Discrimination on the American Job

New study focuses on seven diverse groups
Rosemary Haefner for CareerBuilder.com and Nina Ramsey for Kelly Services

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On the heels of a recent landmark Supreme Court ruling on discriminatory pay practices, CareerBuilder.com and Kelly Services have released a survey that found one-in-five working Americans feel they have faced discrimination on the job.

Even though there are federal laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability and other characteristics, bias and pay inequities in the workplace remain a persistent problem. In fact, last year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 75,768 discrimination charges against private sector employers. The most frequent charges were race (27,238), followed by sex (23,247) and retaliation against reporting discrimination (22,555). Other frequently cited charge bases were age (16,548), disability (15,575), national origin (8,327) and religion (2,541).

The joint study, conducted by Harris Interactive, surveyed diverse and non-diverse workers across the country and segmented them into seven major groups, including African American, Hispanic, Asian, Female, Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender (GLBT), Individuals with disabilities and Mature workers age 50 or older. The study's goals were to:

  • Gauge the frequency, severity and occasion for the perception of discrimination or unfair treatment in the workplace,

  • Learn whether employee diversity is valued, and

  • Measure how diversity affects hiring decisions, compensation and career advancement.

    Discrimination or Unfair Treatment in the Workplace


    Twenty-three percent of diverse workers said they had been discriminated against or treated unfairly in the workplace based on their background. Thirty percent said it happens at least once a week. How are workers experiencing discrimination? Most frequently feelings of discrimination or unfair treatment involved:

  • Not receiving credit for one's work (48 percent)

  • Not having concerns addressed or taken seriously (42 percent)

  • Having co-workers talking behind one's back (33 percent)

  • Being overlooked for a promotion (32 percent)

  • Not being assigned to projects that will help worker gain more visibility in the company (32 percent)

  • Having co-workers say derogatory comments to or in front of worker (31 percent)

  • Feeling ideas or input are generally ignored (30 percent)

    Unfortunately, most of the allegations of discrimination or unfair treatment goes unaddressed. Half (50 percent) of diverse workers who experienced discrimination or unfair treatment said they did not report the incident. Of those who did report, in 73 percent of the cases the offender was not held accountable. When asked why those being discriminated against stay with their current employer, more than half (64 percent) said they could not afford to quit.

    Diversity -- Hiring and Firing

    When applying for a new job, 32 percent of diverse workers said their diverse backgrounds work against them, 11 percent said it works in their favor. In terms of involuntary termination, one-in-ten diverse workers (11 percent) said they believed they had been fired at some point in their career based on their diverse background.

    The good news is more and more employers are recognizing the positive impact diversity has on the work culture and overall business performance. Diverse perspectives fuel rich idea generation, creativity and strong problem-solving and companies are taking measures to embrace and cultivate a diverse environment.

    When seeking employment, job seekers should look for a healthy, balanced and diverse work culture. Does the company have formal policies against discrimination and prescribed reporting processes to address concerns? Does the company foster a work environment that embraces and cultivates diversity and open communications? Does the company routinely evaluate their hiring practices, leadership development and succession practices?

    Where to Get Help
    If you feel like you have been the victim of discrimination, the first place you should go to is your human resources department. Working with your internal representatives to address your issues is extremely important. Employers have a vested interest to ensure all employees feel valued. In many cases, line managers or supervisors engaging in improper behavior continue the behavior because the proper channels within the organization are not tapped until the situation is irreparable.

    Rosemary Haefner is vice president of Human Resources at CareerBuilder.com and Nina Ramsey is senior vice president of Human Resources at Kelly Services.



  • Last Updated: 27/08/2008 - 12:45 PM


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