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Social Networks and Institutional Discrimination: A Comparative Study of Recruitment in Large Organisations


The project aimed to explore the role of various recruitment practices and unequal access to social networks has for the employment of people with foreign and Swedish background respectively. The study was based in two general perspectives on how inequality is created and recreated: theories on social capital and institutional selection / sorting. The project has studied the recruitment practices and career with an empirical focus on HR staff and, the people who have sought and obtained work. Methodologically, the project used both quantitative and qualitative analysis of questionnaires and interviews. The analysis focused on two issues: differences between persons with foreign and Swedish background in the access of so-called social capital and the importance of this social capital on individuals opportunity for employment; institutional mechanisms of selection. What are the effects of employers choice of recruitment channels (formal and informal) for employment? How are applicants ranked and sorted?


Discrimination, Employment/Recruitment , Social capital/networks, Organisations, Segmentation


The project results can be summarized in three contributions: the importance of social capital: the importance of informal practices in hiring and setting wages, as well, the complexity of how recruitment and career development actually is shaped. The results highlight the importance of social capital (resources in social networks) to get jobs and improve career development in employment. Here it turns out that women, but especially persons of foreign origin (from Eastern Europe and outside Europe) are worse off and may be exposed to the effects of discrimination in contacts. The second finding concerns the importance of informal recruitment practices and wages. The more informal recruitment and wage-setting process, the greater the opportunities are for effects based on various forms of bias. Although the findings do not unequivocally support the existence of a conscious discrimination, there is considerable support that informality in itself tends to increase the possibility of individuals from groups that are considered as "normal" for the job, which, everything else being equal, produce discriminatory segmentation. A more general conclusion from this project is that the processes that lead to who can and cannot get jobs, promotions and salary increases, are very numerous and complex. The classic human capital theory, needs to be supplemented by alternative theories (social capital and discrimination), as well as organizational studies that follow and analyze the processes and decisions.
The results can be translated into more concrete contribution to knowledge:
- In addition to education and work experience, social capital (among other factors) has an important role in how one becomes employed, the position and wages you get over time at the workplace.
- It is important to focus not only on how to get access to social capital but also how to people are excluded from access to social capital. What we observed concerning the employed closest colleague/friend at the workplace were shape by clear "ethnic" and gendered boundaries.
- With whom one hangs out in the workplace is a "free choice" and generally have no discriminatory intent, but in the end, those relationships on the job benefit those who have relations with people who have more power.
From a research perspective, there are several ways to move forward based on the results. Knowledge of how job seekers behave in relation to social capital - ie the capital formation process - is an important issue. We believe it is important to focus not only on how to get access to social capital but also how one is excluded from access to social capital. Another important issue that requires further research is how the process at the workplace unfolds attaching various skills and value to staff. More research is needed in understanding processes of attaching certain skills to value and rendering invisible other skills.


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Behtoui, A. (2008) 'Informal Recruitment Methods and Disadvantages of Immigrants in the Swedish Labour Market.' Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 34(3, April):411-430.
Behtoui, A. (2006). 'Om de hade föräldrar födda på "rätt plats".' Rapport Integration 2005. Norrköping: Integrationsverket.
Behtoui, A. (2009). 'Social capital and Stigmatised Immigrants.' Pp. 232-237 in Neergaard, A. (ed),European Perspectives on Exclusion and Subordination, The Political Economy of Migration. Maaschtrict: Shaker.
Behtoui, Alireza (2010). 'Marriage Patterns of Immigrants in Sweden', Journal of Comparative Family Studies 41 (3):415-435
Behtoui, A. & Neergaard, A. (2009). 'Perception of discrimination in recruitment and place of work.' Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies 7:374-369.
Behtoui, A. & Neergaard, A. (2010). 'Social capital and wage differentials between immigrants and natives.' Work, Employment and Society 24:1-19.
Gunnarsson, E., Neergaard, A., & Nilsson, A. (Eds.). (2006). Kors & tvärs: Intersektionalitet och makt i storstadens arbetsliv. Stockholm: Normal Förlag.
Neergaard, A. (2006). 'I goda och dåliga tider: inkluderad underordning av invandrade kvinnor.' In D. Mulinari & N. Räthzel (Eds.), Bortom etnicitet (pp. 43-54). Umeå: Boréa.
Neergaard, A. (2006). 'På tröskeln till lönearbete: Centrala begrepp och antologins innehåll.' In A. Neergaard (Ed.), På tröskeln till lönearbete: Diskriminering och exkludering av personer med utländsk bakgrund, SOU 2006:60 (pp. 9-39). Stockholm: Fritzes.
Neergaard, A. (Ed.). (2006). På tröskeln till lönearbete: Diskriminering, exkludering och underordning av personer med utländsk bakgrund, SOU 2006:60. Stockholm: Fritzes.
Neergaard, A. (2006). 'Rasifierad rekrytering i storstadskommunen: Mellan exkluderad och inkluderad underordning.' In E. Gunnarsson, A. Neergaard & A. Nilsson (Eds.), Kors & tvärs: Intersektionalitet och makt i storstadens arbetsliv (pp. 164-184). Stockholm: Normal förlag.
Neergaard, A. (2006). 'Rekrytering: som en institutionell praktik för inkluderad och exkluderad underordning.' In A. Neergaard (Ed.), På tröskeln till lönearbete: Diskriminering och exkludering av personer med utländsk bakgrund, SOU 2006:60 (pp. 221-260). Stockholm: Fritzes.
Neergaard, A. (2006). 'Sammanfattning och slutsatser: Strukturell diskriminering som en väv av samverkande processer, praktiker och strategier.' In A. Neergaard (Ed.), På tröskeln till lönearbete: Diskriminering och exkludering av personer med utländsk bakgrund, SOU 2006:60 (pp. 261-285). Stockholm: Fritzes.
Neergaard, A. (Ed.). (2009). European perspectives on exclusion and subordination: the political economy of migration. Maastricht: Shaker.
Neergaard, A. (2009). 'Racialisation in the Labour Market: In Search of a Theoretical Understanding.' In A. Neergaard (Ed.), European Perspectives on Exclusion and Subordination : The Political Economy of Migration (pp. 201-221). Maastricht: Shaker Publishing BV.

2006 - 2010


Forte Forskningsrådet arbetsliv, hälsa, välfärd

REMESO Project Leader

Anders Neergaard, Professor

Scientifically Responsible

Carl-Ulrik Schierup, Professor

Participants from REMESO

Alireza Behtoui

Contact for project



Project description in Sw

Last updated: 2011-05-05

Page responsible: erik.berggren@liu.se
Last updated: 2020-05-27