Arnd Visarius

Rainbow vs reality: Students fear job discrimination

Arnd Visarius
Arnd Visarius
published 30/06/2021

At the end of the day, Leon Goretzka had the final say. After his goal in the 84th minute, Goretzka celebrated with an equaliser to counter weeks of rising political tension surrounding the Germany vs Hungary game. Facing the Hungary fans, he made a clear heart gesture with his hands. The upheaval surrounding this game during Pride Month at a time when Hungary's government adopted a law described by critics as homophobic and ‘disgraceful’, demonstrates just how important it is to address the topic of discrimination.

Discrimination: We spoke to students 

Hungary was sent packing after the first round of the UEFA European Championship, whereas Germany made it to the final 16. On the sidelines, something entirely different was spurred, namely an intense debate on LGBTQIA+ rights. This topic is often treated with controversy in professional sport; with examples being Philipp Lahm's statement on coming out or initiatives such as ‘You can count on us!’ [Ihr könnt auf uns zählen!] and Kickout. Gestures like Goretzka's heart or Manuel Neuer's rainbow armband are crucial and inspire hope. Just like global news on stories such as NFL pro Carl Nassib coming out.

At the same time these events took place, members of the LGBTQIA+ community continue to be outcast and persecuted. How do things look in Germany? Who is worried about discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender and ethnic origin there? We wanted to find out and decided to ask students about their concerns about discrimination in the working world as part of Fachkraft 2030. In March and April, 12,000 students throughout Germany took the survey to help us ascertain, among other things, whether they expect to be in any way disadvantaged in their careers due to their non-heterosexual identity.

‘I’m worried that in my future career not all of my patients will trust me fully due to the fact that I’m homosexual, instead preferring to avoid me.’

– Lina L., student

‘As a rule, I always try to act as ‘hetero’ as possible and dress accordingly. I worry that if I come across as gay, I might not get the job. This primarily applies to smaller cities. When I was a waiter, I received noticeably less tips than my straight colleagues.’

– Björn K., student

Worries about discrimination do not appear to be unfounded. In the past year alone, one study conducted by the German Institute for Economic Research and Bielefeld University found that one third of homosexual individuals are confronted with discrimination over the course of their career. Our survey also made for similarly alarming reading. While 36 percent of non-heterosexual participants worry about being at a disadvantage in the professional world due to their sexual orientation, only 4.6 percent of heterosexual participants have the same concerns. Meaning, among our surveyed students, inequality is perceived to be 8 times worse for non-heterosexual workers.

‘The results are quite simply shocking and show just how widespread concern is among students. The study highlights the critical importance of clear statements and action from companies to foster an open culture, equality and counter all forms of discrimination in the working world. Public moves towards a more open society are also crucial. Lighting the Allianz arena in rainbow colours, for instance, could have been such a statement. That being said, it was great to see the rest of the city illuminated with colours in solidarity. It’s important that we take a stand. We’ve still got a long way to go in Germany.’ 

– Eckhard Köhn, Studitemps CEO 

The survey findings painted a similar picture when it comes to discrimination based on gender. 13 percent of the male respondents reported worrying about negative implications due to their gender. However, an astounding 70 percent of female respondents share the same concerns – five times as many. As a result, obstacles such as the gender pay gap are amplified by worries future female graduates have regarding discrimination on the basis of their gender*.

‘I worry that I’ll primarily be hired to meet a certain quota of women on the team, not due to my actual skills and qualifications.’

– Viktoria S., student

Ethnic origin and disadvantages in the job market?

The differences encountered as a result of ethnic origin are equally drastic. 69.5% of non-German respondents worry about facing disadvantages in the working world due to their ethnic origin. Among the German respondents, this number sunk to 17%. These findings demonstrate a strong contrast to the government measures to put an end to institutional and structural racism and the General Act on Equal Treatment (Gleichbehandlungsgesetz - AGG). The participants were asked to disclose their ethnic origin. This ensured the survey did not address German citizenship, but instead focused on identifying discrimination trends based on appearance.

‘The multicultural nation of Germany is influenced by foreign traditions, cultures and views, and each one enriches Germany in its own special way, making it more diverse. Nevertheless, I believe that people of a different ethnic origin suffer discrimination in the German job market. Applicants often worry that they’ll be turned down by an employer as a result. They worry that their qualifications or skills aren’t “good enough” to grant them success in the job market.

For instance, a while back I spoke with a master's graduate who didn’t want to include a professional photo in her CV as she feared it may negatively impact her application due to her Islamic faith and hijab. In another case, I got to know a promising candidate who had received the impression multiple times at the start of the application process that he was turned down simply due to his Turkish name. It's a shame to hear that great candidates are worried about not being successful in the German job market. Surely we all deserve the same opportunities?’

– Johanna Sorgnit, Recruiting Specialist Studitemps Young Professionals 

Studitemps summary

It’s 2021. It simply shouldn't matter who and how we choose to love. No one should need to worry about discrimination based on gender, appearance or ethnicity. Neither in their private nor their professional life. This doesn’t just represent a major step towards social cohesion but should simply be matter of course. However, unfortunately the reality is often very different, even during – in fact, particularly due to – the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that students remain optimistic about their future careers demonstrates great strength. It would be a great shame if this optimism were to be trumped by a fear of discrimination. This brings us back to the importance of taking a stand, not just during Pride Month or at the end of major events like the UEFA European Championship, but all year round.

Check out our white paper to learn more about current student opinions on equal opportunities in Germany.

*Responses were provided by 88 participants who chose not to identify themselves as male or female. Due to the small sample size (n <100), the findings from this group were not taken into account here. We would be happy to provide more information on request.

Arnd Visarius
About the author

Arnd Visarius

Since I've always been passionate about writing, it didn't take much effort to jump out of my studies into the fresh water of online editing when the opportunity presented itself. After working in Dortmund, Witten, Cologne (other side of the Rhine) and North Miami Beach, I'm now aboard as Content Manager at jobvalley.