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Do internationals face discrimination in the German workplace?

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Do internationals face discrimination in the German workplace?
Discrimination and racism in the workplace is a major issue across Europe. Symbol photo: Depositphotos/Syda
13:22 CEST+02:00
When we asked our readers what working life is like in Germany, many said they experienced prejudice in the office. Here are their experiences.

Working in a foreign country brings with it lots of challenges. But one thing workers shouldn't have to deal with is racism or discrimination.

Yet many of our readers raised these issues when we asked internationals what it's like to work in Germany, despite EU anti-discrimination laws. 

Ajay, an appliance engineer in Munich, pointed out that non-Germans are rarely promoted in his firm, and that's illustrated by the management structure.

Ajay said at his company “100 percent of the top management is German, upper management is German, and 99.9 percent of middle management is German”.

"Even if you speak German there is a glass ceiling," he said. "Old established German companies are not diverse at all.”

When it comes to the way foreign workers are treated, Ajay said “sometimes colleagues can be outright racist”.

Still several German companies, especially in international hubs such as Berlin or Hamburg, are trying to take action and fight against closed attitudes.

Initiatives such as lunch time talks, which focus on the different origin countries of employees to highlight diverse backgrounds, was one positive action introduced by a company and flagged up by a Local reader.

Many firms have also established English as the working language in their office in a bid to open up to more international employees.

READ ALSO: 'Language is a huge barrier': What it's like for internationals working in Germany

The hostility Ajay noticed led the management to implement rules encouraging German workers to be friendly to staff employed by the international company who are visiting from outside Germany.

“They had to force people to be human: to get them to take foreign colleagues out for lunch, show them around,” said Ajay. “For me this is a normal thing. If somebody comes, you show them your culture, you try to show us around.”

Ajay also said he felt in his workplace some people looked down on colleagues from other countries. That was shown, he said, through comments made by German workers regarding teams in India.

“I was shocked,” said Ajay. “They are not so open-minded to non-Germans,” said Ajay.

He said that in some cases bosses also treated foreign workers differently, expecting them to work harder and complete tasks quicker, while German nationals had more flexibility.

“They take advantage and the foreign teams are exploited,” said Ajay.

READ ALSO: The Local Jobs - English-language jobs in Germany

READ ALSO: 10 ways to optimize your application for the German job market

However, Germany's tolerance for foreigners – in general, not just in the workplace – is an issue under the spotlight, not least because of the rise of anti-immigration rhetoric pushed by political parties such as Alternative for Germany (AfD), and movements such as Pegida in recent years.

Meanwhile, a recent report by the Interior Ministry showed that racist and anti-Semitic hate crime rose by 20 percent last year. 

According to research by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) between 2013 and 2017, German civil society sources reported racial discrimination on the basis of foreign-sounding names and differential treatment faced by people of African descent, with disproportionately lower remuneration for work in comparison with others.

The report also found that according to the EU Fundamental Rights Agency's EU MIDIS II survey, 32% of respondents with a Sub-Saharan African background and 22% of respondents with a Turkish background said that they felt discriminated against because of skin colour, ethnic origin and/or religion.

Photo: Depositphotos/TarasMalyarevich

'Aversion to foreigners'

Although the overwhelming majority of respondents to our survey said Germany was a "good" or "average" country for international workers, many flagged up the issue of racial discrimination.

Product owner John, who is from India and lives in Düsseldorf, praised the salary and benefits that come from working in Germany. But John also called out the “blatant racism” that can be found in German workplaces, which is something he faces every day.

“The government has to make stricter laws against racism,” he said.

READ ALSO: Explained: the best and worst paid jobs in Germany

Singer Madeleine, who lives in Munich and is originally from the US, also highlighted the “racism” in German work culture, and the “aversion to foreigners”.

Julian in North Rhine-Westphalia praised the “stability” in the country, but said he does not like the “conservative way” that native Germans treat foreigners.

He said being a non-German can put you at a disadvantage at every turn. For example, when employers, doctors, landlords or schools see a foreign name they behave differently, he said.

“It feels like everybody will put you, the non-German, on a long waiting list – actually, at the end of it... you feel this attitude everyday as a foreigner.. and it will demoralize the immigrant families."

Student Kapil in Dortmund said that aside from the big issue of discrimination, Germany “is a land of opportunities”.

'Empathy is lacking'

A software engineer in Munich from India said he felt employers in Germany expect internationals to adapt to German culture, without putting in enough effort to making them feel comfortable.

SEE ALSO: 'Historic day' as Germany takes steps forward in relaxing rules for foreign workers

“The amount of empathy is lacking among Germans,” the reader added. “I was hoping for a true international experience. On the contrary, I feel like I'm living in another strong-affinity culture and not international at all.”

What could German workplaces do to become more diverse?

“They have to loosen up a lot, there's a lot of global talent,” said Ajay. “We have a few thousand people working in the campus, I barely see 20 international people. And that's not management, that's people actually doing the work.

“Most of them (managers) are born in Germany, studied in Germany and have worked only in German companies so they don't know anything else.

"In Germany, if they want to compete on a global level with China, India, Silicon Valley, they cannot do it like this.”

Women of colour particularly vulnerable

Georgina Siklossy, press spokeswoman with the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) told The Local discrimination and racism in the workplace was a major issue across Europe.

"In terms of access to the labour market, our analysis shows that ethnic and religious minorities have fewer chances of getting through recruitment processes," she said.

"Discriminatory recruitment practices and structural inequalities also mean that migrants and ethnic minorities tend to have a higher unemployment rate and to be overrepresented in certain job positions or sectors, in particular agriculture, services and care."

Siklossy added that once in a job, people with a minority background faced more challenges, "including racist incidents in the workplace, wage disparities, job insecurity and in the worst cases, exploitation and difficult working conditions".

She pointed out that women of colour in Europe face extra obstacles as a result of the intersection of race, gender and class. They are "particularly vulnerable" to "discrimination, exploitation and sexual harassment" in the workplace.

Furthermore, women of colour also "experience high rates of over-qualification, as well as segregation in specific sectors, in particular domestic work", said Siklossy. 

If anyone is experiencing racism or racial discrimination in the workplace, they can refer to the federal German equality body.

To find organizations who provide counselling and support on discrimination cases visit  the Antidiskriminierungsverband Deutschland.

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