Monday, January 30, 2006

Discrimination in France

The Washington Post is to be applauded.
Another article, this time by John Ward Anderson, appeared yesterday focusing on racial/ethnic discrimination in France.

When the prime minister of France wanted a powerful, unimpeachable voice torecommend how to end job discrimination in the country, he turned to ClaudeBebear, an outspoken takeover artist who had built a small regional insurance firm into the world's biggest.

Bebear, who saw racial discrimination as one of France's most deeply rooted and insidious problems, did not disappoint. In a report 14 months ago, he brought a largely hidden topic into full public view. Bebear laid out a series of proposed remedies, including a colorblind recruiting tool known as the "anonymous résumé."
Typically, in France, "they throw away the résumés of people who are from bad parts of town which are supposed to have Arabs or blacks," Bebear, 70, said in an interview. "When you have somebody whose name is Mohammed and he lives in St. Denis," a low-income community outside Paris, "you say, 'I won't bother with that one,' and so they don't even answer them."

The solution, Bebear said, is to strip résumés of anything that could tip off recruiters to a person's racial, ethnic and national background or other information that could be used to discriminate -- name, age, sex, even residential postal code. "Then the man who is in charge of recruitment will look at that and say, 'Oh, that résumé is a very good one. Send me that guy,' and in the folder he has in front of him is an old black woman or a handicapped person."

That piece is an echo of another one by Molly Moore linked in my MLK Day post.

As a 24-year-old intern in a Paris office of Adecco, one of the world's largest hiring agencies for temporaries, Gerald Roffat interviewed dozens of job applicants in 2000. He rated them according to skills -- PR1 for the best candidates -- and by skin color. PR4 was primarily for black job seekers.

When Roffat questioned this system of segregating applicants, he recalled in an interview, a colleague told him: "It's better to respect the choices of the client. If they don't want a black guy, you have to send what the client wants. It's business."

The clients that refused to accept black employees for their most visible service jobs included some of the city's best-known hotels, restaurants and department stores, as well as local government agencies and the Foreign Ministry, according to Roffat, whose parents immigrated to France from the West Indies. Other clients, among them the Disneyland Resort Paris theme park, imposed limits on the number of black workers they accepted, he said.

Both pieces are worth reading. I come away from them with the idea that finding examples of discrimination in France is as easy as picking cherries. Each uses a different company to make the same point, and each leaves the impression that the stories illustrate the rule, not the exceptions.

This morning's reading brings me to another prescient article from 2003 making the same point. Time/Europe had the goods on French hiring practices three years ago -- and predicted the recent explosions in the "suburbs" (banlieues as they are called).
"Finding a job is hard for everyone today, but even harder if your name has a foreign ring, or you come from the banlieues," says Agalia, a Frenchwoman of Arab extraction recently hired to sell AXA policies. "That social and professional discrimination must be stopped," Bébéar adds, "or France will one day explode."
The WaPo story yesterday derives from the same corporate source, AXA's Claude Bébéar.
Under Bébéar's leadership the firm's name was changed to AXA Group in 1985; the choice was astute because, although the letters did not stand for anything, they would come at the beginning of alphabetical lists, and people worldwide could pronounce the name. Bébéar's skill at operating outside his country's borders was becoming apparent.
...Although he officially retired as AXA's director when he turned 65 in 2000, Bébéar remained active as the chairman of AXA's supervisory board. In its August 11, 2003, issue, Fortune included Bébéar on its list of the 12 most powerful business leaders outside the United States.
...In 2001 Bébéar headed the committee to locate the 2008 Olympics in Paris. He also helped found the Institut Montaigne, a think tank that analyzed French economic challenges. Bébéar resisted overtures to become involved in his country's volatile political scene, twice turning down offers to become finance minister, although he did not rule out future involvement.
Thanks to The Lounsbury for pointing out yesterday's article.

I would love to sit here and peck out line after line of preaching, but after a year at blogging I have come to the conclusion that no one is really interested in what I have to say. Besides, it is usually predictable after reading my links.

I simply hope and pray that the links will work their power, at the right places and the right times, to nudge some reader, somewhere to think a little more clearly.
Anyone who reads the Lounsbury's commentary and follow-up remarks in the comments thread -- blunt instruments that they are -- and still fails to grasp the point [...the "French intifada" meme was nonsense then and even more nonsensical now, but you don't see anyone saying they were wrong] is probably too blind to see blood on a white floor.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gerald Roffat's blog:

In english:
In french: