Thursday. 27.02.2020
El tiempo


The employment curse of being Abdul in Finland

A practical experiment conducted by a researcher at the University of Helsinki shows that Finnish-named job seekers receive many more opportunities than those with foreign names.

The employment curse of being Abdul in Finland

Can a simple name be a curse that limits someone's chances of success in society? For example, when looking for a job, the way parents decided to call a child at birth, can it be a factor that turns against them?

The answer is yes, according to a research on discrimination in the Finnish labor market conducted by Akhlaq Ahmad, a researcher at the University of Helsinki. 

Ahmad's work is based on a real experiment that included sending 5,000 false job applications. Its conclusions show that getting a job is much easier for anyone called Juha, Kirsi, Sanna, Pekka or Valtteri than for those named for example Abdul, Jamila, Mohamed or Fatima.

The same principle applies for last names; those people who can show a surname ending in '-nen' may have it easier to enter the work market than those with last names that denote foreign origin.

"If a worker with a Finnish name is available, they will probably get the job", Ahmad told the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle).

In order to prove it, Ahmad exhibits the results of his study.

Between 2016 and 2017, this researcher sent some 5,000 fake job applications to Finnish companies. Some of them were sent under purely Finnish names and others with English, Russian, Iraqi and Somali names. His intention was to find out to what extent the name influenced potential employers when calling applicants for an interview.

The result is that names influence a lot.

Equal skills but not equal opportunities

Akhlaq Ahmad sent 1,000 applications from each group, mainly to low-paid jobs in the sectors of restaurants, catering, retail, office cleaning and customer service. The skills of the fake applicants were the same, all claimed they had been educated in Finnish schools, they lived most of their lives in Finland and spoke perfect Finnish.

Simply put, both the alleged Finnish whites and those fake candidates of foreign origin proved to have the same skills and training for employment. But the labor market did not offer them the same opportunities in return: applicants with Finnish names received by far the most invitations to interview, with 390 opportunities per 1,000 applications. In contrast, the Iraquis got 134 interviews and the Somails just 99.

The impact of gender

According to Ahmad's conclusions, gender also had an impact on a candidate's chances. In all groups, women got better results than men. White Finnish women got 221 invitations to interviews from each 500 applications, while Somali men received just 34 invitations.

"What matters is the candidate's name", says Ahmad, who added that in terms of gender "maybe women are regarded as more likely to follow the rules as employees" or "maybe immigrant men are seen as a bigger threat than women".

"If a white Finnish worker is available, others are pushed aside", said Ahmad to Yle.

The author of the research hopes his work will raise Finn's awareness about labour discrimination and promote a national debate about this problem.