Why being gay, a woman or from an immigrant background is still bad for your career in modern France


Discrimination is alive and kicking in France, according to a study by the state's official statistical agency INSEE. Whether it involves education, career progression, pay or getting access to housing, there are obstacles and hurdles at all levels of society for disabled, women and gay people as well as those from immigrant backgrounds. Nor does having good qualifications always make the situation better - indeed, in some cases the inequality gets worse higher up the workplace ladder. As Carine Fouteau reports, the study suggests there is a real need for more concrete action despite the pledges and fine words from President Hollande and his government.

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A study by the government’s official statistical agency INSEE paints a gloomy social portrait of a France that is undermined by layers of discrimination. A person's disability, gender, ethnic origins or sexual orientation leaves them at risk of unequal treatment, whether it be at school, in seeking public housing or in the workplace, according to the agency's publication Économie et statistique – 'Economics and Statistics' – in a wide-ranging review of recent studies on the subject. As a result, many claim, French society has become closed and unequal, leaving victims uncomprehending and often angry, fuelling the risk of a potentially dangerous backlash.

It is an issue that has certainly been on the political agenda in recent times. Fighting against discrimination was a central theme of President François Hollande's election campaign in 2012, and during his presidency there have been some legislation to back up his promises, notably laws allowing same-sex marriages and enshrining workplace equality between men and women. But critics suggest the early momentum has since slowed, particularly with respect to people from immigrant backgrounds, for whom no concrete measures have yet been adopted.

In his outline of government policy last week, the new prime minister Manuel Valls did address himself directly to “our youth, those notably from working class areas, [who are] I know, too often victims of discrimination”. Valls continued: “Often these young people would like...to love France and for it to love them. I want to say to all these talented people who think that France has no place for them that France needs them.” However, there was no plan of action announced to back up these words.

When it comes to the workplace in particular the INSEE report highlights clear and current discrimination, especially when using the definition of American economist James Heckman. He says discrimination occurs “when two workers with perfectly identical productive characteristics and which differ only by non-productive characteristics, do not receive the same benefits (access to employment, training, promotions, salary levels, etc..) from a company”. Here Mediapart focuses on three blatant examples of discrimination.

Ethnic origins and hiring

One of the most striking studies in the INSEE report, carried out by Emilia Ene Jones, a researcher at the University of Paris-Est, is devoted to discrimination in the
hiring of young people of North African origin in the Paris region. Even if they are better qualified, these job seekers have less chance of getting an interview than candidates whose parents are of French nationality and who have no immigrant background.