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Friday, 17 April 2009

Facing racism in the business world

Toufik Bellahcene is looking for a job. In fact he has been looking for one for over a year now.

And last month he took the step of trying his luck on eBay* and bringing his plight to the attention of the national press.

But he didn't auction himself as another young graduate, 23-year-old Yannick Miel,** had done in February.

Instead Bellahcene chose to try to sell his "ethnic origins" to the highest bidder.

"It was," he says. "An attempt to draw attention to racial discrimination in the job market as I think we don't talk enough about the subject."

Just in case you hadn't realised, 27-year-old Bellahcene is of North African origin - Algerian to be precise - one of three children brought up in the inner city of Strasbourg in Eastern France to a working class family.

All three children did well at school and graduated from university, but while his brother and sister both became teachers, Bellahcene decided to enter the business world, one which he says poses many more problems in terms of racial discrimination for those from ethnic backgrounds.

And based on his experience, he might have something of a point.

Since graduating from one of the top 10 business schools in the country, Bellahcene has applied for almost 800 jobs. He has been called for an interview just five times.

"According to statistics published by my university, 95.8 per cent of its graduates find jobs within four months," he says.

"The average length it takes is two weeks."

As well as placing an advertisment on eBay, Bellahcene sent an email to the left-of-centre national daily, Libération, giving a little more background to his unusual step.

"According to Adia (a French employment agency) my chances of finding a job are three times lower than a Frenchman with generations of roots in the country," he wrote.

"And my chances are even further diminished (seven times lower) because I'm after a position which matches my (graduate) qualifications here in Eastern France," he added.

"The conclusion I draw from that is that I have to say to children from the area in which I live and with a similar background, that there's no point in trying to do well at school and getting qualifications because they will more than likely be subjected to discrimination."

To illustrate the sort of difficulties that Bellahcene has faced, Friday morning's edition of La Matinale on Canal + television offered up the story of how, when he rang one company and gave his name, he was informed that there was no job available and the person the other end then hung up.

Of course when he rang back 15 minutes later and gave a "typically" French name "Nicolas" he was told there was no problem and advised to submit a formal application.

Anecdotal perhaps, but given his qualifications, lack of success in finding a job and ethnic origins, not unimaginable even in a supposedly multi-cultural modern democracy such as France.

But there again, perhaps it's not really racial discrimination after all.

There are bound to be some out there who would argue the contrary.

* The advertisement on eBay has now been withdrawn.

**The plight of Yannick Miel reached the ears of Martin Hirsch, the junior minister for youth and active solidarities against poverty, who offered him a position. Miel accepted.

Bellahcene is still looking for a job.


Anonymous said...

People dont know how good they have here in the USA. In latin america, newspaper ads blatantly advertise for females 18-25 for barmaids, or male accountants not older than 35.

The worse I have seen is the European practice of having resumes with a photo attached.

Not only would anyone with a foreign name be rejected, but now you add the permutations of discrimination based on how you look.

Anonymous said...

In France, you can send "anonymous resume" and are not obligated to put a photo on resume.

But racism is two way, you can also find a lot of example of racism against french people, especially in some suburbs where immigrant are a majority and french native are a minority.

Arne Boberg said...

Toufik Bellahcene would have to brush up on his math skills before I would hire him. There is no such thing as "three times lower".

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