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French govt study reveals minorities face discrimination for jobs at major firms

"You're starting your job on Monday" on the left, "you don't fit the profile" on the right: in April 2016, the French government had already started a campaign against discrimination in hiring.
"You're starting your job on Monday" on the left, "you don't fit the profile" on the right: in April 2016, the French government had already started a campaign against discrimination in hiring. © AFP

A new study by the French government unveiled on Thursday has found "presumed discrimination" against minorities in the hiring practices of seven of the country's major companies, including Renault. Among the study's most egregious findings, that a candidate with an Arabic-sounding name would have a less than 25 percent chance of being vetted for a job compared to other candidates. The companies concerned pointed to a "weak" methodology, but sociologist Jean-François Amadieu told FRANCE 24 that such cases of discrimination are real.

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The seven companies were "named and shamed" by the French government after its study reported the "presumed discrimination in hiring" of candidates recognised as ethnic or cultural minorities. The results reveal that the seven companies - Renault, Air France, Accor, Altran, Arkéma, Rexel and Sopra-Steria - tend to favour candidates for jobs who bear names of French origin rather than those of North-African descent.

"Of all the companies tested, candidates with North-African names have had an estimated success rate of 9.3%, whereas candidates bearing European-sounding names have had a success rate of 12.5%", the study states. The findings also highlighted that candidates with North-African names have "a less than 25% chance" of even having their application acknowledged.

Six of the seven companies – Air France, Accor, Altran, Arkéma, Rexel and Sopra-Steria – have contested the study's findings announcing in a joint statement on Thursday their "profound disagreement" and "indignation concerning the weak methodology used" as well as "the study's lack of discipline".

The French government conducted the study across 40 major companies, with 10,349 fictional or real candidates sending their curriculum vitae (CV) under different names – either with French-sounding or Arab-sounding names –and addresses.

Some of the companies have accused the government of bias. They told AFP that some of the applicants' CVs were sent to staff working at these companies who had nothing to do with the recruitment of employees, and for jobs that had already been filled.

The government said it regretted that the "study's methodology might have overshadowed its final conclusions: discriminations, be they intentional or not, might exist in our country", and announced that a second wave of studies, "correcting the first one's bias" will be conducted.

In an interview with FRANCE 24, Jean-François Amadieu, sociologist and head of the Discrimination Observatory, said companies should set up better hiring systems that include anonymous applications to ensure a more level playing field.

FRANCE 24: Has job discrimination based on ethnic and cultural origin worsened in France?

Jean-François Amadieu: The results of this test do not surprise me. In the corporate world, discrimination based on cultural and ethnic origin is still the same. A candidate belonging to a minority group has on average a 20 to 25 percent less chance of being chosen by employers. For the past few years, this figure has not changed and it is the same as in the United States.

On the other hand, we do not know what that figure is for small companies as these tests were conducted on major ones. It would be interesting to measure the discrimination in smaller structures, because it is probably much higher.

Discrimination is also linked to the company's activity. For instance, it is particularly strong in the hospitality business, as it is in sectors that have direct contact with clients. The Accor group (who owns Sofitel, Novotel, Mercure, Ibis and others) has been caught out once again, which is not surprising given it had already been exposed in 2008. In 2017, the group was also named once again by the then Minister of Labour Myriam El Khomry for discrimination.

One must bear in mind that there are multiple types of discrimination. We have 25 types, according to the French law. The two most common categories of discrimination are age and physical appearance, and unfortunately these different types have not been tested by the government.

How could we tackle this kind of discrimination?

An efficient measure could be a law mandating applications to be anonymous. This option had been ruled out by lawmakers in 2015, but I think it is the best possible measure by making résumés anonymous by removing information such as age, gender and address. This alternative has been successful in other European countries such as Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. And there are other major companies, like the BBC, that already impose it.

We either need to have a lot of information, as we have in French résumés nowadays, or we decide that the employer does not need that much information. In the USA or Canada, we don't have photos in résumés. Does the employer really need to know if one is overweight or if one lives in a poor neighbourhood or one's sexual orientation? This information has nothing to do with the candidate's abilities. Moreover, large-sized companies already have software designed to analyse online applications, so they could very easily impose anonymity.

Some of these companies have contested the "weak methodology used" by the study, "which led to wrong conclusions"…

The methodology used for this test was not the most ideal, especially if the end result was to "name and shame".  If it was known beforehand that the companies were going to be publicly named afterwards, then the government needed to strongly involve them in the study, that way the results would have been more sound.

These companies contested the study and the government did recognise its "limits". But it does not diminish the results that show that discrimination is still significant in our country.

This article was adapted from the original in French by Henrique VALADARES.

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