Tereza Bottman

Teresa Bottman (Dzeno Association): Teresa immigrated to the US from the Czech Republic in her early teens. She then dedicated herself to understanding immigrants and marginalized youth and worked for Slavic American Youth Zane, an online magazine of writing and art by Russian-speaking American youth; Community Art Share, a showcase of artists from underrepresented group; and Czechs in America, a bilingual pod cast highlighting the experiences of Czech immigrants in the US. Teresa holds a Master’s of Education degree from Portland State University. At the time of her fellowship she was teaching high school Language Arts, English-as-a-Second-Language and Drama in Portland, Oregon. After her fellowship Teresa wrote: “I fell in love with human rights journalism. The fellowship was an incredible experience. I learned a lot, became more confident about my ability to interview people and present issues in an in-depth and informed way."

Even for Highly Qualified Roma Candidates, Racism Still a Barrier in Czech Job Market

01 Jul

“I am very upset,” says Milan Kováč, who is visiting the Dženo Association office.

“You need to try harder,” one of my office mates jokes sarcastically and we all laugh, but the laughter is tinged with a sense of letdown.

Mr. Kováč, holds a college business degree, knows five languages and has many years of professional experience in settings ranging from the non-profit and government to the private sector. He has, for instance, worked as Project Manager at both, the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the non-profit Athinganoi, an organization specializing in supporting Romani students in obtaining secondary and post-secondary education.

Since losing his job eight months ago, he has been searching for work. He has applied for more than sixty positions and has gone through an average of seven job interviews a week to no avail.

Recently, he applied for the position of Local Coordinator at the governmental Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities, which employs only one Roma of the total of twenty-five staff. As a strongly qualified applicant and a Roma himself, he was convinced his chances were high, especially considering the fact that the role of the agency is to promote the integration of Roma in socially excluded regions in the job market, among its other missions.

Upon successfully completing the first phase of the interview process, Mr. Kováč was verbally invited back. However, soon he learned he was not selected for the second round of interviews.

Mr. Kováč’s experience is not unique. A multi-country study by the European Roma Rights Center, conducted partly in the Czech Republic, found this to be the case:

The most prevalent incidence of employment discrimination against Roma is at the job search stage and in the recruitment practices that companies apply. Raw, direct discrimination prevents applicants from even reaching the phase of the interview. Many companies have a total exclusion policy regarding the employment of Roma and practice across-the-board unmitigated discrimination against Romani applicants. As a result, Romani job-seekers are eliminated and excluded from the application process at the very outset; regardless of education, qualifications and competences for the job.

In his appeal letter, sent to the agency which rejected him after the first round of interviews, Mr. Kováč wonders whether the organizations in charge of eliminating barriers to equal participation in Czech society facing the Roma are truly “pro-Roma.“ He writes:

The Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities was founded to advocate for the social inclusion of Roma . . . One of its roles is to promote the inclusion of Roma from socially excluded communities in the job market. There is also a whole host of non-governmental and non-profit organizations which present themselves as “pro-Roma.“ They champion an open attitude on the part of employers towards the Roma under the generous support of the European Social Fund. Are these organizations themselves actually open to employing the Roma and are they in reality practicing what they preach?

When the fact that not a single Roma advanced to the second round of interviews was criticized, Michael Kocáb, commissioner on human rights, who chairs the Monitoring Committee of the Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities, responded that he was not aware that there were any Roma applicants interviewed to begin with. Mr. Kocáb has in the past said he is committed to increasing the number of Roma employees in the governmental agency. Additionally, Mr. Kováč was promised an appointment where he could present his case, but this meeting never took place. Instead, in the hall of the Office of the Government, in passing, he was told by the agency’s director that he was not chosen because he lacked the necessary qualifications, although he was clearly selected as a promising candidate earlier.

Many a study, including a 2008 report prepared jointly by the Government of the Czech Republic and the World Bank, conclude that the barriers for the Roma in the job market are largely due to a lack of skills and qualifications. But what about the Roma who do possess the experience and skills that match the position sought?

The above-mentioned 2006 ERRC study, Systemic Exclusion of Roma from Employment, states:

The mass-unemployment of working age Roma is most often perceived as a labour market supply- side issue and the high level of unemployment is attributed to Roma’s inability to find employment because of their low levels of education; out-of-date work skills and detachment from the labour market. Also because large segments of the Romani community lost out during the economic and industrial restructuring that occurred during the transition from Communism. Undoubtedly, these factors create very real barriers that reduce employability and exclude many Roma from work but there is another dimension – discrimination – which significantly aggravates the situation and causes systemic exclusion from employment for vast numbers of working-age Roma.

Mr. Kováč touches on the very issue of anti-Roma discrimination in his letter:

I want the society to know that the Roma are continuing their education, raising their qualifications, applying for quality work, but that still barriers, factors and influences exist which make it impossible to achieve success.

Unfortunately, both cronyism and racism still play a determining role in key decision-making in this country. Those with whom I have spoken who have been active in Roma rights advocacy for years confirm this reality, which the ERRC study enumerates and Mr. Kováč’s story illustrates.

One way to combat discrimination in the job search and recruitment stage, suggests ERRC, is to mandate the collection of data disaggregated by ethnicity and to monitor and respond, in a structural way, to inequities based on this data in order to improve job access for qualified Roma applicants. This is currently not done. The ERRC states:

There is strong evidence, from countries with the most effective measures to combat racial discrimination in employment, that workforce monitoring, including the collection of data on ethnicity, is a key means of obtaining statistical evidence to support positive actions to address under-representation of ethnic groups in the workplaces and more generally in specific occupations and sectors of the labour market. Monitoring, recording, reporting and responding to the ethnic composition of a workplace are key factors that guarantee the effectiveness and efficiency of equal opportunities policies.

More on the topic of data collection as a tool to combat discrimination in a later post.

Posted By Tereza Bottman

Posted Jul 1st, 2010


  • Teresa Crawford

    July 5, 2010


    Great post Tereza. Way to keep it real and at the same time reference solid research. Keep up the good work!

  • Martin V

    July 8, 2010


    Jakou školu přesně vystudoval? Takové to všeobecné co jste napsala je o ničem.
    Pokud je pravda, že vystudoval nějaký humanitní obor, tak se nedivím, že ho na ty pozice které chtěl získat nevzali, protože s tou školou by na tu pozici nevzali nikoho, ani kdyby byl zelený, žlutý či fialový.

    • Tereza Bottman

      July 9, 2010


      Martine V, má vystudovanou Business Administration a střední školu obchodně právní, k tomu dlouholeté pracovní zkušenosti s vysokou odpovědností.

  • Michal Proks

    July 9, 2010


    So what? I’ve got a degree from Czech Technical University in Computer Science and still can’t get a job. As a white heterosexual male I am a member of the most discriminated group in Czech Republic.

  • Tereza Bottman

    July 9, 2010


    Pane Michale, in general, the unemployment rate for university educated Czechs is considered very low, statistically speaking (hovering near 3%). According to the study quoted in the post above, “two out of every three working age Roma are likely to experience employment discrimination. . . When asked ‘How do you know it was because you are Roma’, almost one in two people said they had been openly told by the employer, someone in the company . . . or the labour office.“ Research shows that the Roma are disproportionately affected by discriminatory practices in the job market. Why do you say that Czech, heterosexual males are the most discriminated group? Please explain.

  • chad evans wyatt

    July 13, 2010


    Tereza, although your findings sadden me greatly, I thank you for writing this article. Your reply to Mr Proks was borne out again and again when I asked the young professionals I photographed, who are Romani, what their job-seeking experiences had been. And this was before the economic downturn.

  • Liza

    July 20, 2010


    Dear Milan, if this can console you, I am in the same situation and I am from Italy. I have 2 high school diplomas (one is a teachers training high school qualification), a double LM degree (2 different fields), a LLM degree (faculty of law)all Cum Laude-distinction. I am a certified PCO Professional Congress Organbizer(events-meetings organization) and I even have a navigation book.
    I participated to a number of long internships for an Embassy, a EU political group, for a former MEP, for educational institutions etc travelling the world and the 7 seas…I worked for a number of agencies, ngos, lawyer etc etc (most of them demanded under the table conditions or volunteeir job). I have also a number of publication and participations to confereces but…when it comes to job interviews (if I ever get to participate to the vis-a-vis part of the job interview) they always ask the same question on why I had so much to do with Roma(obviously from my name and last name interviewers can not understand my “RootS” and interests, however, when they realize I receive a “cordial” good-bye. I have reached 36 months of unemployment now, of course, without any social and medical benefit because, for the state, my parents (two retired hard workers) have enough money to “still” pay my bills since I am “still” on their family certificate since I can not afford to pay a rent on my own without a job. I am 33 almost 34. I am a woman and I would not have kids and get married if I do not have any thing to offer them. I wanted to go to school, my family agreed, I am an educated woman of Romani ancestors that has a CV that proves a deep love for her-our people. At the end, there is no difference between me and my “sisters” on the camps..with or without education and qualifications it seem that none of them is useful enough to get a job to pay the bills. This is the honest truth and you have all my moral support on this issues wherever you are located on the Earth

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