improve ‘diversity’ in their workforces. The SER says that having staff from varied backgrounds helps improve creativity within companies, but leaves it up to businesses themselves to set their own targets.

Belgium’s federal government has hired people via anonymous applications for about 6 years but the results have not been analysed. France is awaiting the results of a trial involving a number of government authorities and companies. However, earlier French research into anonymous hiring procedures showed no change in the numbers of job applications from people with immigrant backgrounds. The social affairs minister at the time decided against introducing legislation.

Sweden, Great Britain and Switzerland have all debated and researched anonymous job applications, but have not introduced legislation to make it compulsory.

However, some companies in France have decided to introduce anonymous applications themselves and not wait for legislation. Norsys, a leading technology concern, says its introduction of anonymous applications has, in just four years, led to double the numbers of women and people from ethnic backgrounds within its workforce.

Philip Smet
Radio Netherlands

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