Amsterdam Centre for Inequality Studies (AMCIS)

Ethnic discrimination on the labour market – the role of employers

22 June 2018

Ethnic discrimination on the labour market is a major concern for societies seeking equality. Unequal treatment of citizens leads to inequality, deficient participation and loss of capacity. Sociologist Bram Lancee of the University of Amsterdam will be studying the specific role of employers in the process of discrimination.

How does the culture and structure of organisations influence discrimination of ethnic minorities on the labour market? This is the main question being addressed in Bram Lancee's research, for which he recently received a Vidi grant.

Prior research focused on job seekers

This particular question has not yet been researched all that extensively. Although research shows that employers do discriminate, usually explanations are sought in the characteristics of the job seekers, such as their skills, motivation and work experience. However, this does not explain the differences between organisations and much less is known about the role of employers.

The role of employers and international comparison

Sociologist Bram Lancee will be studying the connection between institutional context, the behaviour of employers and the lack of equal treatment of ethnic minorities on the labour market and will be drawing international comparisons. As such, this will be the first major cross-national study of the role that employers play in discrimination. For example, do companies with professional recruitment teams discriminate less? How do the prejudices of individual employers influence the recruitment process? What are the differences and similarities between organisations and countries? Lancee hypothesises that the structure of national institutions and organisations allows room for ethnic discrimination.

Lab research, field studies and questionnaires

For his research, Lancee will be using a combination of methods: vignettes, field studies, lab experiments and questionnaires. He will be using these in non-governmental institutions in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and the UK to look at the following occupational groups: cooks, accountants, IT specialists, administrative staff, shopping assistants and hotel reception staff. This will allow Lancee to analyse the organisation's structure, HR policy and interethnic attitudes and thereby attempt to explain the discriminatory behaviour of employers.

How can sociologists contribute to our knowledge of discrimination?

'Sociologists can provide valuable insights into the process of discrimination by constantly making connections between the various levels of employee, employer and institution', according to Lancee. For instance, it is a known fact that people with prejudices tend to discriminate more readily, but how does this relate to the context they operate in? Making the aforementioned connections may provide an answer.

Recommendations for employers and policymaking

In addition to generating academic output, Bram Lancee intends to use his Vidi research to issue recommendations to employers and government entities, thus contributing to policymaking. Is it possible, for example, to organise selection processes in a way that reduces the chance of discrimination? Which teams would be able to reduce the number of discriminatory decisions? How can employers become aware of implicit bias?

About Bram Lancee

Bram Lancee is associate professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam. He conducts research into ethnic inequality on the labour market, social capital and social participation, attitudes towards ethnic minorities and ethnic diversity.

About Vidi grants

Vidi grants (totalling €800,000) are awarded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Researchers can use these grants for a five-year period to develop their own innovative line of research and establish a research group.

Published by  Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences