New Study on Affirmative Action Policies for Leadership Positions

The German population expresses support for recruitment practices that favor women and people from non-academic households

The debate surrounding affirmative action policies to counteract inequality against underrepresented groups continues to raise questions about the use of quotas when it comes to hiring people to leadership positions or public offices. A new study by sociology professor CÚline Teney of Freie Universitńt Berlin, published in the Journal of European Public Policy, finds that in Germany there is a preference for hiring practices that favor women and persons from non-academic households (i.e., with parents without tertiary education degrees). The study also revealed that there is less support for affirmative action policies for native East Germans and persons with an immigrant background.

Professor CÚline Teney and her team worked together with the market research firm YouGov to investigate levels of public support for affirmative action policies within the context of hiring underrepresented groups to leadership positions. The study is based on a survey that was conducted online in July 2021 with 2,676 participants from the German working population.

The survey showed that there was significantly more support for affirmative action policies directed at women and persons from non-academic households (an average of 5.5 on a scale of 0 to 10) than for policies directed at persons with an immigrant background or native East Germans (an average of about 4.3 on a scale of 0 to 10). According to Teney, the findings indicate that individuals from non-academic households constitute an important social category in Germany.

Lower levels of support for affirmative action policies for native East Germans and persons with an immigrant background can be traced back to the fact that these identity categories rely on regional membership in a broad sense, whereas being a woman or coming from a non-academic household are ascriptions that are more broadly distributed in the general population, Teney explains.

Another explanation for the results has to do with an issue related to identity politics in general, namely the difficulty of establishing clear criteria to define categories of belonging. "In the case of East Germans - and to a lesser degree for persons with a migration background - the definition of who should belong to the target group is not uncontested and clear-cut, as boundaries between some categories of distinctions tend to blur," the study claims.

Furthermore, the extent to which individuals support affirmative action policies does not merely depend on their own (ascribed) group membership; it is also contingent upon the level of perceived disadvantage of the target group. If politicians and businesspeople wish to increase public support for these measures, they should focus on raising public awareness of how discrimination affects members of underrepresented groups in the context of hiring practices for leadership positions, says Teney.