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Perceived Racism in the Workplace: A Survey

By Marty Nemko

To what extent do employees perceive that racismexists in their workplace?

To help answer that question, I posted an online survey for 10 days, ending Oct. 4, 2005. 77 people completed the survey. Unfortunately, there was an average of just 5.8 respondents from each non-white racial groups (African-American, Asian, Native American, Filipino, and mixed-race), far too few to provide any valid data. But among the 48 white respondents, 27 percent believed their race hurt them in getting a job, being promoted, salary, and/or training opportunities.

In addition to the multiple-choice questions, I included an open-ended question asking respondents to describe how their race has affected them in the workplace. They also had the option of leaving me their phone number so I could interview them about it. I made multiple attempts to contact each U.S-residing respondent. Here are their responses. I am withholding their last names because publishing them could endanger their careers.

Vince, a Causasian, who has been a manager at a number of Fortune 100 companies, said, “There was so much pressure as a middle manager to hire minorities, we felt we had to choose the person who wasn’t our first choice. Because we had these quotas, I mean “goals” (said laughingly), some people didn’t get the opportunities they should have. For example, I promoted a black female even though I had another person who would have done a better job.”

Warren is an attorney. He said, “I feel it has been an advantage to be Asian. At least here in the Bay Area, I’ve never felt that I’m a minority.”

Wanda, an African-American, said, “It happened a long time ago. I was working at Ford Motor Credit Co. My job was to verify that people had insurance. For three years in a row, I applied to be promoted. The other two people who did what I was doing were white and they got promoted but I didn’t. I developed a whole lot of personal problems because I didn’t get my promotion, so I went on disability.” I asked, “What led you to believe race was a factor?” She said,” I never got a bad performance review.”

Patrick, a technology sales rep said, “(Political correctness) puts a lot of pressure in the workplace. You really have to watch what you say. For example, if a white person were to say, “He aksed” instead of “He asked” to repeat what a Black person said, that could get him in trouble. So we feel pressure.”

Bryce, a Caucasian technical writer, said, “When I was in the job market, there were three or four times when I was a finalist for a job and I knew the other candidates, and in each case, a minority got the job. They were on the ball, but it really seemed that race was the tie-breaker.”

“I applied to the U.S Military Academy Officer Candidate School. The recruiting officer told me, flat out I'll never get the job this year because I'm white. He had a ‘quota’ to fill and all the white slots were filled…According to last census, we are now the minority so does that mean affirmative action for whites? The government is the great ‘equalizer.’ Without it, we might have actually had a society that worked.”

“I had a Korean boss. During the 14 months I, the only Jew, was at the facility, it became clear to all that the Korean boss set up a pay scale with Asian males at the top. The bottom was left to me and a dark-skinned Indian woman. After one year of excellent service to her business, I approached her and asked for a raise more in line with my responsibilities, performance, education, and experience. I told her that I discovered that I was being paid half of others with much less education, experience and excellence were earning. She made my life hell for five weeks (closing down the departments I oversaw, cutting me out of projects that I was responsible for) and then fired me.”

No doubt, many minorities have, and perhaps still do, experience discrimination in the workplace. It has, however, been 140 years after slavery, 40 years after the Civil Rights movement, compensatory government programs, and affirmative action began. So, I’m wondering whether society is best served by policies and practices in which more than one-fourth of white people feel that they have been rejected for jobs, promotions, training opportunities, etc., in favor of less qualified people merely because of their race. Apart from the injustice, hiring a less qualified person because of race will hurt people of all races: from the competence of customer service we get to the quality of our medical care.

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