Study points to discrimination in recruiting process

A study of recruitment in Austria shows the country has a particular issue with discrimination in the labour market in terms of age, gender and ethnicity. The research suggests that, although general discrimination in Austria is perceived as below the EU27 average, this is not the case in recruitment practices. Austria is among the six EU27 countries where companies are most likely to discriminate against potential employees on the grounds of ethnic origin and gender.

About the study

A study has looked at the question of ethic, age and gender discrimination in the recruiting processes of the Austrian labour market.

The study, Understanding and resolving discrimination in recruiting processes (926 KB PDF), was carried out by the Department for Migration and Globalisation at the Danube University Krems. It was financed by the European Commission as part of the PROGRESS Programme (Community Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity 2007–2013). The study is based on the secondary analysis of Labour Force Survey data, focus groups with experts and an online company survey.

The study analyses the extent of discrimination in the Austrian labour market, based on a definition of discrimination from a labour–economic perspective. It presents results from an online survey of 199 companies addressing ‘diversity in the recruitment processes’. The study focuses on discrimination in recruiting processes on the grounds of ethnic origin, gender and age.

Extent of discrimination

The study presents interesting results from the secondary analysis of Eurostat data. They show that there is a difference in perceptions of general discrimination and of discrimination in recruitment processes. This is true for all European countries, but especially so for Austria.

In terms of general discrimination, Austrian respondents report below average levels in all three dimensions – ethnic origin, gender and age – compared to the EU27 as a whole. However, the reported levels are above average when it comes to discrimination in the recruiting process.

The top-ranking discrimination factor in recruitment processes is age. In Austria, 56% of respondents regard age, being 55 or over, as a disadvantage in recruiting processes. Across the EU27 the average figure is 54%.

Discrimination by ethnic origin or skin colour is recognised as a factor by 53% of respondents, which places Austria in sixth place in the European ranking. This compares to an average of only 39% in the EU27 as a whole. In terms of discrimination based on gender, the country occupies a similar position – 29% regard gender as a possible disadvantage compared to only 22% in the EU27. This puts Austria in fifth place in the European ranking.

By contrast, Austria is placed at the bottom of the table regarding knowledge of the rights of victims of discrimination and in particular regarding information on measures that might promote diversity in the workplace such as diversity training, non-discriminatory recruitment processes, and monitoring the diversity of workforce composition.

The secondary analysis therefore provides some empirical evidence that discrimination in recruitment processes is a major and sensitive issue in the Austrian labour market.

Online company survey

The online survey sample covered 199 businesses and organisations, and was made up of 60% private companies, 29% public or non-profit organisations and 11% public authorities. Broken down by organisation size, the sample comprised 37% with fewer than 50 employees, 26% with between 50 and 249 employees, and 37% with 250+ employees.

Recruitment practices

An examination of the surveyed companies’ recruitment practices over the past three to five years supports the evidence that age discrimination is the biggest issue. During that period, 91% of the companies hired female employees, a still substantial 78% recruited workers with an ethnic background. In the same period, only 48% of the participating companies reported hiring people aged 50 or over.

In terms of ‘functional areas’, the recruitment process followed well-known segmented personnel deployment strategies. Most commonly, people with an ethnic background (60%) and aged 50-plus (45%) were hired in the area of production/service. The figures showed 66% of female employees were recruited for jobs in administration.

‘Hindering factors’

The participating companies were asked if there were specific hindering factors for the recruitment of each of the three groups. For people with an ethnic background, 47% of companies agreed there were ‘specific hindering factors’; for potential recruits aged 50 or over, 35% of companies said there were problems with this group; and gender played a minor role, regarded by only 17% of companies as presenting specific recruitment problems.

The ‘hindering factors’ reported for people from an ethnic background included language problems (74%), low skill levels (38%), and problems with residency or work permits (33%). The authors of the study assume there are underlying discrimination processes at work here, such as classification based on common prejudice and stereotypes and the non-recognition or refusal to accept formal qualifications acquired in the country of origin.


The study shows that discrimination in recruitment processes is still prevalent in Austria. However, the study makes it clear that discrimination is a social phenomenon that is difficult to cover in all its complexities by means of empirical research.

Discrimination is a highly sensitive issue and is still very much a taboo subject in Austria, and therefore can be difficult to tackle in questionnaires or interviews. For this reason, the authors propose addressing the issue of discrimination in the framework of different ways of dealing with diversity.

The study also offers a range of potential solutions to tackling the issue.

Manfred Krenn, FORBA (Working Life Research Centre)




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