Discrimination Against Swedish with Immigrant Background in workplace, The Hidden Threats & How to Prevent Them.

Workplace discrimination

Workplace discrimination refers to a situation in which a job candidate or employee is treated poorly, i.e., discriminated against, because of their age, disability, genetic information, national origin, pregnancy status, race, or skin colour- religion or sex. However, in this article I have mostly focused on national origin and ethnicity discrimination for job candidates, but most other form of discrimination has very similar grounds.

According to SCB the Swedish government agency for statistics in 2021 the unemployment in Sweden for the Swedish born was around 5% while during the same period unemployment for people with immigrant background was around 21.2% this indicate still there are great discrimination against Swedish with immigrant background within the labour market in Sweden.


As an immigrant myself, this is a problem that I am very much familiar with it, as I have been unemployed since early 2020 the beginning of pandemic, despite applying for around 650 different jobs, I still have not be able to secure an employment even though I completed my education at top of my class both in high school and university here in Sweden and have many years work experience both in Sweden and UK. Unfortunately, I could not find some exact recent data about unemployment within highly educated Swedish immigrant however according to SCB in 2018 there were even big gap within that segment as unemployment for highly educated immigrant was around 8% while it was around 2% for Swedish born. And further within same segment it was even large gap where the work’s conformity with the education for immigrant was around 55% while it was 80% for Swedish born in 2018.

All statistics indicate that this structural discrimination exist in Swedish job market, but it is difficult to understand the underlining reason for this, and how we can overcome this problem in our society in order to not only create a better and more equal society but also a more productive and innovative workforce and corporate culture.

A lazy conclusion to this structural discrimination would be to blame it to the existence of racism and ultra-nationalism in Swedish society, however I have come across some white European who experienced the same kind of discrimination in Sweden. So, the problem is not just skin colour, even though I meet some black African and other ethnicities immigrants who felt that discrimination was even worse for them but that was more based on their own personal experiences and perception. I don’t deny that racism and ultra-nationalism have some part in this structural discrimination, but the statistics indicate that there are more to that, and the root to this problem is more complicated to just accuse racism for this.

For example, from my own personal experiences, I do suggest that one of the contributing factors is probably the lack of wider networks of friends and families that make it more difficult for immigrants to find job in Sweden. Even though Swedish job market has been vastly professionalized but still many jobs been offered throw friends, families, and recommendations. However, my own case is a little more complicated as I am now in my mid fifty which I suspect it can be some age discrimination too. Even though not anybody has said so, but I believe companies are much more cleaver to saying that as there is law against discrimination which you can suing them if you can prove discrimination. But something which I hear very often from employers recently is that despite my impressive educational and work background they have decided to move with other more suitable candidate which they feel it will be better fit for the job. And even in some cases they have told me that they feel that I am over qualify for the job which I believe that is the polite and legally correct way to say that I am too old.

Anyway, even that I do not have any kind of investigative journalism background but as I was unemployed and have lots of free time, I decided to investigate more about this problem hoping to get to the roots of problem and possibly find some solution that can help me and others to improve the situation.

But the problem with my investigation was that I did not know where or how to start. As this was kind of challenge that not many Swedish wanted to talk openly about it and many did even deny that it existed, and some even started to blame immigrants for this, by pointing to language barrier or lack of education or cultural differences… which is not completely wrong when you are talking about new immigrants but the statistic showed that the discrimination was going on even within highly educated immigrants who graduated from Swedish schools and universities and have lived many years in Sweden and even in many cases second generation immigrants were also subject to discrimination.


However, I had to focus, as my investigation where not about to prove this kind of discrimination existed, as there were already statistics and many other studies earlier by organisations such as IFAU (Institute for Labour Market and Education Policy Evaluation) and others which has done that. As well as I know that the solution was not legal actions or change in law as Sweden had already good employment law which prohibited discrimination in any forms but that hasn’t help to eradicate discrimination which in many cases were very difficult to prove it in courts.

Further I knew that this kind of misbehaviour was more based on bias and misinformation in society, additionally due to my experience from marketing and advertising I knew this would be very difficult to change peoples’ belief. Specially if employers believed that immigrants would be less productive or due to cultural differences, they may cause dis-harmonization in group dynamics which damage efficiency. However, I still had little information about why Swedish employers discriminate against immigrants despite various studies from reputable national and international educational and research institutions showed that diversity in the workplace enhances the critical thinking, problem-solving, and employee professional skills. Furthermore, it enables organisations to attract talent, improve corporate attractiveness and productivity.

Nevertheless, as I was searching on the internet about this subject, I came across an old article from 2008 written by Professor Paulina de los Reyes from Stockholm university which she highlighted that even then despite clear evidence of discrimination in Swedish workplace, few people openly questioned that discrimination occurred in Sweden, she wrote: even if opinions differed when it came to defining what the cause of discrimination was and how it should be combated. The questions that were asked were thus no longer about whether the discrimination occurred or its roots, but instead about what it looks like, in what situations it occurred and to what extent. Another question was in what way discrimination affects people and society’s institutions. She added; of course, there were no single answer to these questions. The discrimination that existed was regarded by some as an exception or as a deviation in an equal order. Others instead saw discrimination as a remnant of old beliefs, wrong attitudes and prejudices which must be met with information or education. There were also those who claimed that the talk of discrimination was counterproductive because it could lead to abandonment and reduced incentives to invest in education and skills development.

Reading the article by Professor Paulina de los Reyes made me to understand why 13 years later today at the end of 2021 still discrimination occurs within Swedish labour market, and it hasn’t been much progress in that front, as not only Swedish politicians had completely wrong strategy to combat discrimination and its causes, but they were also asking wrong questions.

As I mentioned earlier and has been suggested by research, discrimination is often caused by incorrect beliefs and is the result of fear. Fear of being hurt, fear of losing a way of life, fear of losing control, fear of strangers and those that are different. We should remember those underlining beliefs may be wrong but most often the fear is real as our belief system make them real. Our beliefs are the sense that something is true or not. It’s an intuition and a feeling that we have about the way things work. Our beliefs are what our mindset is based on when we’re making assumptions about how the world works. It doesn’t need to be true, if we believe it, we assume it is true.

As we know it is often difficult for people to form opinions and belief based solely on facts. People typically form their opinions and belief through emotion or group affiliation, not after considering all the facts. Research suggests that even if we know there’s a serious issue there in our belief system, it can be hard to change our minds once they’re made up. Understanding that people belief mostly is based on emotion and group affiliation and not facts should change our approach to combat discrimination. However, even it may be very difficult to change people beliefs there are potential solutions, though we may need to change our current approach if we want to take the benefits of those insights.

Why people resist facts and changes

People have a strong desire to hold on to their current beliefs and convictions. When these views give you a sense of identity and, more importantly, separate you from those who may oppose you for any number of reasons, it can be difficult to change those beliefs even when the evidence tells us we should.

“We are social animals instinctively reliant on our tribe for safety and protection,” says risk perception expert and author David Ropeik, “Any disloyalty literally feels dangerous, like the tribe will kick you out. This effect is magnified in people already worried.”

In the short term, the process of defecting can feel as terrifying as just stepping off a window ledge. This feeling is justified, to a certain extent. As when you devote more of your energy to people outside your close community, you’re going to withdraw from some aspects of your group and in some case may be isolated and lonely.


There is a certain amount of inertia at work as well. Researchers who study how people resolve cognitive dissonance – the uneasy feeling of holding inconsistent beliefs – noted that most people would rather deny or downplay new, disconcerting ideas and uncomfortable information than change their worldview to accommodate it. Even if you’re not a die-hard fan of the idea, it can be hard to change your beliefs once you’ve already decided on one of many alternatives. This is due to the simple fact that decision-making changes how we perceive what we’re deciding on. In most cases, seeing things from a favourable little angle is a good way to stay happy with our decision. That said, this outlook can also distort reality and affect the choices we make, whether it’s about work or other important facets of our life.

E.g., Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth is an important documentary, but it won’t change Gothenburg’s auto workers minds on global warming if they’re convinced the agenda behind the film is about attacking them or their way of life.

When your worldview is involved with your identity, things change when you start to question what you believe. That can be seen as a really difficult ordeal for most people.

As human beings, we all operate on different frequencies and can therefore be in disagreement with one another. This may not mean that you’re wrong and they’re right; it’s just that each party believes in something that the other doesn’t. The challenge is to figure out what that thing is that they believe and adjust your frequency to change that.

If the main concern of Gothenburg’s auto worker is employment, talking about endangered penguins or Antarctica’s melting glaciers won’t solve anything. Instead, show him how renewable energy will secure work for him and his grandchildren, it may.

In the same way if we want to be able to control discrimination in workplace, we must understand the source, causes, and the roots of discrimination. Once we know that it makes it much easier to address the problem and communicate effectively to change that behaviour. Note that I used the word control discrimination as in my view eradicate discrimination is impossible as discrimination is part of human nature which we rely to it for our survival. If you understand child psychology, you will know that from the first second we are born we start to discriminate between our mother and a stranger. That is why if we put the infant in the mother’s chest after birth, they will be calm quickly but that will not have the same effect if you put the infant in a stranger chest. However, developing the ability to distinguish a familiar face from a stranger happens in most children by the time they reach 9 months old and somewhere in between the age of 5 and 6, girls have learned to label a successful individual as “he,” and have learned that they are not male.

When tribal societies were first forming, children would have needed to identify the boundaries of their safe social group. This was necessary because there wasn’t a strong social justice system in place that could protect them. A young girl would be most safe being around women from her own tribe. To not know this would have put her at risk of harm.

However, within social psychology prejudice refers to negative attitudes or emotions against another social group, while discrimination refers to acts of negativity towards another group, to effectively control discrimination in workplace and help a group benefit from diversity, we need to adjust prejudice.

It is very important to be able to detect a person’s age, occupation and culture as different cultures have different social rules for interacting with each other. The ability to socially identify these differences is an essential phase in the process of learning society. But the problem is that when the act of social discrimination moves from being a way to pick out “your people” – to those who are not in your social group.

Feeling a need to belong, minority social groups will also often label others with the same negative labels in order to justify why they want to associate themselves with their own group. Labelling minorities and labelling majority groups is a tactic that the media uses to drag in readers with fear. They use this tactic to increase the likelihood of you continuing to read. The more that media can make you feel unsafe, the more you will want to read and seek information on the group of people that scare you.

In conclusion

Effectively managing the diversity in the workplace or society is a skill that can be learned and improved. However, by not openly talking about the weakness and problems in our society for the fear to be labelled racism, nothing will improve. Honestly, I think we are all slightly kind of racism and have our prejudices which we should work on that to improve, doesn’t matter where we are coming from. Additionally like any other problem we cannot fix it if we just try to go around it and ignore it. To fix it we need to understand the root of its causes to direct our communication correctly and address the issues and all concerns around it. As well as develop an effective management training to develop the management capacity who can harness the benefit of diversity in workplace, as in my opinion this is more management issue then racism. As it appears many Swedish managers don’t know how to manage a diverse and an international team effectively and the fear of losing control is more likely one of the biggest contributing factors to this discrimination. However, this will not be sustainable if a society cannot harness the maximum capacity from its workforce, not only it will create an unequal society but also will cause big financial cost for society specially for a country such as Sweden which already facing workforce shortage.

Anyway, this is a subject that can be discussed days and even months about it, but I think this article start to get too long and I have probably lost some of you half the way. We will try discussing more about it during the team building workshop for those who want to improve their diversity management practices.