Addressing pervasive work-place discrimination


The following story originally appeared in the Aug. 1-Sept. 4 print edition of the Budapest Business Journal.

Around half of all Hungarian workers report experiencing discrimination at work, according to a survey released on July 4. This compares poorly with Western Europe, where 35% of workers report discrimination.

The survey also found that those most likely to face discrimination are Roma, closely followed by Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) people.

The survey of 2,500 workers over the age of 15 was conducted by Gemius Hungary, a member of the “We’re Open” initiative, which tries to battle workplace discrimination. The initiative has already enlisted hundreds of Hungarian companies in its efforts to make work places more tolerant, but it is seemingly fighting an uphill battle.

Here in Hungary, the pay gap between men and women in the same position has grown from HUF 40,000 to HUF 50,000 HUF in favor of men in the last three years, according to another recent survey, this one by Educatio in Hungary.

The latest survey by Gemius shows the extent of this gender-based prejudice in detail: some 45% of respondents said they feel uncomfortable about having a female superior at work – and almost one in four don’t want to work with a woman at all.

“Not only men would not accept women; both female and male workers have prejudice against women,” Gemius analyst Ambró Stoics told the Budapest Business Journal.


Groups singled out

When it comes to workplace discrimination, many groups are disadvantaged, but the worst off are the Roma and LBGTQ people. More than two-thirds of employees (69%) said they would not accept an LGBTQ person as their manager, and even fewer, 76% would do so in the case of a Roma individual.

The problem appears to be driven by ignorance: The majority of workers have little experience of interaction with these two groups, according to Stoics.

“People belonging to sexual minorities have a visibility problem,” he explained. “Even though they make up 5-8% of society, not everybody dares to come-out, so colleagues ultimately have less personal experience with them.”

Prejudice against Roma has a different but similar cause, according to Stoics. He noted that discrimination in education and the workplace dramatically reduces Roma participation in the labor market, which again reduces first-hand contact with them on the part of employees. “Accordingly, most workers form their opinion on the basis of what is presented to them by society and the media, which leads to solidifying stereotypes,” Stoics added.


A general problem

There are other reasons for discrimination. For instance, 56% of respondents said they did not want to work for a Jewish person and 55% said they don’t want to work for someone who has different political views.

Apparently, people don’t simply hold prejudiced opinions, they also act on them: the Gemius research found that a total of 52% of the 2,500 workers surveyed have encountered negative discrimination at work. That compares poorly with the Western European average of 35%, but is better than some countries in Southeast Asia, where about 60-70% of the workforce report workplace discrimination.

While some may think that tolerance is growing, and prejudice is more common among older generations, the survey does not bear that out.

“There were no significant differences between age groups concerning employment related prejudice,” Stoics said. “The probability of better acceptance showed a correlation only with the level of education of workers.”


Open for business

If the key to fighting discrimination is education, then education about discrimination itself could improve the situation in Hungarian working environments. This seems to be the thinking behind the “We’re Open” initiative. Any company, organization or community that believes others should be judged solely on the basis of their actions and performance is welcome to join.

“On a daily average, we have two new members, so the initiative that was launched barely a year ago now has a 750+ membership,” Melinda Miklós from the Google Press Service told the BBJ on behalf of the founding firms, Prezi, Google and espell. Supporters are made up of a diverse bunch. Global brands, internationally acknowledged Hungarian startups, NGOs and a number of organizations and communities, small and large alike, are represented. “Some found us in the press or through their acquaintances, others are contacted directly by us,” Miklós said.

Perhaps the least known founder behind “We’re Open” is espell, a translation and software localization firm. “Our activity is about information exchange and transformation. We deal with communication after all just like Google and Prezi in their own way. That may play a role in the fact that we have a similar mindset in terms of corporate values, commitment and social responsibility, regardless of size or fame,” Miklós Bán, CEO of espell said.


Carry the torch

The initiative has run three major campaigns so far, with more are planned. One that is bound to become standard is the involvement in the Budapest Pride march. Both last year and this, the initiative had its own float, and Prezi front man Péter Árvai greeted the crowd in person.

“This summer, with the involvement of ‘We’re Open’, a record number of companies and organizations participated in the event and many well-known people, among them a lot of ‘first-priders’ walked along with our float,” Miklós added. “We believe that it is not enough to accept diversity, it must be supported and celebrated as well.”

“We’re Open” also launched a video campaign in the spring where high-ranking corporate representatives, celebrities and Internet users shared their experience online, and so raised their voice against prejudice. The YouTube video clips generated some 200,000 views in two weeks.


Being inclusive pays off

As evidenced by statistics, it makes business sense too to stick to being open-minded. “We would lose our colleagues if we didn’t accept each other. We would like to continue working together with our best ones. There is no other way to succeed on the global language market and with an international clientele,” Bán said of espell’s policy.

The Gemius survey strengthens the belief that, for future generations, this tolerant approach will be high on the priority list when choosing an employer, with 83% saying that they would like to work at a place where there is no discrimination. Therefore, the current situation, where one third of employers are perceived as not open, cannot be maintained.

“Serious change could come if firms realize that pursuing a prejudice-free internal policy may provide them with a competitive edge,” Bán said. “On the other hand, it will result in loss of competitiveness if those who are employed meet the personal, yet from the assignment’s perspective irrelevant, expectations of the recruiter but are not capable of performing at a high level. That is why we say being open is not only the right thing to do, but it pays off as well”.



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