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  • Yasmin

Germany’s Problem with hiring Minorities in Public Administrations

It’s not a secret that Germany‘s public administration is lacking some color in its ministries. For many years public administrations refused to conduct a broad questionnaire on the ethnicity of their officers. Even pressured by Citizens for Europe, official data can’t be provided, which makes the fight for equal opportunity even harder. Reasons cited were the comprehensive data protection regulations that protect employees of the public administration. Rough estimates made by Citizens for Europe illustrate that Germany is rather homogeneous when it comes to recruiting for administrative leadership positions: 11 percent of those leading in public administration have a migration background. That estimate includes all people, with a migration background, including those of European and North-American descent. We therefore still lack data on how many BPoC are currently employed as leading officers in public administration. A study by the Bundesministerium des Innern, für Bau und Heimat from 2016 however shows that those employed in public administration with a migration background (an estimate of 15% in total) are often young women, in low tire jobs without the status of being a civil servant and often with temporary contracts. This also means that this group of women does not benefit from the many privileges given to most civil servants.

With these numbers and issues in mind, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung together with the Deutsche Zentrum für Integrations- und Migrationsforschung conducted a qualitative study in 2019 to answer what measures have been introduced to increase the number of people with a migration background in public offices. The study focused on questioning commissioners for integration and cultural diversity in ministries. Although more young Germans with a migration background were recruited, new employees mostly filled mid-ranking positions, while higher level positions still lack minority representation. Recruiters offered a lack of qualified candidates as an explanation. Given the fact that in 2018 20 percent of all Germans with a migration background possessed an university degree (in absolute numbers this would account to 2.9 Million people), this argument does not cut any ice here. The study concluded that the barriers existing for minorities to build a career in public administrations are much more of systematic nature.

There are many reasons why this is the case, but I want to focus on one specific systematic aspect that I believe is crucial for the lack of minorities in higher level positions: Internships. Internships are one way to a) collect crucial work experience, b) broaden ones own network and c) get first impressions of a future possible workplace. Recruiters often look at previous experience in similar fields or if candidates already have experience at the recruiting place. It is therefore important that equal access to such internships is guaranteed, especially with internships that are associated as elite programs.

The real cost of Internships

There are real costs associated with internships in Public Administration. Most internships are unpaid or offer a small allowance of 300€. 300€ is not quite an aid, when it comes to finding and affording an apartment in Berlin, where most ministries are located. Affordability of internships becomes more of an issue for more and more students, especially for those, from low-income households. Internships should be an opportunity to start a career. Having to question whether one can AFFORD to take advantage of such opportunity highlights that it is harder for young people from low-income households to climb the career, and ultimately the social latter.

Considering the fact that 27 percent of families with a migration history are at risk of poverty (especially affected are families with a Turkish background with 36 percent) it shouldn’t be surprising that not many young People of Color (PoC) are able to participate at such programs. This percentage does not even include single mothers with a migration history, who are especially vulnerable to poverty (51 percent of single mothers with a migration background are at risk of poverty). As a member of that particular group, I can speak from my own experience: Building a career with such pre-conditions is not cute! Although BAföG (Financial help from the government for students) exists, not everyone from these vulnerable groups is qualified to receive federal help. Again speaking from my own experience, I was not able to receive financial assistance because in my particular case – although being raised by a single mom from this particular vulnerable group since the age of two – my father is business man. It doesn’t really matter what relationship or if there even is a relationship existing between child and one particular parent, if one of the two parents earns a specific amount, federal support is almost impossible to receive. Not being able to receive BAföG also happens to affect another way to receive assistance: Scholarships! Students, who are not eligible for the BAföG program receive a maximum of 300€ each month from the German Studienwerke (not to forget that the German Scholarship landscape is rather homogeneous as well and just recently started to include programs for young Muslims for instance). Now where does this leave someone in such situation? You can either sue one of your parents, without any guarantee of winning and also risk sitting on the costs of trial. Or you work… A LOT! I could go on and describe how this affects further the ability to take part in elite internships but I think the point was made clear.

Acknowledging the issue of lacking diversity within public administration is a first step to change something about it. Now it’s time to actually do something. One way is to start at a grass root level and financially support young people of color in entry-level positions and internships. Investing in that group of people can actually increase the diversity within leadership positions in public administrations in the long run. If introducing salaries poses a bigger issue, then adapt the amount of allowance you pay to interns depending on the location of work! An internship for instance at the German Embassy in Ottawa (yes, the featured picture is me walking for the German Embassy at the Pride Parade in Ottawa) is going to cost less than an internship at the German Consulate in New York. 300€ will most definitely not help the intern in New York, which turns an opportunity like this into a privilege, only those who can afford can take advantage of. Same thing goes for internships located Germany: cost of living in Munich or Berlin are going to be higher than in Buxtehude. If we want to increase diversity and representation of minorities in our public offices, we need to stop ignoring how financial security affects internship opportunities for people of color.

All numbers and statistics are based from the following links:

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