‘Blind’ job applications on trial to reduce discrimination

'Blind' job applications on trial to reduce discrimination
Ethnic backgroud check? Photo: DPA
Germany revelled in its multicultural national team at the World Cup this month but still has a long way to go in its labour market, according to the sponsors of a radical new trial hiring scheme.

Later this year, top companies operating in Europe’s biggest economy are to begin testing “blind” applications that remove any reference to ethnic background or other personal information irrelevant to job performance.

Whether your first name is Dieter or Murat should play no role in whether you are employed by a company, or so goes the theory, and five major corporations plan to test the vetting of anonymous CVs to keep them honest.

Later this year, groups including consumer products behemoth Procter and Gamble and cosmetics giant L’Oreal as well as smaller companies will only ask applicants to provide their qualifications.

Christine Lüders, the director of the German Anti-Discrimination Agency, which is sponsoring the voluntary programme, said she wanted to show companies what they were sacrificing with their – often subconscious – prejudices.

“This is necessary because we have observed that job candidates of Turkish origin have a 14 percent slimmer chance of being invited to an interview, simply because of their ethnic heritage,” she told news agency AFP.

“Not only immigrants but also people with disabilities and mothers of small children” can benefit from the trial programme, which is also being tested in France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden, she said.

Eleven of Germany’s 23 players at the football championships in South Africa had immigrant roots, and the country took pride in its diverse team as it cruised to a third-place finish.

But despite official efforts to combat stereotyping in German employment in recent years, a 2010 study by the private, Bonn-based Institute for the Study of Labour showed rampant bias in hiring.

“Discrimination is even more pronounced at small companies – those with fewer than 50 employees tend to give around 24 percent more positive responses to a ‘Dennis’ or ‘Tobias’ than to a ‘Fatih’ or ‘Serkan’,” it said, referring to typical German and Turkish first names.

Researchers responded to 528 classified advertisements for internships with two applications each: both with the same qualifications but one with a classically German name and the other with a Turkish-sounding name.

In Germany, job applications generally include a photograph and information considered taboo for employers in other countries such as date of birth, marital status and nationality.

But hobbled by a bitter shortage in skilled employees and an ageing work force as its economic recovery gathers pace, Germany “cannot allow itself to overlook the best candidates,” Lüders said.

“Major companies can set an example that others can follow,” she said, adding that the government preferred to convince industry with positive examples rather than imposing new laws.

German employers have been subject to anti-discrimination legislation covering hiring since 2006, but most cases are difficult to prove.

Procter and Gamble had for several years used largely “anonymous” hiring practices when selecting executives in Europe.

Now it plans to test the practice for workers at a Berlin plant that employs 1,300 people, many of them of Turkish origin.

“We will see if there are areas where we could stand to improve,” Jörg Uhl, a spokesman for the company’s operations in German-speaking countries, said.

For L’Oreal, “the aim is to avoid possible subconscious discrimination in the pre-selection” of candidates,” said Oliver Sonntag, the company’s personnel chief for Europe, where he said “33 nationalities are represented in our German offices alone.”

Fresh statistics show that nearly 20 percent of the German population has immigrant roots.

The biggest ethnic minority is the population of Turkish origin with around three million members, most of them the children of so-called “guest workers” who came to the country in the 1960s and 1970s.

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