Statistically, black men have been the hardest hit by the downturn of the economy, sustaining huge losses in employment. As talk of hiring begins to heat up again, we are beginning to see more dialog about diversity in the workplace and efforts to hire minority workers, while at the same time we are seeing news reports that show how minorities are not even getting their foot in the door.
America has historically been known as the land of opportunity, but in this harsh economic climate, some Americans are being denied the opportunities that their white counterparts are receiving. One company, Sodexo, Inc., settled a lawsuit a few years ago that was brought against them by African-American employees, who were able to prove that they had not been promoted at the same rate as their white peers. Since then, “Sodexo executives say they have made great strides toward becoming a more diverse workplace.”
What does diversity mean in a modern American workplace? It’s not just about black and white integration in the office, now. It’s also about making sure that all marginalized people, whether they are Inuit, Puerto Rican, female, or gay, have the opportunity to gainful employment and to have their hard work rewarded. It requires that companies have an understanding of and respect for the very varied cultural backgrounds of their workers. Many companies create band aid solutions to the challenge of diversifying their workplace. Some companies do a good job of attracting, retaining, and promoting their minority employees, setting them up for success. But others don’t do more than create the illusion of diversity without any of the backbone that makes for a strong diversity program.
Do companies have a responsibility to use “culturally competent” evaluations of employees for hiring, firing, and promoting? I guess it depends on what the goal of diversifying the workplace is. If it’s an affirmative action issue of righting past wrongs, then it’s arguable that companies need to ensure that the environment they create for their employees should be inclusive and encouraging of productivity for all workers, no matter their cultural background. But do they need to go farther? Should companies encourage the formation of culturally specific professional networking groups, such as the type we see on college campuses? Mentoring groups? Should managers’ bonuses be determined, at least in part, on that manager’s track record of hiring or promoting members of historically marginalized groups? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
by Melissa Garcia Logan