Discrimination in the Finnish job market: anonymous recruitment process an answer?

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In this blog, we’ll take a look at what recently published research says about ethnic discrimination in the Finnish job market. We’ll also talk about anonymous recruitment. It has been offered as a solution to counteract discrimination in recruiting.

In our blog last week, we told you about a survey Duunitori Oy had conducted. They had surveyed 255 Finnish recruiters. Duunitori had asked them, among other things, what type of applicant information they pay attention to. In our blog, we listed the 3 most important kinds of information the recruiters listed. 

Interestingly the overwhelming majority of them said that they don’t pay attention to the applicant’s nationality, gender, or age. This, however, doesn’t really square with what we know of the Finnish job market. There definitely exists discrimination based on all of these factors. Here we’ll focus on ethnic discrimination in particular.

Recent research on ethnic discrimination in the Finnish job market

Last year, Dr. Akhlaq Ahmad of the University of Helsinki published the results of his experimental investigation of ethnic discrimination in the Finnish labor market. (A Finnish language version of the article is available here starting from p. 15 onwards). The results of his study were widely published in the Finnish media. 

In this study, Dr. Ahmad sent all together 5 000 job applications in the name of 5 fictive applicants. He made one of the applicants Finnish, one was British, one was Iraqi, one was Russian, and one was Somalian. 

The only difference between the applicants was their ethnic origin and native language. In education and degree, age, and prior experience they were all essentially the same. He made sure that the application materials showed that these applicants were fluent in Finnish. In order to study the possible effects of gender, he made half of the applications to be those sent by a woman. 

The industries studied by Dr. Akhlaq Ahmad were the restaurant and catering industry, the cleaning industry, the retail industry, office services, and customer service. The majority of job positions were such position as waiters and waitresses, cooks, cleaners, sales personnel, office workers, and cashiers.

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Research results

We already knew from prior research that persons with African and Asian backgrounds find it more difficult to find a job in Finland. The results of Dr. Ahmad’s research confirmed this. His study painted a stark picture of ethnic discrimination in Finnish recruiting practices. 

His results revealed a clear ethnic hierarchy in the Finnish job market. He was able to quantify this hierarchy. 

Dr. Ahmad’s research uncovered that in order to get the same amount of call-backs from employers British applicants need to send 1.45 times the number of applications Finns do. The same figure for Russians is 1.71. For Iraqis, it is 2.91 and for Somalians 3.94. 

Men in this study found it harder to get a call-back all around. The situation is particularly grim for men with a Somalian background. They need to send 4.97 times the number of applications to get the same number of call-backs from employers as a person with a Finnish background.

His research also revealed that having more experience than a Finn did not increase the chances of an applicant with a foreign background. He studied this by sending an additional 200 applications where the applicants with a foreign background had two more years of relevant experience than his Finnish applicants. The added experience didn’t improve the situation of his foreign applicants compared to his Finnish applicants.

This recent study by Dr. Ahmad isn’t the only study that has revealed discrimination in the Finnish job market. But it is one that has recently attracted a lot of attention. So, what have Finnish employers done about the issue? One thing that has lately attracted attention is anonymous recruitment. 

What is anonymous recruitment?

Anonymous recruiting means that the person who decides who will be invited to the job interview is prevented from knowing certain personal details about the applicant. Depending on the employer and the position in question, what information is excluded may vary a bit.

Generally, it means that the recruiter does not know, for example, the applicant’s name, age, gender, address, nationality, whether the person has children or not, marital status, or native language. The idea is to prevent these factors from influencing the evaluation process. 

In practice, certain fields still might let the evaluator know, for example, the applicant’s name. University positions might be such. There it is difficult to withhold a person’s name from the evaluators. There the application is based on published research. But in those positions as well there really is no need for the evaluator to know the age, gender, marital status, or nationality of an applicant. 

Anonymous recruitment process places certain requirements on the recruiters, employers, and the recruitment systems they use. If the recruitment system used doesn’t support anonymous recruitment, a lot of the anonymization needs to happen by hand. This requires a lot of extra work.

It also requires that the employers train their recruiters and managers properly. It is not enough just to leave identifiable information out, the recruiters need to commit to the process. They should not play guessing games.

Also, anonymous recruitment requires advising the applicants properly. They have to know to leave such information out of their application materials.

Naturally, the anonymity of the process continues only until the interview stage.  

Which employers use anonymous recruiting in Finland?

There’s been talk about anonymous recruiting for years in Finland. But it’s been slow to catch on. 

Recently, particularly municipalities in Finland have implemented anonymous recruitment practices. Thus far anonymous recruitment processes have been used or are about to be used at least in Rovaniemi, Turku, Helsinki, Oulu, Kokkola, Vantaa, Vaasa, and Espoo. In many of these cities, anonymous recruitment processes have not yet been extended to all open positions. 

Helsinki has tried anonymous recruitment processes also before, but currently, they have a new trial ongoing. Positions that are included in the trial include, for example, metro and tram drivers, career advisors, all manager and specialist positions in the Helsinki Service center, and youth counselors. Job ads will indicate whether an anonymous process is applied in that particular open position.

From the government side, the Ministry of Justice in Finland has experimented with anonymous recruitment. In the private sector, one of the largest employers to try anonymous recruitment has been the S-group.

Anonymous recruitment is still not the standard anywhere but for example, the MeetFrank app, a popular recruitment app, doesn’t ask for the age, nationality, or gender of the applicant and even the applicant’s first name can be a pseudonym

Is the anonymous recruitment process the answer?

No, it’s not the answer, but it certainly is an answer. Trying to find ways to eliminate conscious and unconscious prejudices from recruiting is an advance from just talking about things to actually taking some kind of action.

Anonymous recruiting will not solve ethnic discrimination in the Finnish job market. It is, however, definitely a step in the right direction.  

So much has been said about how applicants can improve their situation in the job market. We’ve done that, too. Not everything, however, depends on the applicants themselves. They cannot change conscious or unconscious discriminatory attitudes and practices in recruitment. Only employers (and external recruiters) can do that. Seeing such practices as anonymous recruitment gain wider popularity in Finland, even if the progress is slow, makes one hopeful for the future. 

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3 thoughts on “Discrimination in the Finnish job market: anonymous recruitment process an answer?

  1. Hi,
    I am an Indian woman, with masters degree. I have applied for all sorts of jobs and have been rejected by each one of them. To my utter surprise In was rejected for a graduate program offered by one of the top notch Finnish organisation. I met all the requirements, I did well in their analytical assessment but still rejected.
    It’s very sad.

    1. I’m really sorry to hear that. I hoped that you had left us with an email address so that we could’ve contacted you. If you read this, please email us. Thanks!

  2. I m a mexican nurse. I ve never been without work since I arrived in ‘94. Of course I had to work harder to prove I am capable. I had to learn the language well because I knew that without it I would be lost.
    I know dozens of foreigners working here in Finland and being very succesful as well!

    To me its very nice that Finns take care of and want to employ FIRST their own people. I don’t see that as discriminatory at all. I wish that my country employed first their own people!

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