Published April 16, 2018

Cautious tolerance

Cosmopolis asked companies about their experiences with immigrant employees. The material was scarce and cautious in nature. No one admitted to racism, although it is difficult to employ an immigrant in Finland.

Not a single racist comment was submitted in response to the SenseMaker survey sent out by consulting company Cosmopolis. As absurd as it sounds, this already proves that the results of the study are unreliable, says Päivi Lipponen, a member of the Cosmopolis board.

She wanted to examine employers’ attitudes towards immigrants and how employment of immigrants could be supported. At the same time, she would have also liked to break down prejudices – but none of the respondents admitted to having negative thoughts about immigrant employees.

“There is clearly a problem, since immigrant employment in Finland is lower than that of the native population. That makes me think that these respondents didn’t believe they could speak honestly about difficult topics,” says Lipponen.

The survey was sent via head offices to many companies in the capital region and in Tampere, including chains that could provide work for immigrants. Despite the extensive reach, only a few responses were submitted: 22. The most likely reason for this is that company representatives only had a week to respond.

However, Lipponen suspects that failure to respond and a lack of negative responses indicates something else: the topic is considered sensitive and employers don’t want to be labelled.

Potential not used in Finland

Päivi Lipponen studied employment opportunities for immigrants in her post-doctoral work 10 years ago.

“I still think this issue is really important for Finland,” she says. “Immigrants run into a wall in Finland when they apply for work. Labour markets in other Nordic countries may offer more opportunities.”

Lipponen believes that Finland can’t afford to overlook the work of immigrants and should consider how employment services could be developed to meet their needs.

The unemployment rate for immigrants is about twice that of the native population, even though immigrants are often at a prime working age, want to work and are, on average, better educated than in other Nordic countries. In 2014, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment estimated that the majority of immigrant labour potential remains unused in Finland.

A lot of rumours circulate about employer prejudices: for example, a foreign last name, foreign diploma or a noticeable accent may mean that person is not interviewed. However, employer attitudes have been studied less than employment services or immigrant experiences.

Lipponen wanted to obtain valuable information by asking employers to consider the following SenseMaker question: “Describe a personal experience that reflects on the role of an immigrant employee at your company.”

The survey sample was so small that it can’t be used for a reliable analysis, but it does provide some direction in terms of experiences.

Language skills ensure a job

All respondents to the Cosmopolis survey said that they have a positive or neutral attitude towards immigrants. When asked about the benefits of hiring immigrants, they mentioned that it’s hard to find Finns for manual labour (narrative 1: see the narratives below this article) positions or that the company’s target market includes a lot of immigrants. The work morale and motivation of immigrants was also considered high.

None of the respondents described employing immigrants as an equality question or a value in itself, and the responses focused on the benefit to the company. Cross-classification shows that the more profitable the company, the more tolerant the attitudes expressed by respondents.

However, one respondent felt that hiring an immigrant had increased tolerance (narrative 2) in the work community and made colleagues see their workplace in a better light.

Caution was apparent in the fact that questions about factors affecting negative experiences or attitudes were answered less often than other questions. The respondents did not see the media or surrounding environment as having much impact on attitudes, and they believed that responsibility for employment lies with the immigrants themselves.

Language skills (narrative 3) were seen as the biggest challenge facing immigrants. No one admitted to being discouraged by a foreign nationality or cultural differences. Only one respondent said that supervisors at the company had considered (narrative 4) whether a Muslim employee wearing a headscarf would seem strange to the staff or customers.

One respondent, who identified as a returnee (a Finn returning to Finland after a period abroad), also brought up ideas to improve employment. This person suggested that employees should be offered more information about professional training in different countries. The recruiting situation could include a method for foreign job applicants to demonstrate their skills and expertise. In addition, an information package about Finnish work culture in the respective sector could be compiled for immigrant employees.


Absolutely necessary for business

I work as a cleaning supervisor at a hotel. It’s an unfortunate fact that we’re unable to recruit Finns in this sector. The biggest reason is the part-time work (benefits provide more money that a 63h 3 weeks contract. Finns are also incredibly prejudiced against the cleaning sector (they’re just cleaners). Almost like this isn’t even real work. One of my seven employees is Finnish. Our immigrant employees are absolutely essential to ensure our business operations. They are reliable, hard-working and lovely people who enrich our work environment. When recruited, foreigners really want a job and they’re ready to do a lot of work if necessary. The Finns who apply for are motivated by the TE Centre (the Finnish employment centre).


Towards a more tolerant Finland

An immigrant we recruited clearly brought more tolerance to our work community. Their high work morale also makes you think about our activities and whether we’re really pushed as hard as we think we are. An immigrant’s appreciation for their own work and being given a chance to work also increases the appreciation that the original population has for their work.


Lack of language skills prevents employment

We don’t have any immigrants working here. We occasionally get applications in English. None of them have been able to speak our language. The prerequisite for employment is fluent Finnish.


Considering headscarves

We supervisors discussed how the customers and staff would react if and when we hire a dark-skinned girl who wears a headscarf for religious reasons.

Further information
Päivi Lipponen, paivi.p.lipponen (at)

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