JUNE DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION UPDATE
JUNE DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION UPDATE
June 3rd, 2021
Matt Glowacki, Diversity Equity & Inclusion Chair
Jefferson County HRMA & WI SHRM
LGBTQ+ Representation in the Workforce
Today, a growing number of policies and protections are supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or queer-identifying (LGBTQ+) employees in the United States. This follows a history of systemic barriers and challenges—a period that began with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1953 ban on federal gay and lesbian employees to Barack Obama’s repeal of the U.S. Army’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in 2018.
Despite millions of people making up the LGBTQ+ workforce in the United States, there is still a lack of research, surveys, and census data that captures their experience. At the same time, being LGBTQ+ is not always a visible status.
Given these constraints, a comprehensive account of LGBTQ+ representation in the workplace still has a long way to go. However, studies have examined the landscape of various inequalities and roles occupied by LGBTQ+ individuals.
It's important to start with the history of LGBTQ+ protections in the workforce and how it has affected LGBTQ representation among U.S. employees.
- LGBTQ+ employees make up 5.9% of the U.S. workforce.
- LGBTQ+ representation across various roles in the workforce is low, notably at senior executive levels.
- Transgender workers face greater barriers in the workplace, from job offers to career advancement.
- The landmark 2020 Supreme Court ruling in favor of Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ+ workers solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Previously, LGBTQ+ employees could be fired on the basis of their sexual orientation.
- The history of LGBTQ+ workers’ rights has denied LGBTQ+ individuals federal government jobs, benefits, insurance, protections, and equitable protections.
History of LGBTQ+ Protections in the Workplace
The history of LGBTQ+ worker protections—or lack thereof—in the U.S. is both brief and mostly dismal. During the 1950s, gay and lesbian employees were rooted out of federal government and intelligence jobs in what was called the Lavender Scare. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order that banned gay federal employees, which stood in effect until 1973, and wasn't revoked entirely until 2017.
In 1961, Frank Kameny brought the first civil rights case based on sexual discrimination to the Supreme Court. Kameny, who held a doctorate of astronomy from Harvard and fought in World War II, was fired at 32 from his job as an astronomer in the Army Map Service because he was gay, and was prohibited from employment in the federal government indefinitely. The Supreme Court refused to take up the case.
Three decades later, President Bill Clinton enforced the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT)” measure for the armed forces, despite a broad lack of support. This forced LGBTQ+ military members to keep their sexual orientation or gender identity a secret. President Obama repealed DADT in 2011.
Later, in 2013, a Supreme Court 5-4 ruling denied same-sex spouses—in states where same-sex marriage is legal—the right to receive federal benefits. Just two years later, same-sex marriage was legalized on a federal level, also legalizing spousal benefits through work.
Soon thereafter in 2017, Kimberly Hively, an adjunct math professor at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, was fired for being a lesbian, along with being denied full-time employment and promotions after 14 years. Hively fought against her employer and won the case in the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2017.
Following this decision, in 2018, the majority of transgender individuals were banned from serving in the U.S. military by President Trump. In 2020, however, LGBTQ+ and transgender individuals won a landmark case in the Supreme Court, protecting them from being fired solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The ruling held that language in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is germane to gender identity.
“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” stated Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. More than 200 large corporations, a record, signed on to an amici curiae brief filed with the court in support of LGBTQ+ employees.
LGBTQ+ Protections in the Workplace Today
Since President Biden took office, a handful of critical LGTBQ+ workplace protections have been written into law. Notably, an executive order signed on his first day ensures that LGBTQ+ employees will receive the same protections against discrimination as other classes of protected individuals.
Secondly, President Biden signed an executive order that aims to remove systemic hurdles to benefits, insurance coverage, and care for underrepresented populations. This reverses a previous executive order put in force by President Trump.
President Biden also signed an executive order allowing openly transgender individuals to serve in the military, reversing a ban that came into effect in 2019.18 "President Biden believes gender identity should not be a bar to military service and that America's strength is found in its diversity," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Along with key executive orders, numerous federal actions were implemented to help protect LGBTQ+ workers in President Biden’s first 100 days.
Understanding LGBTQ+ Representation in the Workforce
According to recent estimates, LGBTQ+ individuals make up 5.9% of the U.S. workforce. However, on many levels, data on the LGBTQ+ population is quite limited. Globally, population censuses do not identify LGBTQ+ people, including in the United States. Argentina and the United Kingdom are among the few exceptions.
With this being said, however, several studies throw light on workplace roles and conditions for LGBTQ+ employees in corporate America. For example, a study from McKinsey examines various roles held by LGBTQ employees. It finds that openly LGBTQ women make up 2.3% of entry level roles and 1.6% of managers. LGBTQ men, meanwhile, account for 3.1% and 2.8% of these categories, respectively. The McKinsey study also researched transgender employees (see below), but the reported data does not pull out nonbinary employees who identify with neither gender.
When it comes to more senior levels, LGBTQ women make up smaller percentages of these roles as seniority increases, the McKinsey study reports. They make up 1.2% of senior managers/directors, 0.7% of vice presidents, and 0.6% of senior vice presidents. Importantly, the research points out that survey respondents may not have felt comfortable identifying as LGTBQ, despite the survey being anonymous.
LGBTQ men surveyed make up 3% of senior managers/directors, 1.9% of vice presidents, and 2.9% of senior vice presidents. However, twice as many men as women say that they feel that their sexual orientation is likely to affect their career advancement. Overall, research shows that LGBTQ workers are 11% less likely to occupy higher managerial levels, along with 4% lower earnings levels.
Trans individuals account for roughly 1.4 million of US adults and face distinct barriers to advancement at work. Transgender adults experience lower likelihoods of hiring and of holding management roles. One study showed that trans individuals had a six times lower likelihood of getting a job offer than cisgender applicants; job offer rates for trans applicants were 8.3% compared to 50% for cisgender applicants.
Not only that, transgender individuals face greater levels of workplace discrimination. One 2020 survey found that, of LGBTQ adults who faced discrimination over the last year, 3 in 5 of them were transgender people.
The good news is that workplace protections for trans workers are increasing. In the Human Rights Council 2021 Corporate Equity Index, 71% of Fortune 500 companies provide trans-inclusive health insurance coverage. In 2015, this stood at 34% of Fortune 500 companies. However, much work still needs to be done across multiple levels.
Fortune 500 CEO LGBTQ+ Representation
As of 2020, just four Fortune 500 CEOs were openly part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, who came out as gay in 2014, was the first in the Fortune 500's history to do so. Along with Cook is Beth Ford, CEO of Land O’Lakes, a $14 billion cooperative. In 2018, Ford became the first openly gay woman as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Jim Fitterling, CEO of Dow Chemical Company, also came out as gay in 2014 after 30 years as an executive in the company. At the helm of Macy’s is Jeff Gennette, an openly gay man who assumed the role of chairman and CEO in 2017.
Meanwhile, a number of other senior executives are openly part of the LGBTQ+ community. One is founder and CEO of United Therapeutics, Martine Rothblatt, who was at one point the highest-earning biopharmaceutical CEO and transgender adult in the country—earning $38 million annually. Prior to United Therapeutics, Rothblatt founded SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Director of Engineering at Google Ray Kurzweil stated, “She has to my knowledge a perfect track record in making [her] visions real.”
Jason Grenfell-Gardner, CEO of Teligent, was the first openly gay CEO of a publicly listed company in the United States. R. Martin Chavez—following his tenure at Goldman Sachs where he was the most senior openly gay executive—is vice chairman and partner at Sixth Street. As of 2021, Sixth Street oversees $50 billion in assets under management.
The Bottom Line
A number of studies provide insight into LGBTQ+ positions of power. Overarchingly, representation levels are quite low across every role, especially at the highest levels of management.
As inroads are being made on the corporate and public policy fronts, protections for LGBTQ+ workers continue to advance. With President Joe Biden in office, greater support is anticipated for LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace, with sweeping executive orders set in place on his first day in office alone. Critically, this directly impacts transgender workers who faced significant setbacks under the Trump administration.
The LGBTQ+ experience in the workforce is shaped by long-entrenched social and systemic forces that won't disappear quickly. But as protections gain momentum, more equitable policies appear to be within closer reach.
What it’s like to be queer at work in 2021
There is, of course, no single experience of being LGBTQ+ at work. But the levels and types of discrimination queer people have faced at work have changed over time, often depending on the industry and which state they happened to be in.
Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is often thought of as a turning point in the battle against workplace discrimination. But Title IV didn’t really make a huge difference in the lives of many LGBTQ+ people at work because, while it bars discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” it doesn’t explicitly include sexual orientation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), began to interpret Title IV wording of “sex discrimination,” to encompass gender identity and sexual orientation only in the last several years. That means that for decades, it was perfectly legal to fire someone for being LBGTQ+. Over the years, some states enacted their own laws that offered different levels of protection, some banning discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity (or both). But without an explicit national law, it was a patchwork system that left employees in many states with no protection.
In 1994 the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was introduced; it would have amended Title VII so that it specifically banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Act was introduced in nearly every session of Congress from 1994 to 2010, but never passed. The ’90s also saw another major setback to LGBTQ workplace rights, the enactment of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell,” the military policy instituted by President Bill Clinton in 1993 that barred LGBTQ people from serving openly. President Barack Obama ended the policy in 2011. The passage of the Marriage Equality Act in 2015 allowed for some more legal protections for married people, including the inclusion of same sex spouses on employee-sponsored health insurance.
But things got worse for LGBTQ employees under the Trump administration. The Trump Justice Department said that previous, more inclusive rulings by the EEOC were legally meritless, meaning that discrimination against queer employees was still perfectly legal in many states. Trump’s time in office was particularly awful for LGBTQ in the military as well, with his ban against transgender people serving.
It wasn’t until 2019 that the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which would expand broad civil rights protections for queer people, including in the workplace. But the bill didn’t make it past the Republican-controlled Senate. The bill was reintroduced in February of this year, and has passed the House again. President Joe Biden has said he would sign it if it reaches his desk. Meanwhile there was a big victory for LGBTQ employees in the summer of 2020, when the Supreme Court ruled that the meaning of Title IV does bar employment-based discrimination based on sexual orientation.
But despite this ruling by the Supreme Court, the Equality Act is still important, as Title IV doesn’t protect against other forms of discrimination in areas like housing and medical access. And despite having a new president with more inclusive ideas about LGBTQ+ people, 2021 has been a record-breaking year for anti-trans legislation: 33 states have introduced more than 100 bills that aim to curb the rights of transgender people across the country, affecting everything from school sports to medical access.
All of that is just the letter of the law, or, rather, an interpretation of the law. It doesn’t give a sense of what the lived experience of being queer at work is like, the daily calculations around identity, fear, and authenticity.
On this week’s episode of The New Way We Work, I spoke to LaFawn Davis, group vice president of Environmental, Social & Governance at Indeed. Davis is a queer Black woman who has worked in the DE&I space for more than 15 years. She says that often LGBTQ people often have to code switch in company cultures that aren’t welcoming.
“It takes so much energy, so much emotional strength to [code switch]. When you have to be someone else, or present as someone else, it really does impact your mental health. And now we’re in a space where it’s not just like walking into an office and do I come out, or do I not come out. A lot of us are working from home, and that presents a different issue because you could be out at work and not out at home,” she says.
Building an LGBTQ-friendly workplace goes way beyond equal employment law, or blanket statements of support and rainbow branding during Pride Month. Davis walked through how companies can make changes both big (covering gender reassignment surgery, offering the same level of parental leave for all employees, not just birth moms), to small (not making people select one gender or race on forms, including preferred pronouns in communication) that work to build a truly inclusive culture.
The benefits of doing so will be seen in bottom-line results and long-term, happy, productive employees. As Davis says, “If you just allow employees to be who they are, they will go hard for you. They will be loyal to your company. They will give you even more exponential effort. They perform better, because you have now freed up space and capacity for them to focus on the work that they need to do, as opposed to having to hide themselves or fight for themselves.”
EEOC Offers Clarifications, Cautions in New COVID-19 Vaccine Guidance
Updated technical assistance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) clarifies how employers can require or encourage employees to take a COVID-19 vaccine, but attorneys advising employers point out how the document also contains cautions.
The EEOC updated its technical assistance on May 28 to address questions about how federal equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws may be implicated by employer policies related to COVID-19 vaccinations. The agency points out that its technical assistance answers coronavirus questions only from the perspective of federal antidiscrimination laws, and employers must remember other federal, state, and local laws also may affect their policies.
In the updated guidance, the EEOC says federal EEO laws don’t prevent employers from requiring an employee physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated so long as they comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The guidance also notes employers should keep in mind that because some individuals or demographic groups may face greater barriers to receiving a vaccination, some employees may be more likely to be negatively affected by a vaccination requirement than others.
The guidance adds employers can offer incentives for employees to get vaccinated as long as the offerings are “not coercive.” Since vaccinations require employees to answer disability-related screening questions, a large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information, the EEOC says.
Advice to Employers
No matter what employers decide about requiring or encouraging employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19, they should consider how their policies might implicate antidiscrimination laws.
“Employers should immediately read and understand the revised EEOC guidance, which gives them more tools to incentivize and, in some cases, mandate vaccinations,” Paul J. Sweeney, an attorney with Coughlin & Gerhart, LLP in Binghamton, New York, says.
“As set forth in the revised EEOC guidance, a mandatory vaccination policy should still make allowances for protected groups who may have valid ‘access to vaccine’ issues for not getting a vaccination as well as for those employees who have a medical or religious-based reason for not getting vaccinated,” Sweeney says.
The EEOC has said employers can require vaccination with some exceptions related to the ADA and Title VII. The ADA requires employers to consider whether they can accommodate employees who have a disability-related reason for not taking the vaccine, and Title VII requires employers to try to accommodate employees whose sincerely held religious beliefs or practices prohibit vaccination. In both cases, accommodations aren’t required if they put an undue hardship on the employer.
Employers also need to consider how their vaccination policies might have a “disparate impact” on certain employees since those policies also may violate Title VII, Sweeney says. He advises employers to be flexible when setting vaccination policies since the guidance points out it is based on ever-changing information.
Peter D. Lowe, an attorney with Brann & Isaacson in Lewiston, Maine, advises employers to remember how pregnant employees may be affected by vaccination policies. He says the EEOC reminds employers about considering “adjustments” for pregnant employees if the employer makes exceptions for other employees. “In other words, remember to reasonably accommodate pregnant employees as well,” he says.
Lowe also advises employers to keep vaccine information confidential. In its updated guidance, the EEOC has said both documentation and “other confirmation” of COVID-19 vaccinations constitute confidential medical information under the ADA. “‘Other confirmation’ is a broad term, so employers should treat oral disclosures in a confidential manner,” he says.
Lowe also points out the “best practices” the EEOC notes in its guidance. “We take this to be advice to employers, as compared to requirements,” he says. The agency’s best practices include explaining in a vaccine policy that the employer will consider reasonable accommodations based on disability and religion. The agency also says a best practice includes training supervisors how to handle accommodation requests for vaccine exemptions.
Lowe says the biggest issue raised to date by legal challenges to mandatory vaccines is related to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s designation of the three COVID-19 vaccines in use in the United States.
The vaccines have been granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). “EEOC understandably passes on the question whether EUA prohibits mandatory vaccination policies by noting it’s ‘beyond the EEOC’s jurisdiction,’” Lowe says.
Although the new guidance from the EEOC spells out that employers may require vaccines for all employees “entering the workplace” provided some accommodations are made, Lowe says the reference to “entering the workplace” is clearly intentional. “It leaves open the question whether all employees, including those who never step foot in the workplace, could be subject to mandatory vaccinations,” he adds.
Martin J. Regimbal, an attorney with The Kullman Firm in Columbus, Mississippi, says the greatest risks for employers under federal antidiscrimination laws center on the failure to provide accommodations based on religion or disability as well as requiring employees to reveal protected medical information and failing to protect medical information.
The new guidance notes information about an employee’s COVID-19 vaccination must be kept confidential and stored separately from the person’s personnel files. Employers also face legal risk if their vaccination incentives are so significant that they are seen as coercive or pressuring employees to reveal protected medical information, Regimbal says.
Quarter of employees have been bullied at work, survey finds
In a survey of 4,000 employees, conducted by Bupa in February, 26 per cent of workers said they had experienced being bullied in the last three years – a rise of 12 percentage points compared to the number of cases reported in the three years up to 2019 (14 per cent).
This figure was even higher in certain sectors, with 33 per cent of employees in retail, 30 per cent in transportation and 29 per cent in the education sectors reporting they experienced bullying at work.
The research said factors such as role ambiguity and changes in work levels – caused by organisations being forced to adapt to pandemic regulations – could be placing employees under pressure, leading to an increase in bullying.
A lack of clarity over who to turn to when not in a physical office space could also allow cases of bullying to fly under the radar, the study highlighted. And heightened isolation caused by remote working could lead to exclusion – intentionally or not – as video meetings or instant messages may occur only among certain groups.
Mark Allan, commercial director at Bupa UK Insurance, said changes to the way people work have created “increasingly complex social dynamics”, generating more opportunities for miscommunication, misinterpretation and isolation among employees.
“There is no place for bullying or discrimination in any organisation, whether that’s hiding behind a screen or face to face,” he said. “Employers have the same duty of care for their workers whether they’re in the office or at home. Therefore, creating a culture where employees feel able to speak up if they experience any problems is absolutely key.”
As well as an increase in bullying, the research also found more than a quarter (28 per cent) of those polled had personally experienced discrimination at work, increasing to 35 per cent among women and 40 per cent among disabled employees.
Workers also reported seeing more discrimination against others. More than one in five (22 per cent) commented that age discrimination had increased, while 18 per cent said there had been an increase in gender reassignment discrimination.
However, nearly half (46 per cent) of employees believed that gender discrimination had become less prevalent, while 56 per cent reported there was less sexual orientation discrimination this year.
Despite the issues of bullying and discrimination, more than three-quarters (78 per cent) of employees reported that they had good overall mental health at work during the last year, a two-percentage point increase from pre-pandemic levels.
More than a third (37 per cent) felt that changes to their commute had a positive impact on their wellbeing over the last year, while 29 per cent said the same for home working and 19 per cent said they benefited from working flexibly.
The number of employees reporting that workload had impacted their mental health had also decreased from 39 per cent in 2019 to 27 per cent in 2020.
Despite the generally positive impact of the pandemic, the study also found that 61 per cent of workers felt the Covid crisis had had a negative impact on their wellbeing. This increased to 70 per cent among the youngest demographic, 18 to 24-year-olds.
How to Handle Discrimination at Work
On June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme court issued its opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County, holding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from refusing to hire, firing, or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This decision means that employers are legally obligated to prevent and correct harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity – and yet, this legal protection is a hollow promise unless workers feel free to report their concerns. Recognizing that discrimination against transgender workers may look different than discrimination against other groups and acknowledging the broader social forces that make reporting it more difficult are positive steps in the direction of truly realizing the promise of Bostock.
According to one 2020 study, 53 percent of transgender respondents indicated that their ability to be hired was moderately or significantly impacted by discrimination, and 47 percent said that discrimination had a moderate or significant impact on their ability to retain employment. To change this trajectory, we must learn what to look for. Transgender workers are often subjected to different types of harassment than other workers. These might include issues surrounding bathroom accessibility; deliberate use of incorrect pronouns; dead-naming; and having to tolerate inappropriate questions. Even seemingly routine workplace benchmarks like performance evaluations may, in fact, be tainted by discriminatory bias.
Take, for example, the situation of Tory, a 6’3” project manager (“PM”) with a deep baritone voice, a quick wit, and an uncanny skill for keeping their team on task. Company performance metrics showed that Tory’s team is far outpacing other teams, so much so that Tory’s manager initiated a 360-performance review in anticipation of promoting them to Lead PM. But much to the manager’s and Tory’s surprise, several team members characterized Tory as “intimidating,” “aggressive,” “too loud,” “overly forceful,” “leering” and someone who “speaks in a harsh tone.” Several of the same respondents referred to Tory using incorrect pronouns. And, one person who knew Tory many years ago, prior to joining the company, referred to them using their dead-name, Tony.
While that 360 feedback could have been a roadblock to Tory’s success, fortunately, their manager recognized the dissonance between the performance metrics on the one hand and the manner in which some team members characterized Tory on the other.
Gender stereotyping is nuanced and often difficult to pinpoint. But it is a real phenomenon. Of course, not all managers are like Tory’s. What could Tory have done if their manager had not recognized that the subjective 360 feedback seemed off?
The first step would be to pull out the company’s anti-harassment policy. It should contain a clearly defined reporting procedure which ideally identifies multiple avenues to submit complaints. Next, Tory would be wise to gather up their evidence. In this scenario, that might include both the objective performance metrics and the subjective 360 feedback comments. Finally, Tory may want to consider whether there are allies on their team or within the company who might provide support through the process.
The path to realizing the promise of the Bostock decision also requires recognizing that what happens in the workplace does not occur in isolation. Transgender individuals face a far higher incidence of unemployment, poverty, health care insecurity and sexual violence (including intimate partner violence), among other things. More than half (51 percent) of LGBTQ respondents in the above-referenced survey said they experienced harassment or discrimination in a public place, such as a store, public transportation or a restroom. Moreover, the intersection of gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and immigration status further marginalizes some transgender individuals, making them even more vulnerable to being misunderstood and mistreated in the workplace.
Such social stigma and marginalization can have far-reaching implications. For instance, consider the plight of Ariel, who suffered a violent attack while returning home from work late one night on the subway. Ariel was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD as a result of that attack. Her PTSD is triggered by taking the subway, so, now, she travels to work by bus despite the hour increase in her commute time and the fact that the bus always seems to be late. As a consequence, Ariel’s manager put her on a final warning for tardiness. Is that discriminatory? No. But, to preserve her job without sacrificing her mental health, Ariel may need to consider what options exist for communicating with her manager about her situation.
Potentially, Ariel might feel safe communicating directly with her manager, especially if there are openly gay or transgender people in the organization’s leadership. Studies show that leaders have a direct impact on the content and implementation of internal policies and practices.
However, as of 2020, less than 0.3 percent of Fortune 500 board directors were openly LGBTQ. Additionally, Ariel simply may not feel safe sharing her experience directly. Fear often causes transgender individuals to camouflage their authentic selves from co-workers, including hiding personal relationships or changing the way they dress or speak. Therefore, another option for Ariel could be to work with her medical provider to request a reasonable accommodation in the form of an adjustment to her work hours.
Pressing for equality in the workplace is a job we all share. Transgender individuals face unique challenges in reporting workplace mistreatment, and, at times, seeking fair treatment requires extra tenacity and ingenuity. While managers are increasingly recognizing that gaining a competitive edge requires cultivating a diverse workforce, the change cannot come quickly enough. In the meantime, transgender individuals and their allies are stuck with the hard work of holding employers accountable for preventing and correcting workplace harassment. The Human Rights Campaign offers a useful tool for evaluating employers’ records for LGBTQ-inclusive policies, practices and benefits.
'Vicious cycle': How discrimination at work triggers trauma
Trauma from the experience of workplace discrimination can seem subjective and “unique to the individual” but, as one Gallup study recently pointed out, people of color tend to see discrimination as having a “profound and pervasive” impact on their well-being, more than their white colleagues believe. In an era where employee experience can have a direct effect on business success, discrimination remains a threat to organisational culture, “draining” employees’ motivation, commitment to the company and level of engagement. Such a negative experience can undo the gains made by workplace leaders in the area of diversity and inclusion, the researchers found.
“Those who report discrimination in their workplace are less likely to strongly agree that they have the opportunity to do what they do best, that their opinions count, or that someone at work cares about them as a person. And those who endure discrimination are much more likely to be attrition risks – whether actively looking for another job or watching for opportunities – than employees who don’t feel discriminated against,” Gallup said.
Discrimination can coincide with feelings of dissatisfaction and exclusion – or not being respected, recognized or valued at work. “Overall satisfaction is nine points lower for Hispanic employees and 13 points lower for Black employees who report discrimination compared with those who don’t,” the study found.
Meanwhile, employees who feel they have no voice in the workplace tend to get exhausted over having to keep up a persona in order to feel accepted. “A feeling of exclusion can prompt employees to develop a persona – or ‘code switch’ – to enable their inclusion. That behavior saps employees’ energy and cloaks their full value,” the researchers said.
Discrimination appears to trigger a vicious cycle in which marginalized employees’ skill sets are undervalued and underdeveloped. “In fact, among those who say they’ve been discriminated against, the percentage of Black and Hispanic employees who say their unique strengths are being developed is far lower than the percentage of white employees who say their employers build on their strengths,” Gallup said.
IT’s Silent Career Killer: Age Discrimination
Recent reports that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found technology company Intel had discriminated against eight older workers during mass layoffs in 2015 have shed light on a topic that often remains in the dark: age discrimination against older workers in IT.
“Age discrimination is a particular problem with the tech industry, because of the tendency for many tech companies to be startups and often run by fairly younger individuals,” Miklas says.
There is a widespread misconception in most industries that older employees are not “digital savvy” and are afraid to learn new things when it comes to technology, Miklas adds. “This assumption often results in decisions that can result in being sued for age discrimination, especially when the older worker is passed over for promotion, not hired, or terminated,” he says.
One issue that arises more in age discrimination claims than other types of discrimination is an employer’s use of selection criteria for hiring, promotion, or layoff decisions that are susceptible to assumptions about age, says Raymond Peeler, director of the Coordination Division, Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
“For example, an employer making determinations about workers based on ‘energy,’ ‘flexibility,’ ‘criticality,’ or ‘long-term concerns’ are susceptible to employer assumptions based on the age of the worker,” Peeler says. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against job applicants or employees because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, genetic information, or age.
“Research shows that age-diverse workforces have a positive effect on employee engagement, productivity, and the bottom line,” Ryerson says. “Yet older workers continue to face resistance, more often than not simply because they are perceived to be ‘too old’ for the job.”
It’s against the law for employers to discriminate on the basis of age, Ryerson says, and older workers should familiarize themselves with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act so they can recognize and respond to discrimination in the workplace.
The act makes it unlawful for employers to refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of age.
Companies are also forbidden from limiting or classifying employees in any way that would deprive them of employment opportunities, or reducing their pay, because of age. The law also applies to employment agencies and unions. While most people would likely rather avoid legal action, it’s a good idea to be familiar with existing safeguards against discrimination.
Businesses digitizing during COVID face IP and ADA legislation
Most businesses are surprised to learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law was enacted to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities. It does also apply to websites and other digital platforms such as mobile sites and mobile applications. The applicability of ADA to online accommodation allows people with disabilities (blindness / amblyopia, hearing loss / hearing loss, motor restriction, etc.) to access the same level of online content and services as everyone else. That is.
ADA’s website compliance proceedings are surprisingly regular and are expected to increase as consumers become increasingly dependent on websites and mobile applications to do business. Execution cases span a number of industries, including real estate (Zillow®), retail (Banana Republic®), entertainment (Beyonce), and restaurants (Domino’s Pizza®), with several well-known and well-defended defendants. Can be mentioned. Federal fines and compulsory ADA compliance.
There are many proceedings regarding website accessibility, but there are no legal standards that directly set out specific requirements.
However, there is a set of private industry standards developed by technology and accessibility experts, called the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”), which are widely adopted, including federal agencies. The current guidelines are WCAG 2.1 Guidelines and three levels of accessibility (A, AA, and AAA accessibility).
WCAG does not require the use or inclusion of specific technologies such as amplifying words or providing an audible version of the content for compliance. Instead, the compliance requirement is for enterprises to provide websites and other digital platforms that implement the four principles of WCAG. Healthy Enough to operate user agents and assistive technologies (eg web browsers and screen reader software), (ii) equally Perceptible (For example, alternative text for non-text content such as captions), (iii) Easily Operation possible (For example, keyboard-only accessible features), and (iv) understandable (for example, the text is easy to read and understand).
We strongly recommend that you regularly work with marketing professionals and other service providers who specialize in accessibility compliance testing of the technical aspects of your website. Enterprises should also incorporate regular compliance testing and evaluation of their websites, especially as updates and features are added.
“Businesses Must Be Accountable for Their Promises on Racial Justice”
The past year has been filled with company-wide meetings and communications about race, public commitments to racial justice, and aspirational goals for equality. But communications and statements aren’t enough: Companies need to hold themselves accountable for action so they don’t simply maintain historical structures and cultures of racism. Indeed, some of the statements from last summer have already been met with skepticism from employees who claim that company proclamations of racial justice are hypocritical given the way they’re actually treated in the workplace.
Why we don’t hold leaders accountable for diversity goals
The first step is to understand why accountability slips through the cracks. We see five primary reasons:
These hurdles can be overcome with accountability programs that include the following elements. These recommendations are critical in ensuring that leaders are true to their word in leading change, not simply engaging in performative allyship. While any one can be impactful, the most robust efforts involve all five elements.
- People don’t believe there’s a problem. In the workplace specifically, SHRM surveys show that 35% of Black employees feel racial discrimination exists at work, compared to 7% of white employees. This hinders accountability, because those who believe things are already equal can say they believe in equity but will not make any changes to establish it.
- They don’t believe the problem is business’s to solve. Not everyone buys into diversity as a business case, and in considering diversity and profit separately, leaders may avoid accountability by speaking to financials alone. Board members of profitable firms may be reticent to penalize senior executives who underperform on diversity targets if they deliver on financial results.
- They want to avoid conflict. A recent SHRM report shows that 45% of Black workers and 30% of white workers feel their workplace avoids discussions about race. This can be due to feelings of discomfort, cultural norms, or fear that such discussions will stoke divisiveness and exacerbate intergroup conflict. The former White House administration issued an executive order (since revoked by the Biden administration) that prohibited discussions of structural racism in federally sponsored or subsidized training programs, calling them “divisive.”
- The dominant group feels threatened. Diversity initiatives can be seen as a threat when they appear to question the norms, social identity, position, or value of the dominant group. When leaders publicly cast the initiative as this kind of challenge to the group’s culture, they often escape taking any kind of action. Relatedly, leaders themselves may also fear the implications of admitting wrongdoing on diversity matters.
- Favoritism is hard to prove. Favoritism within the dominant group is a prevalent if subtle form of workplace discrimination. Members of the dominant group are more likely to accrue higher performance ratings, visibility, opportunities for advancement, and mentorship. However, in-group biases can be difficult to pinpoint outside of controlled experiments. This makes it harder to document the subsequent disadvantages for marginalized candidates, and thus hold leaders accountable for enabling favoritism.
Make racial representation levels transparent.
First, to overcome the belief that there isn’t a problem, companies must be transparent about racial representation within their ranks. Without information to the contrary, people will not be convinced that Black workers are underrepresented in the company’s higher-wage jobs, yet overrepresented in low-wage, low-status, high-risk roles, as is generally the case. Moreover, without data transparency, it will be challenging to make the case for implementing any other forms of accountability.
In an effort to be more transparent, many companies, such as LinkedIn and Citi, publish an annual diversity report with quantitative data about racial representation for hiring, attrition, and broadly, leadership roles. This helps hold them accountable by providing insight into workforce demographics.
However, reporting basic demographic numbers is just a first step. Real transparency should also include measures of equity like a breakdown of representation in hiring by job level and promotion rates; defining representation in various leadership levels (mid-management vs senior); and results of climate surveys. These additional data points can be strong indicators of economic equality, career progression, and the quality of experience for Black, Latino/a, and other underrepresented groups.
Share goals and track progress publicly.
Data provides an account of the current state, while goals establish the standards and metrics by which organizations demonstrate that they are becoming more inclusive, equitable, and representative. Without goals, leaders and organizations cannot hold themselves accountable for progress. These goals should be made public to be meaningful.
Starting points for data-driven equity goals include percentage increases in hiring, promotion, retention, environmental sustainability, wage equality, and investments that support business and social justice. We are starting to see this type of goal setting become more common; for example, Sephora announced last year that they will increase their shelf space for Black-owned businesses from 3% to 15%. Salesforce publicly documents diversity and equity workforce goals on their website. They’ve been publicly tracking progress with equal pay since 2015, and in 2021, spent approximately $3.8 million to “address any unexplained differences in pay, bringing total spend to $16.2 million to date.”
Incentivize leaders to practice inclusive leadership.
Leaders at all levels of the organization should be rewarded for practicing inclusive leadership.
This requires changing incentive structures to reward trailblazing work by chief diversity officers, as well as those who hire and promote underrepresented leaders, identify areas where the organization’s actions are out of step with its values, and encourage allies who advance DEI initiatives and advocate for underrepresented coworkers. Care should be taken that people of color who take the lead on voluntary diversity efforts such as employee resource groups (ERGs) don’t go unnoticed, or worse, fall behind in promotions and raises. Rewards for these efforts should include compensation, permitting billable hours, and giving this work significant weight in performance reviews.
Senior executives need to own their business units’ performance on diversity, inclusion, equity and justice initiatives, just as they treat other strategic imperatives. Starbucks, Chipotle, and Wells Fargo, for example, have all stated they will link executive compensation to workforce diversity goals. The amount of the incentive signals whether your company takes diversity seriously or simply thinks of it as supplemental.
Issue penalties for not meeting diversity goals.
Beyond aspirations and positive incentives, accountability is about consequences. It’s difficult to motivate behavioral change when there’s no cost for noncompliance, especially among members of the dominant group.
Leaders and board members should establish and issue penalties for breaches of company values, as well as failure to meet stated diversity goals. For example, a manager can refuse to review a slate of hiring or promotion candidates that does not include Black or brown people. More serious violations of company values and anti-discrimination policies necessitate larger penalties, and raise the stakes for inaction. In these situations, appropriate action may include dismissing an employee, as we saw when Franklin Templeton fired Amy Cooper for calling the police with false accusations against Christian Cooper, a Black man in New York’s Central Park. Boeing has fired 65 people and penalized more than 50 others over the past year for “racist, discriminatory, or otherwise hateful conduct.”
We are also seeing business leaders become more active stakeholders in issuing penalties for discrimination on a societal level. Recently 72 prominent Black executives called on companies to fight restrictive voting laws that are being pushed in 43 states. Major League Baseball decided to relocate its draft and all-star game out of Atlanta, and with it, millions of dollars in lost revenue, in response to a Georgia voting law. As companies impose these political penalties, the question becomes whether businesses can hold themselves accountable to the same degree.
Use specific language.
The language that we use when we talk about personal bias and racism makes a big difference in how (and whether) we hold each other accountable. For example, many trainings describe biased acts as unconscious, unavoidable mishaps, instead of focusing on personal or organizational responsibility for fighting biases. This makes participants feel less culpable — and less likely to hold themselves and each other accountable. Use specific language that underscores collective responsibility and personal accountability to avoid such pitfalls.
Similarly, broad-brushed statements of purpose for diversity initiatives such as “our goal is to increase a feeling of belonging” can be problematic because they often prioritize the needs of dominant groups to feel comfortable and included. One-size-fits-all approaches can also create a false equivalence between those feeling left out because of personal experiences and those being left out because of systemic inequalities. Initiatives which equate these experiences lose clarity of purpose, precision of intervention and thus the ability to hold organizations accountable for systemic patterns of inequity.
A company that handles these issues well is Ben & Jerry’s, which takes an active public stance, including a lengthy statement on their website specifically in support of Black Lives Matter, using unequivocal language and calling for specific policy outcomes. The company also posted on social media in solidarity with Asian Americans in response to anti-Asian hate crimes. These statements capture the energy that global demonstrators directed toward criminal justice reform and anti-racist leadership across sectors during the racial reckoning of 2020.
Words can be impactful, but they are not enough. True accountability aligns words with actions, through transparent processes that are subject to stakeholder scrutiny. Many companies have set ambitious goals, made great strides in the last year, and now have an opportunity to continue to improve and distinguish themselves in the marketplace, to the benefit of their employees, customers, and business. We encourage others to follow suit.
Words Matter: How the words you use affect the way you think
SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — The World Health Organization (WHO), the directing and coordinating authority on international health within the United Nations system, issued best practices for naming new human infectious diseases in 2015. WHO strongly encourages scientists, national authorities and the media to follow best practices in naming new human infectious diseases to minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people.
According to WHO, a disease name should consist of generic descriptive terms based on the symptoms the disease causes, such as respiratory disease. Terms that should be avoided in disease names include geographic locations, people’s names, species of animal or food, cultural, population, industry or occupational references, and terms that incite undue fear. Diseases are often given common names by people outside of the scientific community. WHO also explains once disease names are established in common usage through the internet and social media, they are difficult to change.
“In recent years, several new human infectious diseases have emerged. The use of names such as ‘swine flu’ and ‘Middle East Respiratory Syndrome’ has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security, WHO. “This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected. We’ve seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals. This can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”
“Words do matter,” said Andy Noguchi, Co-President, Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), Florin Chapter. “Asian Americans are not a virus. When you have people labeling COVID-19 as the China-flu or Kung-flu, like Donald Trump did, it causes a lot of divisions. If anything, it hurts our efforts to protect our public health.”
According to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition addressing anti-Asian racism across the U.S., 6,603 anti-Asian hate incident reports have been reported to the organization between mid-March 2020 when the pandemic began to March 31, 2021. The number of hate incidents reported increased significantly from 3,795 to 6,603 during March 2021. About 40% of the hate incident reports in the past year occurred in California. The top reported types of discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders included:
Anti-Asian hate speech existed even before the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act in the United States. 140 years ago, they used the term Yellow Peril. It led to many increased discrimination, violent attacks, murders, lynching, and the burning of Chinatowns in the U.S. During World War II, my family was imprisoned in America's World War II concentration camps, along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans. They labeled Japanese Americans as non-aliens. Non-aliens are U.S. American citizens. The government used the term evacuation for removing people. It was forcibly evicting. The government also labeled the World War II camps as relocation camps. People were forcibly imprisoned.
- Verbal harassment (68.1%) and shunning (20.5%) (i.e., the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans) make up the two largest proportions of the total incidents reported.
- Physical assault (11.1%) comprises the third-largest category of the total incidents.
- Civil rights violations — e.g., workplace discrimination, refusal of service, and being barred from transportation — account for 8.5% of the total incidents.
- Online harassment makes up 6.8% of the total incidents.
Data from Stop AAPI Hate also shows a large percentage of anti-Asian hate incidents take place in public streets, parks, and businesses. About 37.8% of hate incidents happen in public streets and parks compared to 32.2% of hate incidents in businesses. Gender, language, and religion are cited as motivating factors for discrimination in 21.7% of hate incidents. Hate incidents reported by women make up 64.8% of all reports. Meanwhile, the youth, people up to 17 years of age, report 11.0% of incidents and seniors, people 60 years old and older, report 6.6% of the total incidents. Chinese individuals have reported more hate incidents (43.7%) than other race or ethnic groups, followed by Koreans (16.6%), Filipinx (8.8%) and Vietnamese (8.3%).
"Do words matter? Absolutely,” said Dr. Vaidehi Ramanathan, Professor, Department of Linguistics, UC Davis. “Linguistics is a field that addresses language in the world. It also addresses language and the brain. Language and words can profoundly shape thought and action. It's called the Theory of Linguistic Relativity. It isn't just the words that we communicate content. We communicate how we want the content to be interpreted. And, that would mean stress, pitch, volume, and speed. It is with language that we make or break relationships, whether those relationships are one-on-one or between cultural groups or across nations. If you want to be an effective communicator, you have to pay attention to the words you choose. For example, words like massage parlor trivialize the kind of work that Asian-American women have been associated with. The connotations around massage parlor bring up a whole range of sexualized meanings that a word like spa simply does not. Everything about language use is a matter of choice. You can choose to say something in a certain way, just as you can choose to be destructive via words. If words have the potential to be destructive, they have the potential to unify."
Under the guidance of the Biden administration, the United States Congress continues to move forward with legislation that is intended to provide greater protections to workers. One such bill which has been introduced during prior terms dating back to 2012 is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). The bill passed the United States House of Representatives in September of 2020 but died on the Senate floor. On May 14, 2021, the House of Representatives again passed the PWFA with sizeable bipartisan support and its prospects for passage are much more favorable than in years past.
Banning Work Conversations About Race Is Counterproductive
Most employees want the freedom to discuss issues of equity and justice at work.
Tech companies like Basecamp and Coinbase have now characterized racial injustice as a “political” topic inappropriate for the workplace. Even the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — which has publicly denounced systemic racism and is tasked with enforcing laws against workplace discrimination — has told employees that Black Lives Matter is a topic that should be limited to “personal conversations.” This framing not only misrepresents the nature of these conversations, it represents a shift that could be damaging to employees and workplace cultures.
Many Basecamp employees responded swiftly and negatively to the change — within one week, at least one-third of employees had publicly resigned. But some pundits and business leaders have praised Coinbase and Basecamp, suggesting the ban removes unnecessary distractions and allows people to focus on work. In truth, it’s an ineffective solution to a real problem many organizations are experiencing: Having these conversations at work is both unavoidable and hard. Doing it well requires effort. Instead of trying to forbid these conversations, leaders should focus on how they can make them better.
First, recognize that employees want to have these conversations. Leaders may think there is a silent majority of employees that would prefer to avoid these topics. However, new data tell a different story: In a recent survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of our company, 68% of Americans said they should be able to discuss racial injustice at work.
Even after considering this data, some leaders I speak with still view this topic as too messy, and something that’s more appropriate for discussion outside of work hours. What these leaders are missing is that, for people from underrepresented groups, that’s practically impossible. Nearly half of employed Americans said they witnessed or experienced racial bias or discrimination at work in the past 12 months. The fact that this statistic may surprise many leaders is exactly why these conversations are so important.
Yes, they’re often uncomfortable. People are afraid to get things “wrong,” and in doing so to be perceived as racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise uninclusive. When we get feedback that suggests we may have done something offensive — or worse for many Americans, racist — we feel attacked and shut down. But criticism doesn’t need to be a threat. Instead, it can be viewed as an opportunity to learn and improve, something successful people are able to do in many other areas of life and business.
These conversations are not only important to employees as individuals, they can be a valuable tool in creating a more inclusive workplace — a topic employees care about deeply. Recent data show that 72% of people want their employer to invest in creating an inclusive workplace.
However, allowing these conversations to happen without any structure or guidance will not necessarily foster inclusion, and can have an adverse effect on people from underrepresented backgrounds. For example, a discussion about racial injustice might create the space for someone to perpetuate offensive stereotypes.
These discussions are most productive when companies create dedicated space for them, like small group discussions that people can choose to attend. Such spaces should have explicit norms and guidance — for example, a shared understanding that the goal of the conversation is not to solve problems or create closure, a common agreement not to speak on behalf of others, and a facilitator who can help ensure participants’ voices are heard or address offensive statements head-on.
I generally recommend that these conversations be optional, rather than mandatory. The goal of these conversations is not to engage every single person in the company in conversation. And the people who choose to opt out of these discussions are likely to be those most likely to either cause harm or be harmed. That may mean, of course, that people who have a lot of learning to do aren’t there. But it also means employees of color, who may not be in a headspace to engage with colleagues on this topic, don’t have to participate, and people who would be disruptive can opt out. In my experience, leaders are often surprised how many people in their organization will opt in.
As Dustin Moskovitz, CEO of Asana, recently shared, creating these structured conversations has not only allowed people to process current events together, it gives people who want to discuss these topics a place to do so. While Asana doesn’t restrict conversations anywhere, it has found that they rarely happen in general settings.
As Asana and other companies who are navigating these conversations know, these conversations will, and should, occur — regardless of edicts from management. Employees are human and most either cannot or don’t want to pretend that the outside world does not exist for eight or more hours a day, especially when what’s happening in the world might be reflected at work.
Ultimately, supporting the people who want to have these conversations, and equipping them to do it well, is a far more effective way to “limit distraction” than trying to ban discussion altogether.
Rooted: 3 North Texas men with loc'd hairstyle were told 'cut your hair to get the job'
DALLAS — Three North Texas men who have never met each other are connected by their hairstyles and shared experiences because of it.
They say while seeking jobs in the past, their loc’d hairstyle has always been a concern. It has caused them to either be passed over for career advancement or have job opportunities rescinded.
Depending on who you ask, the answer you receive will often remind us that hair isn’t just hair for some.
"The meaning behind my hair is my roots," said Christopher Irvin, a former substitute school teacher, currently working as an artist. "I think it says strength and courage and it's an inspiration."
"It means everything," Roberts added. "It means my heritage, it merely represents my crown, my Blackness."
That’s a sentiment shared by all three of the men we spoke to for WFAA's Rooted series.
"So, I first realized that my hair could be a concern in 2007," said Haynes.
Haynes started growing his first set of locs in 2006.
A study by Dove on hair discrimination specifically focused on Black women, but a key finding suggests across the country Black people are disproportionately burdened by policies in the workplace that target, profile or single them out for natural hairstyles.
Haynes described a previous experience he encountered while he was working at a public school in Texas.
"I got a phone call to come in to speak to the superintendent of the school at the time and he said, 'hey, we need you to cut your hair or we're going to have to go ahead and move on,'" Haynes recalled.
Black men across North Texas seemingly being met with the same frustrations.
"They asked me if I would be willing to cut my hair off in order to get the job," Roberts said of an interview experience prior to his current position.
"Back in 2018, 2017, I was told by a public school that my hair could be considered a natural distraction," Irvin said.
Hair – something we are told shouldn’t be a big deal – but when you see the numbers, it might make you do a double-take.
"It’s either I cut my hair or my son that's on the way won't have someone providing for him," Haynes said. "My wife, who looks to me to provide wouldn't have a provider, so I mean I detached myself from it completely."
The three North Texans hope their hair stories will serve as a reminder that their appearance is much deeper than what meets the eye.
If you want to learn more about Black hair discrimination, please watch more of our Rooted content here. You can also find more information about The Crown Act, the fight to stop hair discrimination in the workplace and in schools here.
To Dismantle Anti-Asian Racism, We Must Understand Its Roots
Discrimination against Asian immigrants began almost as soon as they entered the U.S. in the middle of the 19th century.
The first immigrants were Chinese laborers looking for new work opportunities abroad in the aftermath of the Opium Wars. By the early 1850s, the 25,000 Chinese migrants attracted by the California Gold Rush constituted roughly 10% of California’s total population.
Despite the integral role of these laborers in American mining, agriculture, textiles, and perhaps most prominently, the Transcontinental Railroad, Chinese immigrants faced mounting hostility from white settlers who saw them as an economic, health, and moral threat. Exclusionary immigration policies followed, and within 35 years, the Page Act of 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 made legal Chinese immigration all but impossible.
Chinese immigrants already in the U.S., who faced mass lynching, urban displacement, and violent attacks in their communities, had their options for recourse severely limited by People v. Hall in 1853, in which the California Supreme Court ruled that Chinese witnesses could not testify against white witnesses.
Subsequent waves of Asian immigrants arrived in the U.S. seeking opportunities like Chinese immigrants before them — and they were met with similarly oppressive policies. Immigration from Japan rose in the late 1880s and was curtailed by The Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907. South Asian immigration rose and fell with the 1917 Immigration Act, an expansion of the Chinese Exclusion Act that had created an “Asiatic Barred Zone” from which all immigration was completely banned. And when Filipino immigrants — the only immigrants not targeted by the Exclusion Act due to the annexation of the Philippines by the U.S. after the Spanish-American War — began immigrating to the U.S., their immigration was swiftly curtailed by the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934. Crowning these many policies and their impacts was the quota system established by the Immigration Act of 1924, which sought to ensure that the population of immigrants in the U.S. would always stay proportional relative to the white population.
Anti-Asian racism took aim at one specific nationality during World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese Americans fell under intense social and political suspicion. This racial hysteria became the basis for Executive Order 9066, passed on February 19, 1942, and the establishment of Japanese internment camps. One hundred and twenty thousand Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them citizens, were forcibly relocated.
The Model Minority Myth and the Pan-Asian Movement
During World War II, Chinese Americans took great pains to distance themselves from Japanese Americans — Chinese American organizations distributed pins only to those who could speak a Chinese dialect proclaiming, “I’m Chinese,” or even buttons reading, “I Hate [the Japanese] Worse Than You Do.” At the time, the Roosevelt administration was interested in ensuring the good treatment of Chinese Americans for other reasons; they worried that the Chinese Exclusion Act was hampering relations with China, an ally against Japan in the war. Efforts began to build public and political support for reducing anti-Chinese sentiment and repealing the Chinese Exclusion Act. One private organization, the Citizen’s Committee to Repeal Chinese Exclusion, deployed a strategy that would stick: recasting Chinese Americans as unassuming, nonviolent, and law-abiding citizens. These efforts succeeded. In 1943, one year after Japanese internment, Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act.
In the 1950s, the Cold War and the association of “Asia” with communism further complicated the experience of Asian immigrants in the U.S. One of the largest events of this period, the Korean War, resulted in an influx of Korean refugees — “war brides,” “war orphans,” and intellectuals — into the U.S. Many of these refugees feared speaking out about their experiences, lest nuance be lost to Cold War Manichaeism. While this was occurring, Chinese Americans similarly faced increased persecution, especially from government agencies like the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Yet the strategic rebranding of Chinese Americans that began during World War II continued. Chinese American communities and “cultural values” were lauded as solutions to social ills, prime examples of “melting pot” assimilationism, and positioned opposite Black urban ghettos.
When the Vietnam War began in 1955, the decades-long conflict would only further enflame hostilities against Asians in the U.S. To the average, unaware American, and even to soldiers on the front lines in Vietnam, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Americans — even fellow American soldiers from these ethnicities — looked no different from “the enemy.”
At the same time, the stereotyping and valorization of Asian ethnicities in the U.S. gained a formal name: the “model minority.” In a New York Times article published in the 1960s, the model minority stereotype was formalized using the experience of Japanese Americans as a focal point. This budding stereotype was further leveraged to challenge and delegitimize the social and political disruption caused by Black civil rights activists, exemplified well in a 1966 issue of the U.S. News & World Report, which argued that “at a time when it is being proposed that hundreds of billions be spent to uplift Negroes and other minorities…one such minority, the nation’s 300,000 Chinese-Americans, is winning wealth and respect by dint of its own hard work…not a welfare check.”
Many Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, and other Asian immigrants and their descendants resented this narrative. Critics of the myth noted how the reductive narrative glossed over challenges Asian communities faced, many of them created or exacerbated by government-instigated or government-supported discrimination and violence, and opposed these ideas being used to delegitimize the struggles of Black Americans.
The burgeoning resistance to the model minority myth coalesced around the term “Asian American,” coined by then-students Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka in 1968, who were looking for a way to unify the many Asian immigrants in the U.S. around a shared identity. Catalyzed by their opposition to the Vietnam War and inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, Asian Americans united around similar experiences of marginalization: Japanese internment, harassment and deportation driven by McCarthyism, colonization, and the daily harassment and discrimination that came from being seen as “not American.” The student-led movement worked to protect affordable housing in low-income Asian neighborhoods and support exploited workers. It also organized alongside the Black Student Union and other student groups for the creation of the first ethnic studies programs in the U.S. And it would go on to evolve into a Pan-Asian civil rights movement that rallied communities across the country to organize against discrimination, community underinvestment, unequal working conditions, and police brutality.
But the collective Asian American identity was far from static. As more groups entered under the Asian American umbrella, and as the divisions sowed by the model minority myth widened, the Pan-Asian movement struggled to maintain the solidarity that had defined it.
The Supreme Court’s 1967 Loving v. Virginia ruling legalizing interracial marriage paved the way for new generations of multiracial and mixed-race Asian Americans. In the 1970s, the U.S. saw an influx of Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese, and Hmong refugees emigrating from Southeast Asian countries directly impacted by colonization, war, and imperialism. These immigrants found themselves targeted by the same racist discrimination and violence that oppressed the Asian immigrants who came before them — as well as additional challenges related to the settling of these communities within and around historically Black neighborhoods. Low-income Southeast Asian Americans faced a paradox: if they strove for success and achieved it, they were seen as an undifferentiated “model minority”; if they engaged in activism and advocacy, they were racialized similarly to Black Americans and faced comparable rates of policing, disciplinary action, and systemic oppression.
During the same decade, South Asian Americans fought to be recognized as a distinct minority protected under civil rights legislation and affirmative action programs. While recognizing the limitations of the developing Asian American identity, namely that it equated the experiences of East Asian Americans for those of all Asian Americans, South Asian Americans hesitantly allied with other Asian Americans under the umbrella.
The murder of Vincent Chin in 1982 would catalyze the next chapter of the Asian American movement. Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man, was murdered in Detroit by white autoworkers who believed he was Japanese and blamed Japan for the current recession. At the time, Asian Americans were not recognized as a legal class with protections under civil rights law: even in the police report, the only options for listing Vincent Chin’s race were “white” or “Black.” Community organizing efforts led by activist Helen Zia set off a wave of Asian American student organizing, galvanized Asian American communities, and resulted in the expansion of civil rights protections to include Asian Americans and Latinxs, broadening the legal conceptualization of race in America.
The Movement Splinters
Yet tensions between Asian American communities persisted, exemplified during the battles over affirmative action that started in the late 1980s and continue to the present day. Stories proliferated in the news media about Chinese, Japanese, and Korean American students with perfect test scores, grade point averages, honors, and awards who were denied admission to prestigious universities. Asian Americans rallied to accuse Brown, Stanford, the California UC system, and other prestigious colleges and universities, of implementing “Asian quotas,” and pressured them to change their admissions policies and practices.
The affirmative action debate drove a wedge into the Pan-Asian movement. On one side were some East and South Asian Americans, many of them wealthy newer immigrants, who bought into the model minority myth and saw representation for Asian students admitted to universities “based on merit” directly opposed to Black and Latinx representation “based on affirmative action.” This side was backed by conservative intellectuals and lawmakers looking to attack the concept of affirmative action at large. On the other side were activists fighting for greater access to higher education, including Asian American organizations who had played a historical role in the Pan-Asian movement, as well as Southeast Asians and other lower-income Asian communities that had historically benefited from affirmative action programs.
While Asian American activism would continue into the 1990s, the schisms driven by the model minority myth would increasingly define a small subset of “Asian American issues” that were granted the most visibility and resources to combat. These issues included hate crime legislation, increased political participation, and workplace discrimination. And, despite the pushback of many Asian American organizations, the term “Asian American” became commonly understood as representing only East Asians.
As the foreign policy of the U.S. shifted, so too did anti-Asian sentiment. After the September 11 attacks, a new wave of violence and discrimination crashed upon Sikhs and Muslims (regardless of their ethnicities), Arab and Persian Americans (regardless of their religions), and South and West Asians. Despite the diversity within and between these communities, they were uniformly profiled as the enemy in the U.S.’s War on Terror. The conflation and targeting of these disparate identities echoed the conflation and targeting of all Asian Americans throughout U.S. history. And just as a collective Asian American identity and Pan-Asian movement formed in response to racism and violence then, coalitions formed between West and South Asian Americans, as well as Sikh and Muslim Americans, to denounce the racism and violence against their communities in the post-9/11 era. These coalitions, however, did not receive the broad buy-in and solidarity to form a new Pan-Asian movement.
In the most recent decade, we have seen increasing anti-Chinese rhetoric from U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle, echoed by media outlets, corresponding to China’s rise as a global superpower. This undercurrent of Sinophobia and racism accompanies the ongoing persecution of Chinese academics, scientists, and businesspeople, often on unfounded charges of spying, or solely due to their association with the Chinese Communist Party. And it undergirded the Trump administration’s racist descriptions of Covid-19 as the “China virus” or the “kung flu,” which has further fueled the anti-Asian racism, discrimination, and violence we’re witnessing in the U.S. today. As the complex racial politics of Asian Americans enter back into mainstream conversation, Asian Americans find themselves at a familiar crossroads.
History repeats itself — but we have the agency to choose how. We all must rally around the Chinese American and East Asian communities being targeted today and support communities under direct attack from racist violence. But there’s even more we can do. Violence in the U.S. during the Covid-19 pandemic, while directed nominally at Chinese people, has impacted Korean Americans, South Asians, Thai Americans, Filipino Americans, and even Latinx Americans. Building on the momentum, politicization, and racial awareness catalyzed by the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, Asian Americans and their non-Asian allies can reject the model minority myth and recognize how anti-Asian racism connects every group under the Asian American umbrella. The original Pan-Asian movement rose through unity and fell at the hands of the model minority myth. Now, to revive it, Asian Americans and their allies must first challenge the one-dimensional Myth and remember the shared experiences that connect the diverse groups under the vast umbrella of “Asian American.”
Workplace allyship is essential to inclusion efforts, report says
Inclusion has enjoyed more focus over the past year as companies come to recognize its importance. A McKinsey report released in May 2020 found that companies often see improvements in their diversity when they use a systematic, business-led approach with a special emphasis on inclusion.
The role of workplace allies, defined by the CWB as "those who actively promote and aspire to advance a culture of inclusion utilizing intentional, positive efforts," has been gaining more attention as well. In previous conversations with HR Dive, thought leaders have emphasized the importance of trust in allyship relationships, as well as intentional, conscious efforts on the part of the ally to support the individual in need of allyship. They have also noted the role of bold actions, such as when Alexis Ohanian, co-founder and former CEO of Reddit, stepped down from the company's board last June and urged members to fill his seat with a Black candidate.
As the concept of allyship has received more focus, critiques of performative allyship — which the CWB authors identify as the sharing of knowledge related to privilege and inequity without the accompanying use of privilege and resources to make change — have grown. This has gained special attention recently with respect to the Asian American Pacific Islander community, which experienced an increase in discrimination due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite an increased focus on DEI initiatives last year, a report on anti-Asian violence found that 8% of incidents occurred in the workplace, including workplace discrimination and refusal of service from establishments, transit or ride-shares.
Fostering inclusivity — and allyship — in the workplace has more to do with culture than specific programming. It's about embedding the concepts in the day-to-day operations of the company, leaders in the space previously told HR Dive. The CWB report agrees, suggesting that to increase effective allyship, organizations should "embed a culture of safety," adopt nonjudgmental dialogue, use one-on-one conversations and make a public commitment to inclusion.
New Survey Reveals Gen Z Holds the Key to the Evolution of Company Culture, with Social Issues, Workforce Engagement, and Treatment of Others at Work Top of Mind
70% of Employees Have Experienced Discrimination in the Workplace which has Impacted Their Productivity, Engagement, or Performance
Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights, and Mental Health Awareness Are the Top Issues Companies Have Supported & Taken Action on in the Past Year
56% of Respondents Think Using a Workplace Engagement Platform Could Help Improve Company Culture, Employee Communications, and Training & Development Efforts
Ten Spot, the workforce engagement platform that keeps your employees connected, today announced the results of a nationwide survey, Company Culture, Behavior, and Social Issues in Today’s Workplace. The findings provide insight into how company culture will evolve as members of Generation Z continue to join the workforce and influence everything from social activism at work to the adoption of workplace engagement platforms. Additionally, the results reveal a pointed look at how today’s workforce defines their company’s culture, their experiences with workplace discrimination, and ways it’s impacted their productivity, and why a company’s involvement and support of sociopolitical issues is important to employees. Some key highlights are:
“Through this survey, we’ve learned company culture no longer just means employees view a company as a ‘great place to work.’ Over the past several years we’ve seen workplace culture evolve from perks and competitive salaries, to how companies treat their employees and make decisions on today’s significant social issues,” said Sammy Courtright, co-founder and Chief Brand Officer of Ten Spot. Today, companies need to be a triple threat if they want to attract and retain the most talented, productive, and engaged employees that are now entering the workforce.”
- 36% of respondents describe the company culture at their current jobs as “diverse”, followed by “team-oriented” (34%), and “inclusive” (29%).
- However, nearly half (47%) of all respondents have not been offered (28%), or have not participated in (19%), diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training at their company.
- Overall, 76% of respondents reported that the company they work for is a psychologically and emotionally safe place to work for all employees, and 87% of people feel like they have at least one colleague at work who cares about them as a person.
Company Culture + Socio-Political Issues = More Engaged Employees
While politicians have recently criticized companies for “getting involved in politics,” 49% of the survey responses reflected company involvement in, or support of, five key socio-political issues. Additionally, 76% of respondents say they know what their company stands for when it comes to company culture and social issues.
There was a three-way tie for the top that respondents say their companies have supported or taken other action on over the past year - Black Lives Matter (40%), Women’s Rights (40%), and Mental Health Awareness/Programs/Initiatives (40%). The second pressing issue was local food banks (31%), followed by Voting Rights (30%) as third, and LGBTQ Rights (29%) as fourth.
Why does this matter? How a company responds to social, political, and humanitarian issues that are happening has a significant impact on company culture and working for a purpose-driven company plays a central role in determining an employee’s engagement and productivity levels.
Putting a New Lens on Employee Engagement and Productivity
Overall, 56% of respondents say they would be more engaged and productive at work if their company was actively involved in addressing today’s critical social issues, with Men (62%), Gen Z (61%), and BIPOC (60%) as the top three groups of respondents.
However, employee engagement is a complex issue and what happens inside a company is just as important. When respondents were asked what issues they have experienced in the workplace - either directly or indirectly - that have impacted their productivity, engagement, or performance, overall, 70% of them have experienced some discriminatory issue or abusive behavior in the workplace. It’s not just one issue but several issues that impact many different people. The top results include:
Gen Z - The Rising Force Set to Transform the Future Workplace
- Sexism (28%)
- Racism (23%)
- Pay Inequality (23%)
- Bullying (23%)
- Classism (22%)
When it comes to everything happening around them - whether in the workplace or out in the world - Gen Z may quickly become the “eyes wide open” generation. The newest generation joining the workforce is observant, sensitive to both what’s happening in the world around them as well as what’s happening to them at work. Additionally, they are more apt to be motivated and engaged by workplaces, managers, and people who take a stand on today’s important social issues.
Based on Gen Z’s early experiences in the workplace, they are more critical of their company HR departments, but they are also more likely to see ways that company issues could be solved, and communication improved, through technology.
- While the top three ways Gen Z describes their current workplace, culture are “diverse” (38%), “happy” (32%), and “engaged” (31%), they are also the most likely generation to describe the culture as “toxic” (18%), “depressing” (17%), and “boring” (16%)
- While Gen Z has only been in the full-time workforce for a few years, they have already seen higher levels of sexual harassment (24%), LGBTQ discrimination (19%), and bullying (26%) than any other generation.
- Additionally, 86% of Gen Z have already experienced discriminatory issues or abusive behavior in the workplace, a 14% jump from the 70% overall
While critical of their companies and HR departments on these fronts, Gen Z does appear to recognize that there are solutions. Overall 56% of respondents think that using an employee engagement and productivity platform could help their company improve the company’s culture, employee communications, and training and development efforts. However, the number jumps to 63% with Gen Z. Both numbers, however, show a significant jump up from the fact that only 20% of respondents said that their company uses a workforce engagement platform for these purposes, today.
- Gen Z is nearly twice as likely (11%) to say their Company and its HR department are doing a horrible job at fostering employee engagement and productivity than the average (6%)
- Additionally, Gen Z is more likely (22%) to feel their company and its HR department are doing a poor or horrible job dealing with discriminatory issues and behavior, and negative company culture than the average (16%)
Additionally, Gen Z (62%) was the most enthusiastic generation regarding the positive impact virtual events had on their company culture during the pandemic, followed by every other generation in descending order - Millennial (59%), GenX (57%), Boomers (52%).
“Looking across the workforce today, there is a stark generational difference between the generation that will soon leave the workforce, Boomers, and the generation that has just entered the workforce, Gen Z,” said Courtright. “The difference will undoubtedly have a significant impact on today’s workplace as we know it - from how we use technology, think about company culture, ways we communicate to addressing issues regarding workplace discrimination and dealing with the most pressing social and political issues.”