“You need to try harder,” one of my office mates jokes sarcastically and we all laugh, but the laughter is tinged with a sense of letdown.
Mr. Kováč, holds a college business degree, knows five languages and has many years of professional experience in settings ranging from the non-profit and government to the private sector. He has, for instance, worked as Project Manager at both, the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the non-profit Athinganoi, an organization specializing in supporting Romani students in obtaining secondary and post-secondary education.
Since losing his job eight months ago, he has been searching for work. He has applied for more than sixty positions and has gone through an average of seven job interviews a week to no avail.
Recently, he applied for the position of Local Coordinator at the governmental Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities, which employs only one Roma of the total of twenty-five staff. As a strongly qualified applicant and a Roma himself, he was convinced his chances were high, especially considering the fact that the role of the agency is to promote the integration of Roma in socially excluded regions in the job market, among its other missions.
Upon successfully completing the first phase of the interview process, Mr. Kováč was verbally invited back. However, soon he learned he was not selected for the second round of interviews.
Mr. Kováč’s experience is not unique. A multi-country study by the European Roma Rights Center, conducted partly in the Czech Republic, found this to be the case:
The most prevalent incidence of employment discrimination against Roma is at the job search stage and in the recruitment practices that companies apply. Raw, direct discrimination prevents applicants from even reaching the phase of the interview. Many companies have a total exclusion policy regarding the employment of Roma and practice across-the-board unmitigated discrimination against Romani applicants. As a result, Romani job-seekers are eliminated and excluded from the application process at the very outset; regardless of education, qualifications and competences for the job.
In his appeal letter, sent to the agency which rejected him after the first round of interviews, Mr. Kováč wonders whether the organizations in charge of eliminating barriers to equal participation in Czech society facing the Roma are truly “pro-Roma.“ He writes:
The Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities was founded to advocate for the social inclusion of Roma . . . One of its roles is to promote the inclusion of Roma from socially excluded communities in the job market. There is also a whole host of non-governmental and non-profit organizations which present themselves as “pro-Roma.“ They champion an open attitude on the part of employers towards the Roma under the generous support of the European Social Fund. Are these organizations themselves actually open to employing the Roma and are they in reality practicing what they preach?
When the fact that not a single Roma advanced to the second round of interviews was criticized, Michael Kocáb, commissioner on human rights, who chairs the Monitoring Committee of the Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities, responded that he was not aware that there were any Roma applicants interviewed to begin with. Mr. Kocáb has in the past said he is committed to increasing the number of Roma employees in the governmental agency. Additionally, Mr. Kováč was promised an appointment where he could present his case, but this meeting never took place. Instead, in the hall of the Office of the Government, in passing, he was told by the agency’s director that he was not chosen because he lacked the necessary qualifications, although he was clearly selected as a promising candidate earlier.
Many a study, including a 2008 report prepared jointly by the Government of the Czech Republic and the World Bank, conclude that the barriers for the Roma in the job market are largely due to a lack of skills and qualifications. But what about the Roma who do possess the experience and skills that match the position sought?
The above-mentioned 2006 ERRC study, Systemic Exclusion of Roma from Employment, states:
The mass-unemployment of working age Roma is most often perceived as a labour market supply- side issue and the high level of unemployment is attributed to Roma’s inability to find employment because of their low levels of education; out-of-date work skills and detachment from the labour market. Also because large segments of the Romani community lost out during the economic and industrial restructuring that occurred during the transition from Communism. Undoubtedly, these factors create very real barriers that reduce employability and exclude many Roma from work but there is another dimension – discrimination – which significantly aggravates the situation and causes systemic exclusion from employment for vast numbers of working-age Roma.
Mr. Kováč touches on the very issue of anti-Roma discrimination in his letter:
I want the society to know that the Roma are continuing their education, raising their qualifications, applying for quality work, but that still barriers, factors and influences exist which make it impossible to achieve success.
Unfortunately, both cronyism and racism still play a determining role in key decision-making in this country. Those with whom I have spoken who have been active in Roma rights advocacy for years confirm this reality, which the ERRC study enumerates and Mr. Kováč's story illustrates.
One way to combat discrimination in the job search and recruitment stage, suggests ERRC, is to mandate the collection of data disaggregated by ethnicity and to monitor and respond, in a structural way, to inequities based on this data in order to improve job access for qualified Roma applicants. This is currently not done. The ERRC states:
There is strong evidence, from countries with the most effective measures to combat racial discrimination in employment, that workforce monitoring, including the collection of data on ethnicity, is a key means of obtaining statistical evidence to support positive actions to address under-representation of ethnic groups in the workplaces and more generally in specific occupations and sectors of the labour market. Monitoring, recording, reporting and responding to the ethnic composition of a workplace are key factors that guarantee the effectiveness and efficiency of equal opportunities policies.
[This post originally appeared on Tereza Bottman's blog.]