Your name can be crucial in (not) getting a job in Denmark

From the right: Carolina Maier, Majken Danstrup, Ahmad Durani and Malte Rokkjær Dahl. Photo: Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke

Job applicants with Middle-Eastern names have to send 52% more applications to be invited for a job interview compared to applicants with Danish names

By: Andreas Canvin & Alicia Corpas

Danish employers discriminate against applicants with names such as ‘Muhammed’ or ‘Fatima’ in the selection of who to invite for a job interview. That is the conclusion of a large study from the University of Copenhagen published in 2017.

Last Tuesday, the study’s findings were debated in the Danish capital of Copenhagen. The public debate was hosted by the human rights organization Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke that had invited a number of experts and opinion makers to debate discrimination on the job market.

There were noumerous questions from the audience that consisted of around 100 people. Photo: Alicia Corpas

Demand for a dynamic job market

“In the last decades, we have recognized a range of new ethnicities in our society, but the Danish job market have not adapted to a more diverse population,” Mursal Khosrawi said in an opening statement.

She works at Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke and was the moderator of the debate, but she also shared experiences from her work with diversity on the job market. Mursal Khosrawi referenced the 2017 study from the University of Copenhagen proving the hidden obstacles that job applicants with Middle-Eastern names face when applying for a job.

The study was made by Ph.D. students Malte Dahl and Niels Krog who sent out 800 fictive job applications to 400 real job adverts. The applications were written in perfect Danish and did not differ significantly in its content. The only difference was the name, where half of the applications were sent by an applicant named, as an example, ‘Abdul’ instead of ‘Anders’. The applications were sent to a broad range of job adverts in both the public and the private sector.

Prior to the event, people voiced criticism over the lack of minority representation on the panel. Photo: Alicia Corpas

Anonymous job applications

MP Carolina Magdalena Maier from green party Alternativet (The Alternative) shared her party’s experience with removing the name and other ‘ethnicity indicators’ from the job applications that they receive for their job postings.

“The anonymization allowed us to focus only on the text and not what you would associate a given name with,” she said. She acknowledged that it was a bureaucratic challenge at times, but it was worth it, she says. Alternativet have not collected data on whether their employment practice has diversified the party’s workforce.

Diversity of thought

But diversity statistically is not necessarily diversity in practice according to Ahmad Durani, sociologist and diversity consultant.

“Diverse representation is also about different ways of thinking and sets of values. Gender equality on company’s executive board is only a number if all the women there embodies ‘masculine’ values and are expected not to have ‘feminine’ values such as empathy,” he explained.

Ahmad Durani underlined that studies have shown how diverse workplace can create a stronger sense of belonging and even increased profits.

A study from the Danish cleaning company ISS showed that there was a higher degree of cooperation and belonging in diverse working teams. The company has 7200 employees in Denmark and employs people from 118 different countries.

Majken Danstrup voiced her support for Durani’s point in reference to her own experience at TDC. She works as Head of Recruitment in the telecom company TDC that has 8000 employees in Denmark.


Immigration is an intensly discussed in Denmark as well as Europe right now. Photo: Alicia Corpas

Changed image

Majken Danstrup has worked with training leading TDC-employees in acknowledging their own biases. 10% of TDC’s workforce consists of employees with another ethnic background than Danish – mainly Middle-Eastern. That is more than in the general population, where 8.5% have a non-Danish background.  But Majken Danstrup underlined that there is a long way to go.

“We have to change our image so TDC is not only perceived as an all-Danish workplace,” she explained. Practically, Majken Danstrup will make TDC’s job adverts reflect a diverse workplace both in imagery and in the text.

In the audience, the comment by Majken Danstrup made 27-year old Linn Engelsen reflect. She works as a Nordic Recruiter at a large IT company and went to the debate to learn about best practices in diversifying one’s work force.

“Attitudes can change in a decade, but a company’s image can change quickly by using diverse images representing more than only the majority population,” she said.

In their CSR-report from 2018, TDC has pledged to work to achieve a number of the UN’s Global Goals for 2030. Goal 5 and 10 aims at eliminating discrimination across gender, ethnicity etc.


Made by Alicia Corpas and Andreas Canvin using Piktochart


This story targets Guardian readers since it deals with a political and complex matter perfectly fit for a center-left newspaper with a primarily academic audience.