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Vienna's experience of managing diversity

BERNHARD Bouzek, of Vienna’s City Administration, is convinced that without migrants Vienna would be shrinking in population. Austria’s capital – where 31 percent of the inhabitants have a migration background – has decided that without changing the city administration’s approach to employment policies, to the services it provides and the way they are provided, the capital city would fail in meeting the needs of its increasingly diverse population.

BERNHARD Bouzek, of Vienna’s City Administration, is convinced that without migrants Vienna would be shrinking in population. Austria’s capital – where 31 percent of the inhabitants have a migration background – has decided that without changing the city administration’s approach to employment policies, to the services it provides and the way they are provided, the capital city would fail in meeting the needs of its increasingly diverse population.

As for Vienna’s population of 1.6 million, 538,256 have a migration background: 293,448 are foreign nationals born abroad; 38,752 are foreign nationals born in Austria; and 206,056 are naturalised Austrian citizens.

The biggest groups are from Serbia and Montenegro, Turkey, Poland, Germany, Bosnia-Herzegovina and from Croatia, according to data provided by Bouzek.

“Vienna cannot neglect a third of its residents,” Bouzek said at a seminar discussing the municipal government’s integration tools for migrants and describing the tasks that the city’s Municipal Department 17 for Integration and Diversity has been facing. The seminar was held in Bratislava in mid-July as part of an EU-funded project called Labour Pool for Migrants.

Vienna’s city department – with the rather futuristic name MA17 – is one of 70 city administrative departments and works as a service provider and advisor. According to Bouzek, the department provides German language courses, individual coaching, and training in conflict prevention and resolution, along with other projects for mutual understanding between residents. Being true to its mission, 40 of the 60 staff members have a migration background; they speak a total of 20 languages and they bring their experiences and a variety of qualifications from 18 different countries.

“We inspire our colleagues to realize that diverse clients have diverse customer needs,” said Bouzek, adding that particularly at the early stage of their program there was much resistance to this effort on part of the majority population and government employees.

“I have no troubles with foreigners, for me diversity management is not relevant,” is what Bouzek said was common as a typical earlier reaction.

Bouzek is convinced the sooner city administration starts looking at migration as a normal process, the earlier they are able to reap benefits from what should be viewed as a positive challenge.

Diversity management is not only being able to print leaflets and translate them into different languages, Bouzek said, adding that the long-term goal of any city administration should be to employ migrants and use their skills for the benefit of the city. It also means trying to enrich all spheres of public administration, involving diverse professions at all levels.

“In the health-care sector about half of the nurses are migrants and no one questions whether we need them and people are happy with their work,” Bouzek said. “However, in office environments and in many other jobs the number of migrants is really low, maybe one percent. Why do migrants seem strange to some people at these departments? This is why a change in approach is urgently needed.”

When the challenge is handled, Bouzek said it brings a win-win situation for both the migrants and the local population. People are sometimes not comfortable in openly discussing their diversity-related needs because in many senses, co-workers have been neglected, Bouzek said, adding that there is very little inter-cultural knowledge.

“Working with the city administration on issues like migration is often like handling a pyramid,” Bouzek said. “You have to start at the top, otherwise you will fail.”

This does not mean that employees of the city administration need to learn five languages, Bouzek said, adding that they should pay attention to where migrants live, their living conditions and their cultural backgrounds so that one can better understand the needs of the migrant population.

Vienna’s long-term goal is for its city administration to be a mirror image of its population and Bouzek suggests that no country and no capital city is immune to the same challenge.


“Things can change very fast and localities which thought that they were immune to the challenges that migration brings might face a new reality within a couple of months,” Bouzek concluded.


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