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“No-Label” Explosion Versus Diversity in the Workforce

June 24, 2020

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

It seems we are living in an age where 1960’s racial and gender reporting requirements are archaic.  More workers are not identifying themselves by race/ethnicity and/or gender when applying for positions or when onboarding.

This situation creates tension, especially for those employers who have to file government forms such as the EEO-1 report or affirmative action plans (AAPs).  These reports do not have “unknown” as a category (except for applicant flow for AAPs).   Employers often wonder how to report since the employee is not required to complete any self-identification forms.  Therefore, employers have to walk a line to do visual IDs.

California is more progressive for state reporting purposes.  In 2017 California passed a law to recognize a third gender option on state-issued IDs, driver’s licenses, and birth certificates. The new law also makes it easier for California residents to change their legal gender to male, female, or nonbinary.  Yet, employers still have to report on traditional gender categories for EEO-1 and other federal demographic reporting.  Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Washington DC also allow for non-binary reporting.

What is non-binary? According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, non-binary is defined as “people whose gender is not exclusively male or female, including those who identify with a gender other than male or female, as more than one gender, or as no gender, identifying as a combination of genders or not identifying with either gender at all.”

A recent Pew Research study found that a majority of Americans (57%) say the fact that the U.S. population is made up of people of many different races and ethnicities is a very good thing for the country, and another 20% say this is somewhat good.  Furthermore, more than six in ten Americans (64%) say the fact that the U.S. population is made up of people of many different races and ethnicities has a positive impact on the country’s culture.

When it comes to the workplace three quarters of Americans say it is very (49%) or somewhat (26%) important for companies and organizations to promote racial and ethnic diversity in their workplace.  Yet, most are not interacting much with those of other races or ethnicities.  Most surveyed have at least some daily interaction with people who do not share their race or ethnicity, but relatively few say they have a lot of interaction. This is particularly the case for whites interacting with racial or ethnic minorities and nonwhites interacting with minority groups other than their own.

According to a survey by Clutch, approximately 76% of American workers think racism and discrimination is an issue at U.S. workplaces, but fewer than half (44%) think it’s an issue at their company. The survey found that just 14% of workers say racism and discrimination is a major problem at their own workplace, compared to 43% who think it’s a major problem at U.S. companies overall. Two-thirds of African American workers (64%), however, say racism and discrimination is a problem at their workplace.  Many people may be discriminating without knowing it through “microaggressions,” which are small actions, comments, and gestures people make that only marginalized groups may notice. Workers may not think their company is discriminatory, but many likely do not understand common workplace microaggressions.

When it comes to recruiting, only about one-in-four (24%) say that, in addition to their qualifications, a person’s race and ethnicity should be considered in decisions about hiring and promotions in order to increase diversity. A majority (74%) say employers should only take a person’s qualifications into account when making employment decisions, even if it results in less diversity in the workplace.  The view that employers should only take a person’s qualifications into account is widespread among whites (78%) and Hispanics (69%); about half of African Americans (54%) share this view.   The Supreme Court in its recent decision siding with LGBTQ protections under Title VII appears to support the view of no labels in the hiring process.

Yet, if non labels explode, will employers be between a rock and a hard place to promote diversity and harmonious workplaces?  Diversity programs today need labels to succeed.  It seems incongruous that a society thinks that diversity is important, yet employers cannot identify diversity except through personal filters of those working in D&I or HR.  In a perfect world, gender and ethnicity/race should not matter, but studies on African American and Latino named applicants show that biases impact hiring decisions.  Further, studies on performance have shown that African American ratings may have statistical significance regardless of the ethnicity/race and/or gender of the supervisor. 

Moreover, with the Black Lives Matter movement growing exponentially, employers need to watch the issues raised with great focus. Black and of-color Americans do not need to check off a box to declare themselves.  Every day they live in this public box.  Their economic situation generally plays no role in how they are perceived or reacted to.  Further, the leaders and participants of this movement are not just Black Americans, but the future workforce.  They will expect employers to “walk the talk.” Social issues that were raised by employees at Amazon, Google, and other businesses will become the norm of employee and customer relations and diversity and marketing communications.

With more pressure from politicos and society for employers to solve societal ills within their domains (e.g. solving for institutional racism or how motherhood impacts pay disparity etc.), employers need to be innovative in their approach to workforce planning and development.  In an age where no labels apply, employers have to train employees not to negatively push boundaries of societal norms and understand microaggressions.  Although employers cannot control the beliefs of their employees, they can control their behavior in the workplace and as a representative of the organization outside the workplace.

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