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Business

Germany tests anonymous job applications

German minorities often struggle on the job market. Although many companies see diversity as an asset, managers often fail to evaluate candidates without prejudice. Now a new project is testing anonymous applications.

A German resume laid out with pictures

German resumes usually include the applicant's picture

When a person with a Turkish surname applies for a job in Germany, they are 14 percent less likely to get a positive response to their application than a person with a German name. That's according to the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, which says prejudice and poor management means many applicants with minority backgrounds never reach the crucial interview stage of the job selection process.

But now a new project launched by the anti-discrimination agency is about to test the feasibility of diversifying Germany's workforce without introducing new laws. Five large companies including Proctor & Gamble and L'Oreal have agreed to screen applications anonymously for one year.

In contrast to many English-speaking countries, job applications in Germany typically include a photograph, a birth date, family status and nationality. Christine Luders, director of the Berlin-based anti-discrimination agency, says the practice is largely traditional and simply hasn't been changed.

"We also have the situation in which a woman with two children is unlikely to be invited to an interview," she told Deutsche Welle. "But I think Germany can't afford to lose qualified employees. Our economy shows us that very clearly."

Modernization sought

A Türkish cafe in Berlin-Kreuzberg

Integrating immigrants into mainstream German society is a political priority

The anti-discrimination agency based its decision to act, in part, on a study conducted by the Bonn-based Institute for the Study of Labor. That study found an instance in which an applicant with a doctoral degree in natural sciences and considerable professional experience received 230 rejections. Out of frustration, the applicant changed his name from 'Ali' to 'Alex' and adopted his German wife's last name.

"I think modernizing application processes would do Germany a lot of good. We need to find any way possible to deal with job discrimination in Germany," Luders said. She added that ageing people, women and immigrants would all benefit from an anonymous application process and that "we might be able to solve a lot of problems at once."

Oliver Sonntag, European human resources director at L'Oreal, said his company is participating in the project because it sees a diverse workforce as an asset. It markets cosmetics and other goods to consumers worldwide, and wants to make sure its product range has an element of universal appeal that transcends cultural boundaries.

"We really believe in the diversity of our teams. I think it is a competitive advantage," Sonntag told Deutsche Welle. "For us, success in this project is meeting the best talent in personal interviews, avoiding any unconscious discrimination and being at the leading edge as a company recruiting the most diverse workforce imaginable."

Sonntag said the company also seeks to recruit people with diverse educational and professional backgrounds, and that its German workforce is currently comprised of employees with 33 different nationalities.

Program voluntary

Luders stressed that the anonymous application program is voluntary, and that the anti-discrimination agency has no intention of pushing for legislative measures. Small companies, for instance, might find it difficult to guarantee the anonymity of their applicants. Also, upper management positions may best be filled through conventional means, she said.

An International Women's Day Demonstration in Frankfurt

Women with children in particular are also subject to hiring discrimination

"I'm not trying to dictate with this project; I want to persuade people in Germany to participate. I think this can give many more people a first chance, which they may never get otherwise because of prejudice," Luders said.

The trial will run through fall of 2011, after which key findings will be published in a report. Similar projects have taken place in France, Switzerland, Sweden and the United States.

The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency has received some 10,000 complaints since it was founded in 2006.

"These complaints show very clearly that there is inequality in Germany, and we can also assume that a high percentage of discrimination cases go undocumented," said Luders, who became head of the agency in February, 2010.

"With anonymous applications the only thing which counts is a person's qualifications," she said.

Author: Gerhard Schneibel
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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