Challenging integration

This challenges the fundamental ideals of equality in the Norwegian society and are worth taking seriously – especially because the barriers minority candidates meet, cannot be explained with reference to otherwise relevant factors such as language, foreign education or weaker work experience. From the report The Scale and Causes of Discrimination.

This is the last in a series of posts where I have focused on racism in Norway, and this time I am mainly going to use data from a report about discrimination in the job market. The two authors of the report asked the following question:

Do job applicants with foreign names meet larger barriers when they try to access the job market compared to applicants with traditional Norwegian names, even when all qualifications are identical?

This study is based on a fairly extensive empirical material, including 1800 fictitious applications that were sent as a response to 900 real job ads. They created fictional identities where minority applicants were either born in Norway (second generation) or they moved to Norway at a very young age. The people behind this study then sent two applications to each of the 900 job announcements, one with a typical Norwegian name and one with a foreign name. There are two conclusions you could draw from the test.

The result showed that the two candidates were treated equally in 85 percent of the cases, which means that both or non were called in for an interview. The test also showed that a name that suggested the candidate was minority reduced the possibility of being called in for an interview by 25 percent. The authors of the report wanted to elaborate on these findings with interviews of some of the 900 employers involved. They sent a letter to 163 of them in the aftermath of the hiring process, and 42 of them responded. Some of the responses were I am not a racist, but …..

This is from one on the employers that chose not to interview the minority candidate:

“If you are a minority candidate you have a distance to go compared to the average Norwegian. If you are handicapped, a first or second generation immigrant, you have … you have to take a step up compared to the other candidates.”

In other words, a minority candidate must be better, have more education, more experience and stand out more favourably compared to a majority candidate. Based on the statement I just quoted they gave this employer a follow-up question about whether or not there was a different risk involved in hiring people with majority and minority background. This was the answer:

“Although I am all in favour of a multicultural society and have very few prejudices in life and things like that, the fact is that there is too much violence among Somalis in Norway. No matter how you look at it, that’s how it is. Then one must accept that society doesn’t have the wrong attitude; the Somalis do. One has to work with them to bring down the cycle of violence that some of them are involved in, and make sure that this statistics goes down, instead of threatening people to see things their way. A fact is a fact.”

Another employer distinguished between immigrants from Europa and Asia:

“We are very families with Swedes and eventually Poles, but there will naturally be more skepticism when we are talking about Chinese and Indians. I believe so. It will have to be something extraordinary for us to call them in for an interview.”

There is a clear tendency to ascribe the negative traits a few individuals have to all members of a group. There have been some examples of Somali and Pakistani youth organizing gangs in Oslo, but this is far from typical. It should also make us reflect on the job we have done when minority kids grow up feeling that neither their parents’ traditions or the new Norwegian society can offer them something. The report concludes that having a name that signals ethnic minority is in itself a barrier to equal opportunities in the Norwegian labour market, and it also shows that second generation may have difficulties being integrated into the Norwegian labour market. The interview with employers revealed that many didn’t see descendants of immigrants as potential employees.

There are enginners and other well qualified people coming to Norway for different reasons. Are we going to allow them to have ambitions?
There are engineers and other well qualified people coming to Norway for different reasons. Are we going to allow them to have ambitions?
Photo: stockimages via

This is contrary to the official version or assumption many have that we are good at integration, but it coincides with one of my main points in this series on racism, racism is discrimination and it doesn’t have to be very overt. Racism doesn’t have to be about attacking immigrants physically, or a Nazi-gang marching through the streets, or voting for a populist party. Racism is about generalizing and assuming that all members of a group have the traits a few individuals have (for example that all Arab men, especially if they have a long beard, are terrorists and that they deny women basic personal freedom. Or that all Somali men are killers because there have been a few cases).

This is the mindset that makes representatives of Norwegian companies say things like good candidate, but wrong skin colour or we want cowboys, not indians. There is a reason work is seen as the most important arena for integration. Work enables immigrants to become a part of the community. It makes them feel included. This is perhaps the greatest damage discrimination does, it gives people a feeling of being excluded from the society they should be a part of. This is of course serious to the individuals and families it concerns, but the problems is much wider. It is a problem for the whole community, morally and financially.

We live in a culture where it is important to participate, and if seemingly healthy people don’t work, they are often labelled as lazy. There’s been some talk lately of forcing people on disability to work for their benefits. That sounds reasonable, but it has to be something relevant, meaningful and of course something they are able to do. The problem with sheltered workshops for example is that they mostly force people into mechanical work or an assembly line. The Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration often distinguishes between capacity to work and capacity to acquire income, and the idea is that people unable to make a living can still work. That’s the theory at least, but they still tell people that their skills aren’t worth anything if they don’t generate money. That attitude wastes a lof of resources. Personally I am a fairly good at doing research and writing, but not at a level where I could make a living doing it. This is partly because I don’t produce results quickly enough and partly because I don’t like talking to people, which makes any kind of work a challenge. I would still argue that I am doing something sensible.

There are many companies that gamble, in my opinion, when they decide to turn down the best candidate because he or she doesn’t fit the profile, and the profile/skin colour is more important than skills. I mentioned in a recent post that Norwegian authorities have decided to accept 8 000 Syrian refugees in addition to the regular quota of Syrians we grant asylum. The level of education was quite high in the Syrian cities before the war. I can very well imagine that there are engineers and doctors among the Syrians coming here, and if Norwegians assume that they’ll stay here for a brief period, I think they are mistaken. I don’t think we are looking at a short solution in Syria. I wonder how Norwegian companies will process the job applications from these well educated immigrants. It is important that society as a whole does not make the same mistakes many of these companies have done.

I want to close with some numbers from Statistics Norway. This shows the employment among some of the immigrant groups in Norway. The latest figures were published 18th June 2015 and showed just minor changes. Employment is highest among people from EU-countries in Easter-Europe with 73,2 %, while it’s 42 % among African immigrants (2014 Q4):

Employment among different immigrant groups in Norway.
Employment among different immigrant groups in Norway.

There is still a big difference between Asians, Africans and the rest. The article from Statistics Norway where they explained these figures pointed out that there are refugees from Asia and Africa that stay here for a shorter period than the other groups. That will reduce the possibility for these to get jobs, but the author of this article nevertheless admits that employment among Africans that have stayed here for more than 10 years is still far lower than the average among immigrants.

There is some disagreement about what causes racism, but what is clear is that there is ethnic inequality in the Norwegian society. It is possible there are other things than racism behind the fact that many are wary of job-seekers from Asia (which includes Arab countries) and Africa, but it is important that we put this skepticism behind us. The people working in government and the municipalities aren’t all hopeless, but this is a job everyone has to take part in. The employment rate is higher among immigrants here than it is in many other countries, but if we are to continue as a society where the idea of equality and justice is dominant, we must allow people of other cultures to be a part of this equality. This is simple mathematics. The birth rate in most of Western-Europe, including Norway, is too low to maintain a stable society. We need immigration in order to keep our lifestyle, so when we welcome “the others” we have to show that we mean it. That means giving them professional jobs and paying them the same salary.

The latest report (2014) from The Directorate of Integration and Diversity said that 16,3 % of the immigrants between the age of 20 and 66 are not registered with any known activity or livelihood, while the number for second generation is 9,5 % and 3,8 % in the rest of the population. There is also a higher number of young immigrants (20-29 years) that are not working or studying, 21,4 %. This number goes down to 10,4 % among second generation and 5,4 in the general population. There is clearly progress between first and second generation, but the difference is till problematic. The official attitude is that racism never really existed here, and if it did, it is a thing of the past. That’s why I think Norway is a difficult and frustrating place to grow up as a minority, because how could you get anyone to listen to you if they won’t acknowledge there is a problem?

One of the things I would like to change is the sheltered workshops that most municipalities have. I am a teacher myself, but have completed several periods in different sheltered workshops. This happened after I got sick and couldn’t work as a teacher anymore. The problem is that nothing I ever did interested me, and there were a lot of jobs I couldn’t do no matter how hard I tried. My supervisors in this rehabilitation programme were very patronizing. I met a few Africans there that were in a similar situation, they had an academic mind and doing simple assembly work wasn’t very rewarding. I was willing to do it because any work is better than doing nothing, but after a couple of years of failing at this, it was pretty clear that it wasn’t going to help me outside this sheltered workshop. I tried talking to my supervisors, but this attitude where you are supposed to smile and pretend that everything is alright, didn’t help.

It might be true that we are gradually getting better at integrating immigrants, but we have a long way to go when we dismiss someone claiming they have had a negative experience. That’s what my family does as well. They say that racism is a thing of the past, so I guess all the statistics and accounts from immigrants in Norway is just a lie. They have also never been willing to admit that I have some challenges and that there are things I can’t do. I’m getting a lot of support from my wife, but it would have been nice if the rest had offered some support. I guess we remind them of the things they don’t want to think about. My wife is African American and I have autism spectrum challenges. If we don’t think uncomfortable thoughts, they don’t exist. That’s a very Norwegian concept.


The Norwegian study Diskrimineringens omfang og årsaker, Arnfinn H. Midtbøen og Jon Rogstad

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