Facts About Racial Inequality in the Workplace

Workplace racial inequality may be an unintentional byproduct of broken systems, but is harmful nonetheless.

Workplace racial inequality may be an unintentional byproduct of broken systems, but is harmful nonetheless.

Racial inequality in the workplace isn't always an issue of simply who is and isn't hired -- it can also be about who is promoted and who is able to move into positions of power. Discrimination may not always be obvious, as it can take on forms that appear fair in practice but have disparaging effects on minorities within the workplace, or even the industry. Discrimination limits employees in their access to superior positions and their career advancement.

Glass Ceiling

The phrase "glass ceiling" was coined by the "Wall Street Journal" in 1986, referring to invisible barriers keeping women from positions of power. The glass ceiling also, however, represents the increasing difficulties of all minorities at higher levels in the company. A study in the American Sociological Review found that nearly all racial and gender groups have similar chances of low-level promotion. White men, however, have greater chances of high-level promotion than minorities.

In-Group Favoritism

The American Sociological Review's study also found that people in positions of power are more likely to fill other power positions with subordinates of the same race and sex. Because white men occupy the majority of managerial positions, high-level positions are more likely awarded to other white men. Networking is key to climbing the ladder to power positions, and minorities rely heavily on networking to gain higher-level positions. The odds of network assistance, however, decrease at higher levels for minorities, while the odds increase for white men.

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination takes on two forms: taste discrimination and statistical discrimination. Taste discrimination is racism based on group prejudices. Statistical discrimination is assessing an employee's potential productivity by attributing stereotypes that do not come from prejudice. Statistical discrimination occurs when a system favors candidates of a specific background by creating a hiring or promotion process using group characteristics to evaluate individual characteristics.

Indirect Discrimination

Indirect discrimination occurs when the rules of the workplace appear fair and neutral but have a disproportionate effect on a group. This sort of discrimination occurs, for instance, when networks providing invaluable information and resources to excel in a career are geared toward one group by making the barrier for entry harder for a minority group to attain. In another example, an employment service was found guilty of indirect discrimination due to a hidden application requirement that prevented lower-level employees from consideration, regardless of skill and ability. The black employee who applied had the skills and abilities but was not at the level required for application, as no black people were at that level in the company.

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About the Author

Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.

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