By Vivienne Walt

(FORTUNE Magazine) – THE COURTYARD OF THE RENAULT housing complex in Les Mureaux, some 25 miles west of Paris, is bristling with tension. About 20 residents stand near a wall where someone has spray-painted the words NIQUE LA POLICE ("F--- the police"). A small contingent of officers looks on warily, wearing shrapnelproof helmets and vests, clutching plastic shields, tear-gas canisters at the ready. Between the groups sits that night's quarry: a car with flames leaping from its body--one of hundreds burned in this month's spectacular violence across France.

It's a long way from the sleek boardroom and dealerships of France's second-largest auto company, which built the Renault apartments in the 1960s for employees at its nearby factory. But as the smoke clears on the country's most explosive riots in decades, the two worlds--those of corporate executives and restless youth--could find themselves thrown closer together. Although the protesters offered few coherent demands, one emerged from the chaos in interviews in several riot-torn suburbs: more jobs.

Economists have warned for years that the country's unemployment was skewed heavily against youth, particularly the children of immigrants from former French colonies in north and west Africa. Joblessness among all people under 25 in France is roughly double the national average of 10%; in immigrant communities the figure is three times the national average.

Why? Claude Bébéar, the 70-year-old chairman of insurance giant Axa, wrote in a report to the government a year ago that discrimination was so deeply rooted in French corporate culture that "the principle of equal opportunity rings hollow in the ears of millions." Last December the government appointed an independent antidiscrimination authority, along the lines of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. That's promising but hardly enough to change the landscape. So Axa tried another experiment to diversify its French workforce.

In January, the company instructed online job seekers to send anonymous résumés, leaving off their name, address, gender, and age, as well as their photograph, a standard feature of French résumés. "We wanted to know only about training and experience," says Cyrille de Montgolfier, Axa's human-resources director in France.

Eleven months later, it's hard to tell if Axa's experiment has worked. French laws designed to prevent racial discrimination--banning, for instance, questions about ethnicity from job applications--also forbid Axa to aggregate the data (it is seeking an exemption). Affirmative action efforts are also illegal in France. Clearly, not counting hasn't worked