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In an ideal world, we would all have equal rights, treatment and opportunities regardless of who we are, the color of our skin or our gender. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world and our differences can have a positive or negative interference when it comes to discrimination. The features we possess are unique and we should not be treated with prejudice because of them, especially in the workplace. Employment discrimination is a common occurrence throughout the workplace and often times goes unnoticed, is swept under the rug or is perhaps even unintended. Whether or not workplace discrimination is intended, it seems that it is something that is present and lingers throughout every profession in the United States despite laws to protect against and help prevent.
There are several forms of unfair treatment in the workplace that we can label as discrimination. This consists of discrimination based on gender, religion, race, origin, physical disability, mental disability, sexual orientation, age and gender identity. These discriminations within the workplace by employers can impact employee earning potential, dictate roles and responsibilities, affect raises and bonuses, cause unhealthy work environments and impair treatment of employees.
It is important to recognize workplace discrimination in order to prevent it on the personal level and to be able recognize it happening in our own workplaces. What exactly is employment discrimination? It can be defined as the different treatment of two equally qualified employees in a harmful manner because it affects the economic outcomes of equally productive employees. Employment discrimination can also be defined as a less favorable treatment towards an individual or group of individuals in a workplace setting that is usually based on defining attributes – age, gender, race, etc. When we see a denial of certain rights, neglectful treatment, intentionally underestimating an employee’s work ability, we can distinguish as discrimination.
Workplace discrimination is not something that is limited only to employer behavior, it is also seen within employees. Feminist economist Deborah Figart (1997) has defined labor discrimination as “a multi-dimensional interaction of economic, social, political, and cultural forces in both the workplace and the family, resulting in different outcomes involving pay, employment, and status”. This example helps explain that the effects of workplace discrimination is not limited to the workplace, they also flow into other areas of the employees life. It has been stated that discrimination at the group level can cause feelings of fear and mistrust within the group discriminated which can often result in inhibited performance. Discrimination in the workplace has been found to have many negative effects on an employee’s overall health. Some of these negative effects are seen with blood pressure, heart disease, psychological distress, and self-reported health.
There have been two common ways of reacting to discrimination: emotion-focused coping and problem-focused coping. In emotion-focused coping, employees protect their self-esteem by attributing any discrepancies in hiring or promotion to discrimination instead of reflecting on their own potential shortcomings. In problem-focused coping, employees attempt to change aspects of themselves that caused them to be discriminated against to prevent themselves from future discrimination. Some common examples are obese people losing weight or mentally ill people seeking therapy. Of course, this approach can only be accomplished when the point of discrimination is not unchangeable like race or age.
We know that discrimination can result into serious psychological consequences for the victim and these consequences can also include emotional distress, stress and anxiety. Employment discrimination often causes an employee to abandon their jobs via resigning from a position, or in extreme cases, commit suicide, or act violently against the discriminators. In the United States, we hear news stories all too often about a shooting that has occurred in the workplace. In 2017, a disgruntled employee of Fiamma, an Orlando based business, shot and killed five former co-workers before turning the gun on himself. News reports of the incident stated how the shooter had “problems” with the five individuals and he targeted them directly, not harming any of the other former coworkers who were present that day. Reports were unclear of the exact form of discrimination the shooter experienced while employed but several of his former coworkers shared their options regarding the topic.
When discrimination is suspected, there are several ways we can deal with it. Measures to deal with workplace discrimination can be both individual but they can also be collective. Individual measures that can be taken consists of standing firm when facing verbal attacks, staying confident about their own abilities and try to avoid being alone with the abusive person. Collective measures can involve organizing a meeting in a private location with the goal of discussing the problem and working to find solutions, complaining to appropriate authorities and developing and implementing policies for change. Workplace discrimination is not always easy to pin-point and not every unfair behavior at work can be considered discrimination.
Let’s take a look at pay and the gender earnings gap. It is important to note that the concentration of men and women working in specific occupations or industries is not evidence of discrimination. We see through empirical studies that earnings differentiate due to worker qualification differences more so than gender. However, the portion of the earnings gap that cannot be explained by studies is where we can explain discrimination. One evident procedure used to identify the explained and unexplained portions of the gender wage gap is the Oaxaca–Blinder decomposition procedure. Another type of statistical evidence of discrimination is obtained by focusing on homogeneous groups through studying economic outcomes of groups with very similar qualifications.
To take a deeper look into the gender pay gap, we’ll have to dive into a well-known study. Graduates from the University of Michigan Law School were surveyed between 1987 and 1993, and again between 1994 and 2000 to measure any changes in the wage gap regarding gender. The group was intentionally chosen because they had similar characteristics with gender being the only significant difference. The gap in earnings between the genders was very small upon graduation. After 15 years however, it was discovered that women earned 60 percent of what men earned which showed an extensive gender wage gap.
A similar study showed that minority employees earned less money compared to white employees, especially white men. This study was conducted in 2006 and focused on Harvard University graduates. The researchers considered GPA, SAT scores, college major, time out of work and current occupation. The results showed that 30 percent of the wage gap was unexplained. Therefore, although not all of the unexplained gaps is due to discrimination, the results of the studies certainly point to gender discrimination, even with highly educated women. From experience, I have seen a gender wage gap within the organization in which I am employed.
I feel fortunate that I am being paid on par with male managers who hold similar positions in the organization that I am employed, but I did not achieve pay equality without a fight. I run the children’s Respite department for a non-profit organization that I have been employed by for the past five years. My first three years of employment was as a Respite Care provider part-time and I occasionally helped in the office with secretarial duties. I happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right amount of experience and knowledge of current clients and families because when the manager at the time was terminated, I was offered the position. I attributed my good luck by my hours of volunteer with within the organization, my college degree, my experience and excellent people skills. I was initially content with the salary offered and didn’t question fairness or lack thereof. However, given my new position as management, I was tasked to maintain and keep current and former employee files in order. During this task it was discovered that the former Respite Care manager had made significantly more than I did upon hire, although he lacked a college degree and had no prior experience. This realization made me believe that I had been discriminated against due to my gender and in the form of gender pay gap. I very cautiously brought this knowledge (and proof) to my CPO’s attention and it was resolved after a year and budget amendments.
The gender pay gap is one form of employment discrimination, but there are many others including racial discrimination. When it comes to this form of discrimination, audit (otherwise known as matched pairs) studies are utilized to examine racial hiring discrimination. The Urban Institute conducted a study using matched pairs in order to examine racial discrimination. They studied the employment outcomes for men who were between the ages of 19 and 25 who were Hispanic, white and black for an entry-level job position. For this study, they matched pairs of black and white men and then pairs of Hispanic and non-Hispanic men as testers. The testers applied for the same advertised openings for the new positions. All of their resumes were fabricated and all characteristics written were nearly identical with the exception of their race/ethnicity. They also all went through training sessions for the interviews. The idea of the study was to see if both people in the pair were offered the job or if both were rejected. The goal was to see whether or not racial discrimination was at play during the interviews. For example, if one person from the pair was given the job while the other was rejected, then they concluded there was discrimination. The results of this study found that black men were three times more likely to be refused for a job compared to white men and Hispanic men were three times more likely to be discriminated than both white and black men for the same job.
A similar study was conducted by The Fair Employment Council of Greater Washington, Inc. for women by pairing testers by race. This study found that the white female testers had higher chances of call back for interviews and job offers compared to black female testers. White female testers were 10 percent more likely to obtain interviews. Among those interviewed however, 50 percent of white women were offered the job and only 11 percent of black candidates received jobs offers. The white female testers were also offered higher pay for the same job that was also offered to the black female testers. The pay difference was 15 percent higher for the white female candidates. In addition, black women were encouraged into lower level jobs, while white women were offered higher-level positions that were not advertised.
Another matched-pairs study of homogeneous group audit was done in the restaurants in Philadelphia. Pseudo candidates were asked to hand their resumes to a random worker in the restaurants and then resumes were to be forwarded to the manager by the random worker. This removed first impressions and judgement on the employer. The resumes were written based on the qualifications of the pseudo applicants and resumes were delivered in three separate weeks. The results showed that male applicants were favored significantly over female candidates. Men had higher interview callbacks and job offers. There were not any cases in which a man did not get the job offer but a woman did. Based on this study, it fair to conclude that discrimination in the same job may lead to gender wage discrimination.
We can find article after article summarizing court cases in which employment discrimination has been found. One of which is Darity and Mason (1998) summarizing the court cases on employment discrimination in which employers were found guilty and plaintiffs were rewarded. They argue that such cases establish the existence of discrimination. The plaintiffs were women who were non-white. One example is the following: In 1997, the allegations for the Publix Supermarkets were “gender biases in on the job training, promotion, tenure and layoff policies; wage discrimination; occupational segregation; hostile work environment”.
We know that there are laws in place for employment discrimination, yet we still see cases regularly regarding this matter. The prominent anti-employment discrimination law in the United States is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The courts would often find it difficult to prove intentional discrimination which is the reason behind the disparate impact legal theory addition. It covers the more complicated side of discrimination where ‘some work criterion was fair in form but discriminatory in practice’. Employees must prove that the employment practices used by an employer causes disparate impact on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. To help with cases, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission established a four-fifths rule where federal enforcement agencies takes a ‘selection rate for any race, sex, or ethnic group which is less than four-fifths’ as evidence for disparate impact.
Although in this essay I have outlined several examples of employment discrimination, it is important to note that we have categories in which are protected. These protected categories from employment discrimination are: Race or color, Ethnicity or national origin, Sex or gender, Pregnancy, Religion or creed, Political affiliation, Language abilities, Citizenship, Disability or medical condition, Age, Sexual orientation, Gender identity and Marital status. Unfortunately for us, we do not live in a perfect world. Although many categories of individuals are protected, we know workplace discrimination is still a common issue and not all people can enjoy equal opportunities and rights. Still today, employees can be discriminated and abused because of certain features they possess, such as the color of skin, their ethnicity or gender, age, marital status, disabilities, and so on. To eliminate workplace discrimination, both individual and collective preventive measures should be made.
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