Biased toward Norwegian job applicants
New experimental approach confirms that prejudiced bosses would rather hire ethnic Norwegians than applicants with strong ties to an immigrant background.
Norwegian bosses who score low on a scale indicating how prejudiced they are and score high in emotional stability and flexibility are more likely to hire an applicant of Turkish heritage, a new study shows.
Job applicants with a Turkish background who are integrated in Norwegian society at work as well as in their leisure time have better chances of being hired than those maintaining stronger ties to their original culture.
Jøri Gytre Horverak of the University of Bergen has studied ways in which characteristics of Norwegian managers and jobseekers with an immigrant background affect decisions in the hiring process.
Integrated employees preferred
In the first study, 346 Norwegian bosses were requested to envision hiring a new employee for a prestigious and demanding project. They were presented with three candidates by means of initial job interview summaries. All three were formally qualified for the position.
Each of the managers was presented with at least two ethnic Norwegian applicants. The third applicant, which was the study target, was either ethnic Norwegian or Turkish. Some of these bosses were presented with a Turkish applicant who believed in maintaining strong ties with his ethnic culture when off work.
Others were presented with a well-integrated Turkish applicant who emphasised retention of a link to his original culture as well as to Norwegian society.
“We found that applicants who held on to their own culture when off work were given less advantageous personality evaluations than the Turk who was integrated both on the job and off, says Horverak.
The applicant that was less integrated had less chances of being hired than the ethnic Norwegian and the integrated Turk.
However, the person with an immigrant background who stressed being integrated in their leisure time had an equal opportunity of being hired as the ethnic Norwegians.
Bosses prefer a more homogenous staff
In the second experiment 74 bosses were each shown three videos in which actors playing job applicants introduced themselves. As in the first phase, two of the applicants were Norwegian and the target candidate was either of Norwegian or Turkish background.
In these videos the applicants talked solely about their families, their leisure-time activities and other themes that weren’t directly related to work. Among the topics raised by the applicants with an immigrant background was how they experienced being Turkish in Norway, how they wished to raise their children and with whom they spent their leisure time.
Some of the bosses watched a video of an assimilated or well-integrated Turkish applicant, whereas others were presented with one who emphasised his ethnic background. Then the bosses were asked to evaluate how well these candidates would suit their organisations and whether they felt these applicants could benefit the organisation with anything new or unique Here too they were asked to pick and evaluate the applicant they’d preferably hire.
Just as in the first stage of the experiment, the Turkish applicant who’d maintained stronger ties to his ethnic culture was much less likely to be hired than the ethnic Norwegian and the integrated Turkish job-seekers.
As expected the Turkish applicant with the strongest cultural background ties was evaluated as less similar to the other employees in the organisation. The candidate was also considered to be less capable of contributing anything new.
“All the target candidates were evaluated as equally qualified for the job. This means that person-organisation-fit gets more emphasis than professional qualifications, and that immigrants who are more similar to Norwegians are considered more capable of contributing something new than those who really indicate diversity,” says the researcher.
However, the personal characteristics of the jobseekers were not the only factors impacting their chances of being hired. Personal traits of the person representing the employer were important too. Prior to participation in the experiment the bosses had to answer an online survey which in part measured their prejudices and multicultural competence.
“The bosses who scored low on prejudices and high on emotional stability and flexibility were more prone to hiring the Turkish applicant,” says Horverak.
The hiring process is a complicated and complex situation and Horverak thinks it’s hard to say why managers value candidates who are similar to themselves and why they should be sufficiently similar to these bosses before they can be appreciated for their potential for contributing new, different or unique qualities to the organisation.
“In our experiments we stipulated that the applicant who was hired would be given a key position in the department, and that he would be working closely with the boss. This can also have triggered some scepticism.”
“Most of the managers in our study reported having a very low share of immigrant employees in their department. So it’s also possible they weren’t particularly used to collaboration with immigrant colleagues,” Horverak adds.
Lessons to learn
If it’s true that Norwegian bosses tend to hire people who are similar to themselves and prefer homogenous organisations, this could have consequences – for the companies and for the applicants with immigrant backgrounds. The researcher thinks that if so much emphasis is given to congruity Norwegian enterprises can miss out on the advantages of staff diversity, while competent persons are excluded from the workforce.
She says this means it’s important to raise consciousness about potential bias pitfalls in job interviews and it should be clearer what relates to the applicant’s real qualities and what simply relates to the boss’s preferences. Job requirements should be specified and it should be clear what information is relevant for a job position and what isn’t.
Jobseekers with immigrant backgrounds can also gain from the doctoral study.
“They should consider the way they present themselves in a job interview. We see that those who clearly articulate a wish to hang onto their own culture trigger scepticism among bosses, which in turn reduces their employment opportunities.”
“They should also acquaint themselves with an organisation’s goals and find out what they can contribute to the enterprise and be explicit about this during the interview,” recommends Horverak.
Jøri Gytre Horverak: Sense or sensibility in hiring processes: Interviewee and interviewer characteristics as antecedents of immigrant applicants` employment probabilities. An experimental approach. Doctoral thesis, University of Bergen, 2012
Translated by: Glenn Ostling