Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Segregation of Work

According to the EEOC, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is violated where employees who belong to a protected group are segregated by physically isolating them from other employees or from customer contact. In addition, employers may not assign employees according to race or color.

For example, Title VII prohibits assigning primarily African-Americans to predominantly African-American establishments or geographic areas. It is also illegal to exclude members of one group from particular positions or to group or categorize employees or jobs so that certain jobs are generally held by members of a certain protected group.

Coding applications/resumes to designate an applicant's race, by either an employer or employment agency, constitutes evidence of discrimination where people of a certain race or color are excluded from employment or from certain positions.

I’ve previously written about one job I had, where Black workers were routinely excluded from direct client contact. White managers, mid-level staff, and junior staff would normally attend the meetings with our government clients. After all of the strategy sessions were done, Black employees would be invited to participate—on conference calls.

It got so bad, that one government contracting officer asked the President and CEO of our company where the Black employees were. She said that she and other contracting officers noticed they were only meeting White employees. She said that the government was using taxpayer funds and she expected diversity. She also said that she wanted to make sure that Black and minority workers were being assigned to work on assignments where we were targeting African Americans, as well as on so-called mainstream assignments targeted to the general population or specifically to Whites. The contracting officer declared an expectation that minorities not just perform administrative work, but ACTUAL PROJECT WORK.

So, my employer literally held one of her “dog and pony shows.” Except, this time, she was showing off the Black and minority workers. The CEO took these government clients around our office building—only stopping at the offices of Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian employees. This was the first time many of us were introduced to our clients. We'd never seen any of these people and our contracts had been going on for years!

Another example of segregation is that some Black employees are segregated to only work on Black projects. I had a coworker, a researcher, who was only assigned to conduct research, when the interviewees were Black. This was the tactic used by a director and a mid-level manager in another department. They refused to assign her to interview Whites, Hispanics, etc.

Another issue, at some companies, is that Black workers end up in the lowest level administrative staff positions and with the lowest salaries. This can represent a segregation and classification issue because it is not inherently plausible that only Blacks are capable of working in the lowest level jobs at a company.

What can you do?

Take a look at the positions at your job. Who is working on what? What are the titles, job levels, and classifications?

If you suspect a segregation and classification issue, begin to compile documentation that can support your position. If your company distributes employees lists and other demographic charts, mark them up to reflect the issue you see. Talk to other employees to see if they also notice the issue and view it as a problem. If a group of employees want to address the issue, do so as a group. Speak to someone in HR about the issue. It’s best to go in mass regarding issues like this. But, if you have to fly solo, make sure you have all the facts and can prove your point.

Build a circumstantial case that is sound and easy to understand. Gather organizational charts and anything else that will demonstrate a need for investigation and change.


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