Discrimination vs Diversity: trying to work for an NGO or government agency in Germany

Germany has a significant number of highly skilled and professional migrants in the social sector but they face employment barriers in German NGOs and CSOs. 

I’m a German citizen. I am also a migrant – maybe not one that’s in high demand but certainly one with the right skill-sets, professional experience, energy and outlook, that German NGOs and government agencies could benefit from.

In my hunt for a potential new job, I’ve been struck by a number of artificial barriers. Firstly, Germany doesn’t actually do enough for diversity.

The NGO world here is dominated by organisations rooted in Christian values and ones that have seemingly discriminatory hiring practices. I’m unable to work for the majority of these NGOs because I don’t have the “right” religion. Yet most of these NGOs are not privately funded. No. Most of their financing stems from grant agreements with German governmental institutions. Indirectly, tax payers are financing very discriminatory practices, indeed. This needs to end!

This problematic not only extends to employers but also to service providers. In 2012, a primarily government funded but church managed hospital in Cologne even denied contraceptive treatment to a rape victim. This sparked massive public debate as many government-funded public services are managed by such organisations, legally however, nothing can be done about these kinds of discriminatory practices. Most religious organisations are exempt from abiding to Equal Opportunities legislation in Germany. I find it incredible that such practices can continue to exist in a supposedly multicultural society and one which has opened its doors to million of refugees and migrants – groups that many of these NGOs or service providers actually serve.

Taking a look at how government agencies discriminate against minorities is also really interesting. On the face of it, I belong to one of those minorities that German agencies apparently want most: educated, a woman, ethnic background. However, while analyzing the very rigorous selection (or exclusionary) criteria for applicants trying to get into a government agency, you’ll come to wonder whether diversity is really wanted. There’s no real enabling framework to ensure it and often, there’s a kind of dominant cultural mindset applied to the actual formulation of selection criteria that hardly any minority migrant could meet. If like me, a German citizen who grew up and was educated elsewhere, reading entry requirements such as “you need to have been successfully pre-selected for a Junior Professional Programme (JPO)” (even though this criteria has nothing to do with the job at hand or the skills needed for it), well, how on earth can you meet that requirement when the country you come from doesn’t pay in to the JPO system? I.e. the very fact that you are a migrant or have a minority background doesn’t mean you have the same access to programmes and opportunities that other Germany-born citizens have access to.

Is the whole diversity agenda simply window dressing, or are HR departments simply incompetent or unaware of how they disable diversity? I’ll hope for the latter and hope that with your help, we can address more of these kinds of issues in Germany or in other EU countries. With the rise of right-wing populist movements it’s high-time for political actors to re-think the way in which they reinforce discriminatory practices and identify measures to transcend these to stand-up for equal rights and more equality. If you have similar stories to share, I’d love to hear more from you!


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