Why there's a silent bias against Africa for EMEA roles

May 25, 2024
7 min read
A Techpoint Africa International Africa Day design. The Techpoint Africa logo is in the top left. 'International Africa Day' is in bold red text, with the date '25th May' beside it in green. 'EMEA' is in large green letters in the centre, with 'but the "A" is silent' below it. An outline of Africa on the right contains black-and-white photos of African people with traditional face paint.

In seven years as a software engineer, Kelvin Ndemo has worked for two European companies, but those were the only successful outcomes from more than 60 applications he submitted for roles in the EMEA region.

The 26-year-old talent is currently the technical manager leading the engineering team at Kenyan agritech startup and has worked remotely for 95% of his career across East and West Africa, UK, Cyprus, US, and Germany.

He believes half of those rejections were influenced by his location. In hindsight and from his experience mentoring early-stage talent, it is possible to secure a global role while in Africa.

I recently came across a six-year-old YouTube video of a tour of LinkedIn's EMEA office, featuring some of the employees working there. I only saw one black person in the entire 3-minute video.


That prompted me to do a quick search on African representation on global corporations' EMEA teams. I didn't find much apart from a 2022 article by Google. This report showed that of the 25,000+ employees and interns at Google EMEA at the time, 3.2% were blacks, 3.9% were Latinx, and MENA had 7.8% representation.

The report also stated how the company plans to promote racial equity, especially in leadership. While this isn't a conversation on racial representation at global companies, it can be a way to look at how many Africans get access to job roles specified for the EMEA region.

Why does EMEA exist?

Image of a Globe showing the map of Africa

EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) is a globally-recognised acronym used by governments and corporations as a form of regional/geographical classification for many purposes, including deciding leadership, operations, and financials.

How did these seemingly different continents end in the same box despite the noticeable disparity in economic prosperity? A possible explanation is how they share certain similar features like time zones, languages, politics, and cultures.

It is also interesting to know that most countries in Africa and the Middle East were former colonies of European countries, including Great Britain, Portugal, and France.

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This piece focuses on how this classification influences hiring and recruitment. If anything, high talent mobility across these regions should be expected.

Sadly, comments about marginalisation faced by African applicants because of their geographical location fill the Internet.

Possible reasons Africans lose EMEA roles

Techpoint Africa's sources believe recruiters conclude that talent from Africa is not suitable for advertised EMEA roles.

"I've witnessed talent from Africa sidelined with reasons like 'this role is not available in your own region', shutting off opportunities even before they could showcase their worth. Apparently, recruiters and companies have a reason for this," says Jarir Mallah, an HR Manager with Ling app, an Asian language learning app.

The reasons vary and can't be ascertained if the rejection email doesn't specify, or the applicant doesn't get one.

"Most of the roles around EMEA are mostly listed by companies in Europe and are mostly targeted at those who already have a working visa or work authorisation to work in those countries. Very few companies will want to sponsor people to come to those countries. In this case, when most people apply from Africa, they probably never get a response," Ndemo explains.

The developer started seeking global opportunities early in his career. Though self-taught, he was mentored in Andela's boot camp, and was equipped with strategies to market himself.

In Ndemo's case, apart from location, skills and the company's culture are other reasons applicants from Africa are rejected. On the company's culture, he describes how not every company is comfortable with a fully remote work arrangement; they would rather run a hybrid model.

Sharing similar sentiments, Nicholas Ogundipe, Nigeria's Talent Acquisition Lead for KingMakers, a sports and digital Entertainment platform operating in Nigeria, South Africa, Madrid, Malta and, UK, suggests it's more of an integrity and infrastructure issue.

In his ten years of recruiting, he has noticed how talent from countries like Nigeria are exempted from sensitive roles, that is if Africa is considered at all. He blames this on how several Nigerians have portrayed themselves in the past.

“We put ourselves in this situation. Ordinarily, Nigeria possesses a lot of skills that are needed out there across various industries. However, some people who have had the opportunity to get some of these remote roles have abused the privileges given. So it's taking a toll on those who are genuinely interested in doing the job for those companies. It's a very big problem, but I think we've forced ourselves into this situation."

He gives instances of how these talents don't show enough commitment to remote work. However, he acknowledged the role Internet and power play in this.

"The infrastructure needed to effectively carry out one's tasks happens to be lacking in this region; Internet connection, for instance."

He also points out the largeness of the EMEA region, and with Africa alone having over one billion people, recruiters have to maximise the hiring process.

“The entire EMEA region is a very vast place and you will get a lot of candidates to evaluate for these roles, so if I have any particular reason to knock off a candidate -- like one country having a particular problem that's peculiar to them -- it saves me the stress as a recruiter."

Nicholas Ogundipe doesn't classify this as a bias, though. He explains it as a recruiter's approach to hiring.

In recruitment, you look for the best ways to streamline your entries and focus on the most suitable candidates. And if hiring from a particular location might present challenges, "I'd rather not consider it," he says.

But he acknowledges that one risks cutting off many potentially qualified candidates without giving them a chance. Still, the rules are the rules.

Nicholas Ogundipe recalls a personal experience when he couldn't move forward with an interview process for a role in Europe because they needed someone resident in Lithuania. He does not call this a bias because the company had its reason.

He calls for sincerity and integrity on the part of applicants so any company that takes a chance on such applicants will not regret it.

"I am a Nigerian based in Nigeria, working for global organisations, and I have applied to global organisations and I've had good feedback when it comes to the review of my CV and my profile. However, I understand the bias we are talking about but in generalising things, we are not taking into cognisance the basic problems that people have also caused themselves."

Even more reasons

People believe that hiring from Africa introduces legal or logistical complexities. These concerns often overshadow the candidate's qualifications.

"Often, the 'region unavailability' reason masks deeper issues, such as unconscious bias or misunderstanding of employment laws," Anna Williams, HR Director at Digital Silk, tells Techpoint Africa.

Williams has practised for 15 years and has noticed how using technology to anonymise applications during initial screenings has helped the company reduce unconscious bias and give every applicant an equal chance based on their qualifications and not their region.

"The successful integration of African talent into our company has significantly enhanced our team dynamics and overall performance, proving that talent truly knows no boundaries," Williams adds.

Given the use cases for ATS, recruiters can easily filter applications, thus speeding up decision-making. However, we cannot rule out the possibility of automating rejection emails depending on the system's programming.

"For some of these roles, you see EMEA, you'll see a particular location next to that job. There's EMEA (remote), and there's EMEA (Lisbon or Berlin), for instance. If you see those kinds of roles, ordinarily, the person should be based in Berlin or Lisbon or the person has an idea of that particular region.

"So, if the role says they are open to relocation, you can go ahead to apply. If not, I'll entirely discourage the person from applying. But if it says the role is EMEA (remote), then you stand a better chance of getting that job if you're qualified."

Improve your chances as an African applicant

Africa is replete with exceptional talent, which global companies are looking to hire.

Nicholas Ogundipe notes that companies tend to hire outside the region where they operate, mostly because of their budget. They can get talent with equal skill sets at a cheaper rate in locations like Africa.

Ndemo confirms this with the recent experience of someone who informed him he's excited to come to Kenya and recruit developers to work remotely for a company domiciled in the Netherlands.

Google’s Africa Developer report for 2020 also revealed that most senior software developers in Africa work with international companies.

Nicholas Ogundipe questions the qualifications of some candidates, and suggests it is not impossible to secure these roles.

“I go through thousands of CVs every day and I find out that people just apply for those jobs because of the designations.

"It's all about looking out for those little things. Even if you're qualified for the job, does your CV actually tell the story as it should be told? A lot of people have CVs that even undersell them."

Ndemo strongly agrees with this. He gives examples of developers failing to properly communicate their achievements in their CVs, such that he can't defend them while sitting on such a board even though he knows their capabilities.

He also recommends optimising LinkedIn.

"Most people don't know the power of LinkedIn," he concludes.

While we cannot rule out the biases that exist in the EMEA hiring process, African talents are encouraged to make so much difference where they are, so much that they cannot be ignored. That is a way to rise above the bias.

“We get it wrong from those basic things that we need to do before we start laying blame on biases that are from the recruiters. We are humans as recruiters, and there are biases. But those biases are put in place to help us do our job more effectively. Applicants are getting it wrong from the basics, but these biases are also not fair to those that are truly qualified for these jobs."

Happy International Africa Day celebration!

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Human enthusiast | Writer | Senior reporter | Podcaster. Find me on Twitter @Nifemeah.
Human enthusiast | Writer | Senior reporter | Podcaster. Find me on Twitter @Nifemeah.
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Human enthusiast | Writer | Senior reporter | Podcaster. Find me on Twitter @Nifemeah.

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