In light of all of the recent issues that have been ongoing in the news in the past year, I wanted to address the issue of racism in the workplace. I haven’t seen it much myself. I just had a very large contract with a public employer and I may have been considered a minority. However, I live in the Northeast United States and my client is in a major Northeast metropolitan hub….I am not going to see racism in my circles if I continue to represent entities in this part of the country….or will I? Is the racism so very subliminal that it is going to be hard to see, even for someone such as I that is attuned to this sort of behavior? I hope not…however, I use to think that racism was ‘dead’ years ago…until, again, I worked for someone who was often making racist jokes, using derogatory terms to describe people of color, etc…
I’m not referring to the laws in place that ‘protect’ minorities, people of color, etc. I’m referring to how people actually feel about their co-workers from a racial perspective. I personally feel that racism has worsened since Barack Obama has become President. My opinion is that there is so very much inherent racism in some people that they just cannot accept that a black man is President….and that shows.
The truth is that racial discrimination still exists in many aspects of life, including the workplace. Some of it is intentional; some is not. In 2011, according to statistics, the ‘most popular’ form of discrimination in the United States was racial discrimination. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received a total of 35,890 complaints nationwide that year. The number of complaints in 2011 is higher than that of 2010 (35,395).
Racial or ethnic discrimination in the workplace can rear its head in a variety of forms, some of which can be subtle, such as an employer’s failure to hire or promote based on race, or downright obvious such as racial slurs. Whichever form it takes, racial discrimination in the workplace is strictly prohibited by a number of federal and state laws. What should you do if faced with racial discrimination at work? For the employee, please follow the following steps:
1. It is recommended that you maintain a diary of events. Document any incidents of racisms that happen to you in the workplace or that you witness. Write down names, dates, times and detailed descriptions of what occurred. If you have physical evidence, hold on to it in a secure place.
2. Don’t ignore it. Report each incident that occurs to your supervisor, union steward or human resources. If the employer hasn’t rectified the issue within a reasonable amount of time, the next step would be to notify the EEOC, the agency designated to regulate issues of discrimination in the workplace.
3. Talk to colleagues who might be suffering the same problems. If they are, work out together what you want to do about them. Talk to friends who might have suffered similar problems where they work. It’s always helpful to share a problem and trying to cope with the pressure on your own can be particularly stressful.
As an employer, it is helpful for you to follow these steps:
1. Write an anti-discrimination policy that specifically addresses racism. Include consequences for acts of racism in the workplace.
2. Hire employees from all races and ethnic groups to create a diverse workforce. Inform job candidates before hiring them of your policy against racism and discrimination in any form.
3. Promote employees based on merit without considering race or other irrelevant factors. This establishes a system of fair promotions so all employees feel valued.
4. Train employees how to avoid discrimination and racism. Hold the training at least once a year to remind employees of how to conduct themselves in the workplace.
5. Establish a committee in the workplace that focuses on anti-racism projects. Use the committee to identify potential discrimination issues based on race to begin finding solutions.
6. Hold team-building sessions that give employees a chance to learn more about one another. Include brainstorming sessions that value all ideas.
7. Treat all instances of racism the same according to the established policy. This lets the victims know you will handle the situation and all employees that you won’t tolerate the behavior.
8. Encourage open communication with employees so they are more likely to report racism. Emphasize the importance of reporting racism even if an employee sees it happen to someone else, investigate the claims right away.
9. Establish an anonymous reporting system that allows employees to report racism without fear of retaliation. Follow up on reports of racism immediately.
As much as we may try, we are never able to legislate ‘attitude’…unfortunately. However, racial discrimination is so very ‘messy’ at this stage of our history, I cannot fathom how it still exists…it does and the more we ‘protect’ everyone against it, the sooner it will fade from our lives…permanently.
If you have any questions regarding offering a discrimination free environment as an employer or working in a discrimination free environment as an employee, please contact Rosanne Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 484-798-1236.