Suddenly there was a strange hand in his hair. Regina Sandig came to work one morning and had a different hairstyle, not a hair extension like before, but her natural frizzy hair. “May I?” A colleague called and before Sandig could answer the woman grabbed his hair. “I was totally puzzled, it was one of those times when you were speechless,” she said. “Black people are always considered exotic, we have different rules.”
Crossing borders, micro-attacks, discrimination – women of immigrant background often experience this kind of thing at work or when looking for a job – and this slows them down, often despite the best qualifications. Many stories come to mind as sandy. For example, the farewell after a successful internship. “Yes, Ms. Sandig, you brought a lot of color to our team,” said the boss. An embarrassed silence in the room.
Sandig has decided to change something. Along with seven other women, she is part of the Swans Initiative team, which advocates for a fairer labor market for students, graduates and young professionals with an immigrant background, black women and women of color with grew up in German language. countries. The Swans Initiative offers seminars and webinars, candidate screening, mentoring and coaching. And very important: Swans is a community where “swans” can exchange ideas and stay in touch with each other for the long haul. Nearly 400 women are now part of the network. “When you talk to others, you see that the problem is not me, that it is not about individual experiences, but that it is something structural,” says Sandig. “It saves energy that we can use for other things, like finding a good job.”
But so far, there have been no offers of help specifically tailored to them. The eight women on Team Swans straddle several factors that discriminate against people: immigration history, ethnicity or religion, a name that is not that easy to pronounce, and often these are also children of the working class and the first of their families. who have studied. “Then you just behave different from the orthodontist’s daughters,” explains Martha Dudzinski, the initiative’s executive director. And then they are also women. Some of the founders of Swans were fellows with the Deutschlandstiftung Integration, which helps young people with a migration biography on their career path – but at the meetings there, men often spoke up. “We said afterwards that we would like to have a room like this – only without men,” says Dudzinski.
“Oh, you can speak German well”
Discrimination is often not explicitly meant to be bad, but it always hurts and shows that one assumes the other is not one of them, Dudzinski says. Those who are thus stigmatized find it difficult to work, also because it can happen that we internalize non-belonging. There are often questions and statements like: “Oh, but you speak German well” or “Oh, so your dad lets you work? Or “Can I touch your hair?” “There is always the implication that your qualifications are being denied or at least questioned,” says Dudzinski. “Anyone who has always had the feeling of having a seat at the table has a completely different attitude, a completely different self-image,” explains the 32-year-old woman, whose family is from Poland and who did not dare to go. start at the start. studies favor the best internship positions. “We want to provide a space where you can understand, where you can let go. And where you can overcome it.”
People with an immigrant background have many disadvantages at work – although as many of them aged 25 to 34 have a university degree as people without a migratory background: 26.1%. According to the 21st Social Survey of the German Students’ Union, just over 215,000 women with an immigrant background and 421,000 women between the ages of 18 and 36 had a university degree in Germany in 2016, for a total of 636,000 highly qualified. immigrant women – potential swans. Nevertheless, they remain under-represented in the academic labor market. For example, according to a Bonn Institute study on the future of work, women wearing headscarves had to apply 7.6 times more often for jobs with higher education than female applicants with German names to be invited. to an interview.
This not only hurts the candidates themselves, but also the economy. A number of studies have shown that diversity and better economic outcomes are linked. But most of the efforts to achieve diversity in the German economy are primarily directed at women – and even then, with moderate success, after all, other countries like the United States have many more female bosses. As of February 2021, the employment platform Indeed did not find any of the most frequent first names of the managing directors of 318,190 GmbH in Germany that could be inferred from a migratory background. Only ten names of women enter the top 70, it is only in 69th place that Ali appears, a first name which suggests an Arab or Turkish origin. It takes a long search to find names of women who sound like migratory origins.
The Swans initiative is developing and becoming more and more professional. So far, the founders have done their volunteer work alongside their studies, work and baby, but it’s hard to manage. From September, Dudzinski, who previously worked as a press spokesperson for Mercedes, will take care of the Swans full-time. And the initiative will soon become a non-profit GmbH. Funding comes among others from the Robert Bosch Foundation. The Swans also work with employers such as McKinsey and the international law firm Skadden. Sandig has already attended a seminar on wage negotiation – an enriching experience. “Before that, I didn’t know you could even negotiate a salary,” she says. “My parents could never do that.” His parents came to Germany from Ghana, among other things, they worked as building cleaners and household help. Sandig was born in Germany, studied history and social sciences in Berlin and London, received a scholarship from the German National Academic Foundation, and today works as an intern at the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt. “We all grew up here, we made our way through school, did very well and became academics,” said the 26-year-old. “When we entered the workforce, we all noticed that there are certain drawbacks that we have in common, that there are these foreign brands.”