Ethnic discrimination in hiring: UK edition

The BBC report on a large correspondent test in the UK carried out by the excellent GEMM project. It’s good to see this reach a wider audience; it’s sad to see the results from our meta-analysis confirmed once again.

British citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds have to send, on average, 60% more job applications to get a positive response from employers compared to their white counterparts

What I really like about this short report by the BBC is that the essentials are covered. Yes we see discrimination, but no, it’s not so bad that none of the minority applicants would ever succeed. They also start the piece with an example of someone changing their name on the CV as a strategy to counter expected (or experienced) discrimination — and they highlight that discrimination has not declined despite policy changes, and indeed that discrimination affects native citizens who happen to have a ‘foreign’ name: they pay for an action of their parents or grandparents.

Are employers in Britain discriminating against ethnic minorities?, GEMM project: PDF of report

Zschirnt, Eva, and Didier Ruedin. 2016. ‘Ethnic Discrimination in Hiring Decisions: A Meta-Analysis of Correspondence Tests 1990–2015’. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 42 (7): 1115–34. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369183X.2015.1133279.

Limits of Descriptive Representation

There are many benefits of including minorities of power in decision-making — so-called descriptive representation. This is the case for women who remain numerically under-represented in legislatures around the world, but also ethnic minority groups, and other minorities.

There are, however, practical limitations to including different groups and subgroups in legislatures. Goodin (2004) highlights that there is a tension between including members from different groups and subgroups on the one hand, and the practical ability to debate in the legislature – thus rob them of the possibility of substantively represent their particular subgroup. Goodin highlights that legislatures and governments need not include all groups and subgroups in society to represent the fact of diversity. While this observation highlights why it is impossible to include every subgroup all the time, it should not distract from the need of including ethnic and regional minorities in processes of decision-making, and certainly not be seen as a licence to exclude large groups of society.

It might be helpful to take a longer-term perspective here: rather than focusing on the absence of particular (small) groups in society in any given legislature, focus on persistent exclusion over several legislatures. And bear in mind that representatives act on behalf of groups not directly included in decision-making — so we should also focus on the representation of interests (though this is much harder to do than simply counting, of course).

Goodin, R. 2004. «Representing Diversity». British Journal of Political Science 34 (3): 453–68. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007123404000134.
Ruedin, Didier. 2013. Why Aren’t They There? The Political Representation of Women, Ethnic Groups and Issue Positions in Legislatures. Colchester: ECPR Press.

Image: CC-by-nc by Guilherme Sales

Ethnically homogeneous?

The other day I was at a conference, and Poland was described as ethnically homogeneous. This is not a controversial observation, I guess. The speaker was then using this homogeneity as an ‘explanation’ for current government rhetoric against Muslims in the country — compared to government rhetoric in a more heterogeneous country. This struck me as an odd explanation, after all we all know that ethnic groups and their boundaries are socially constructed. This way, the observation that in a country where the common view is one of internal homogeneity also features exclusivity to ‘others’ seemed trivial if not circular. I’m far from claiming that social construction renders ethnic differences meaningless — the consequences are very real indeed — but as an ‘explanation’ this way I’m struggling a bit.

Ruedin, Didier. 2009. ‘Ethnic Group Representation in a Cross-National Comparison’. The Journal of Legislative Studies 15 (4):335–54. https://doi.org/10.1080/13572330903302448.
Ruedin, Didier. 2013. Why Aren’t They There? The Political Representation of Women, Ethnic Groups and Issue Positions in Legislatures. Colchester: ECPR Press.

Level of Descriptive Representation Unrelated to Population Size

Here’s a null result I’ve long wanted to share: The level of descriptive representation seems unrelated to population size. More specifically, the share of women in national legislatures and the share of ethnic minority groups in national legislatures (relative to their size in the population) does not correlate substantially with the overall population size. I’ve looked into this a few years back after receiving comments that the nature of political representation could be expected to be different in small countries (microstates). I’m still unsure why this would be the case — except that in really small chambers including an additional woman adds much to the share of women.

Do Ethnically Diverse Associations Lead to Positive Attitudes?

When it comes to inter-ethnic relations, contact between groups has long been recognized as a factor potentially reducing tensions. In this sense, ethnically diverse voluntary associations have been lauded as a means to foster positive attitudes towards other groups. In a recent paper Tom van der Meer has a close look at the role of ethnically diverse associations, and concludes that in this particular case, we’re looking at self-selection effects.

The paper concludes that voluntary associations do not live up to their socializing potential to reduce tensions between different ethnic groups. Self-selection in this case means that people who are more open towards other groups in society are more likely to be in ethnically mixed association.

While the paper is a step forward in many aspects, it really would have needed panel data to support the strong conclusions it makes. In the meantime, we’re left with a caution and encouraged to dig deeper.

van der Meer, Tom. 2016. ‘Neither Bridging nor Bonding: A Test of Socialization Effects by Ethnically Diverse Voluntary Associations on Participants’ Inter-Ethnic Tolerance, Inter-Ethnic Trust and Intra-Ethnic Belonging’. Social Science Research 55 (January): 63–74. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2015.09.005.