Swiss Federal Administration and the representation of language communities

An analysis of processes and strategies for recruiting personnel

In cooperation with the University of Zürich (UZH)

01.2012 - 01.2013
Diversity, Inequality, Institutions, Interaction, Policy

In Switzerland’s political dialogue, an adequate representation of Swiss language communities in the Federal Administration is considered to be a vital expression of multilingualism in Switzerland. Diverse legal bases and directives have been created and issued in the interest of reaching this goal. Nonetheless, questions concerning implementation and effectiveness of these measures remain open when weighing not only the professional qualifications of candidates and their language skills, but also when considering regional dynamics in the labour market for administrative employees in the Swiss government. Overall, statistics on the proportion of federal employees according to first language indicate an imbalance in the representation of linguistic minorities in certain positions and offices.

The goal of this project was to better understand the complex mechanisms and processes that advance or hinder access to specific positions in the Federal Administration for members of a linguistic minority. The focus lay on the recruitment process, which is generally understood to be the key factor in selecting personnel and gaining employment in the Federal Administration.

Purpose – Expected results

Statistical analyses of the Federal Administration’s linguistic composition as well as that of its subordinated units show that in most offices German speakers are overrepresented. An examination of the legal bases with respect to languages and current discourses on language, as well as ethnographic research of ten recruitment processes further reveal a tension between subscribing to the aims of federal language policy, on the one hand, and a stronger emphasis on operational goals in a given selection process, on the other. This finding was confirmed in an online survey with heads of recruitment that also pointed to a need for heightened awareness of superiors belonging to the linguistic majority.