Saturday, December 5, 2009

The "D" Word -- Discrimination in Employment

Discrimination is a word you don't hear about much these days. Yet racial and class discrimination still exists -- big time. Discrimination is intimately connected to racial disparities in unemployment. As the New York Times highlighted recently, unemployment rates for Blacks are almost double that for white across broad categories of education. Yet the article uses the "D" word only twice.

It is almost like the weather; it is taken as a given. Those who are not touched by it, assume it does not exist. And those affected by it, have no recourse but to accept it and move on. It has become more acceptable by the majority, using the justification of "hard times," to look the other way when discrimination occurs. It is acceptable to ignore the result or say "Tsk, Tsk, what a shame, but I am not like that."

Discrimination is the status quo, so combating discrimination requires a positive action away from the present state. It requires a change. (Note: I am trying not to use the phrase "affirmative action" which has been hijacked by the conservatives). It requires action by private citizens in millions of small, individual steps to say the current process is wrong, unfair and immoral. Fixing the problem requires moral courage, not just a class in business ethics.

Discrimination is still wrong. In these tough times, it is worse still to accept the advantages and privilages that discrimination may offer. Regular readers know to expect some solutions following the statement of a difficult problem, so read on.

The following recommendation would make a renewed progress toward ending discrimination in employment.

1) Active enforcement of the nations exist discrimination laws. Active, re-occurring, paired testing and monitoring programs in in front-office, high profile industries like NYC food service or highway construction. Creative use of media to publicize test results. You can review discrimination in the NYC food service here.

2) Increased and full funding of the EEOC, the US department of civil rights and the justice department.

3) Enforcement of employment laws at state and local level

4) Enforcement of fair housing laws. Residential segregation is a major factor in US discrimination.

5) Inculsion of a "discrimination case study" in all of the business ethics classes in undergraduate and graduate business schools.

6) Pressure on think tanks and politics to make public stands on issues like discrimination.

7) An additional think tank for discrimination studies. There is a dearth of information and data on discrimination. Very few of the newer statistical models and methodologies have been applied to the area of discrimination. In addition, discrimination studies provided the academic underpinning (along with moral persuasion) for effective legislation. Many law cannot be enacted with a strong technical support(check the doll studies used in Brown v. Board of Ed).

Even conservatives are forced to agree discrimination is wrong. They complain about the remedy's impact on freedom, liberty, big government, taxes. And then block any real solution. So Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP had the right strategy to force the legal system to act on moral principles at the detailed level in everyday life.


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