If you hear a racist-sounding remark at work, you might want to report it to human resources. HR is on the front line when it comes to reports of racial discrimination and harassment. So, you might expect them to know whether racism is a problem at your workplace.
Yet Black HR staffers are much more likely than Whites to identify racism as a problem in their workplaces, according to a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management.
The organization surveyed nearly 1,300 human resources professionals and found:
- 49% of Black HR representatives, versus 13% of White HR representatives, believe that racism or ethnicity-based discrimination occurs at their workplace.
- 61% of Black HR reps believe that rude comments and slights occur in their workplaces, while only 44% of White HR reps thought so.
- 68% of Black HR reps said their companies weren’t doing enough to provide Black employees with opportunities, as opposed to 35% of White HR reps.
The difference of views wasn’t only among HR professionals. The Society also surveyed over 1,250 workers and found stark contrasts between the beliefs of Whites and Blacks.
- 35% of Black workers indicated they saw racial inequality at their job, while only 7% of Whites said that.
- 33% of Black workers said they didn’t feel respected at work, while only 18% of White workers felt that way.
The area of agreement? Equal percentages of Black and White workers (37%) said they felt uncomfortable discussing the issue of race on the job.
These results didn’t surprise one San Jose-based Black consultant who used to work in HR and now helps companies build anti-racist work environments. She told MarketWatch that Black employees tended to seek her out even if they weren’t assigned to her. Sometimes, this was because White HR reps hadn’t been responsive — or because the Black employees feared they wouldn’t be.
The consultant pointed out that Human Resources professionals are not trained on how to resolve racial tensions or discrimination complaints. Their training is more geared toward answering questions and working to retain employees.
Now could be an enormous period of opportunity
Many workplaces have traditionally shied away from addressing race head-on. This may have contributed to the problem.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, between 2015 and 2019, toxic workplaces cost U.S. companies $223 billion — up 24% from the period between 2008 and 2012.
One of America’s great promises is that people are to be treated equally regardless of race and are to be measured by the content of their character. America presently seems to be experiencing a real reckoning with racism. Companies have a huge opportunity to address this longstanding problem. How can your workplace begin to have honest conversations about race?
If you have experienced race discrimination at work, contact an attorney to discuss your rights and options.