America is a country that heavily preaches acceptance and diversity, which makes sense since its population is made up of people from all over the world. This is a society that strives for equality and prides itself for giving everyone a fair chance to pursue his or her dreams. With such a diverse society, it stands to reason that the American workforce will naturally reflect all this multiculturalism. Yet the irony of living in the most diverse society in the world is that discrimination still exists here. People tell jokes, call each other awful names and stereotype people from different ethnic groups. In some scenarios, these kinds of negative beliefs and derogatory thoughts prevent a person from even getting a job, let alone moving up the corporate ladder to be on any board. So what does the American workforce look like today? And why is diversity important in the workplace?
There are quite a few people who believe that race is no longer an issue in today’s workforce. In a competitive talent market, managers simply need to hire skilled workers because obviously this is good business. However, research proves otherwise. In a 2011 study done by CareerBuilder about feeling discriminated in the work place, 25% were African Americans, 21 % were Hispanic and finally 11% were Asian. Every ethnic group has it’s own experience with racism but, unfortunately some groups seem to be hit much harder by discrimination than others.
There is some strong research to support the extreme challenges that African Americans face when it comes to discrimination while finding a job and receiving a fair salary. In just the initial part of the hiring process, African American applicants often face an uphill battle. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that employers also turn away more African American applicants due to a higher suspicion of drug use. Drug testing helps eliminate this bias, but many qualified workers will still be turned away if companies don’t have drug testing as part of their hiring process. And if an African American applicant managed to make it past this type of prejudice, there is still the chance that they will not be compensated fairly. Research shows that in a survey of 5200 newly employed workers, African American applicants were offered significantly less compensation than White job seekers. No wonder the raw wage gap between White and African American employees can be as high as 30%-35%..
Hispanics are the second most discriminated ethnic group in the work place. Research has also shown that Hispanics have an even larger wage gap than African Americans when compared to Whites. And for foreign-born workers who have to deal with a different language, culture and laws, it’s possible to be unknowingly placed in situations where employers can take advantage. In a Gallup poll, foreign-born Hispanics experienced more racism in general and in their work place than U.S born Hispanics. In addition, foreign-born Hispanics were less likely to report being mistreated, which creates a big problem. By not speaking up and holding unjust individuals accountable for unfair pay and treatment, no improvement can come about. This particular minority group is one of the largest and fastest growing groups in this country. According to the 2013 Census Bureau, Hispanics make up 17% of the US population. Because this group has such a strong and growing presence in our society, employers need to make greater efforts in understanding Hispanics.
Asians do face lesser levels of discrimination when compared to African Americans and Hispanics in the work place. However, there are many widely-held stereotypes about this group, such as they’re quiet or more suited for technical or scientific professions. This kind of mindset often prevents Asians from having positions that are more public-facing or from progressing in careers that are not Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) based. In terms of earnings, Asian earnings are comparable to Whites with hardly any wage gap, but the group faces challenges in terms of growth.
As a society, we like to think that we live in an open minded and accepting environment, but research seems to show otherwise. When the media is full of stories about discrimination in the workplace and studies from various sources seem to corroborate this, it makes one wonder if stereotypes are blinding employers from making better hiring and talent management decisions. Are we really looking at our applicants and workers as individuals, judged by their skills and experience and not their ethnic background?
Without diversity and inclusion in the workplace, companies stand to lose out on different ideas, opinions and information that bring about innovation. This innovation, just one of the benefits of a diverse workforce, is becoming more important as companies compete in a tight market on a global scale.
Just last week, Chris Rock called out Hollywood for its diversity problem in his opening monologue at the 88th Academy Awards. But even as he preached about the systemic racism in Hollywood, he made a joke stereotyping Asian-Americans. While much of this may have been for entertainment value, it makes a point about our society and how easily we resort to stereotypes. And this is something rampant not just in the glitz and glam of movie-making and entertainment, but throughout many industries in the United States.
When we have a country that is as global and rich in diversity as America, doesn’t it make sense for our workplaces to also reflect this? How do you promote diversity in your workplace?
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