Perception of Race Inequality ‘Widespread’ in Federal Sector

blackhandA panel formed  by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2010 to identify obstacles faced by blacks  in the federal workplace  reported  this month that  “widespread perceptions of inequality” persist  among African American workers.

The report by the EEOC  African American Workgroup says that blacks who work for the federal government are victims of significant unconscious discrimination and stereotyping that falls outside the  current ambit of federal race  discrimination laws.  An example of unconscious bias  in the report is a supervisor’s failure  to mentor or groom African Americans for promotion because  of an unconscious belief or stereotype that African Americans are not seen traditionally as leaders.

The report also states that EEOC regulations are not being effectively enforced by federal agencies. The report states that  many agencies attain technical superficial compliance with EEO regulations and directives but “there is an overall lack of commitment by the agency heads to ensuring equal employment opportunities.”  Furthermore, the report states that some agencies view equal employment directives as “a burdensome adjunct to the operations of the agency.”

 Interestingly, the workgroup did not issue a typical report with specific recommendations. Instead, the workgroup related the findings and conclusions of  “dialogue partners” who were consulted by the workgroup, including federal Equal Employment Opportunity directors, Blacks in Government and the African American Federal Executives Association.

 The so-called dialogue partners concluded that the EEOC “lacks sufficient enforcement powers” to effectively combat discrimination and eradicate impediments for African Americans in the federal workforce.   The report is particularly critical of the EEOC’s inability to force agencies to discipline managers who were found to have engaged in unlawful discrimination.

According to the workgroup, the dialogue partners recommend the following steps to remove obstacle facing African Americans in federal employment:

  • Conduct unconscious bias training for all employees so they can become aware of their biases. 
  • Legal experts must analyze how unconscious bias can be evaluated as evidence of discrimination under federal civil rights laws. 
  • Agencies should establish formal mentoring programs and monitor their effectiveness in increasing equal employment opportunities.
  • All agencies should establish an African American “affinity group” and ensure it has the resources to provide meaningful networking opportunities for African Americans.
  • Agencies should establish objective and transparent criteria for granting employees’ requested training and offering developmental assignments. 
  • Agencies should expand recruitment methods by entering into partnerships with African American affinity groups, professional organizations, universities and media that will facilitate dialogue with African Americans who may be interested in careers with the federal government. 
  • Agency heads should make a commitment to address inequities in a proactive and effective manner, and should become more visible and hands-on in managing diversity and holding senior  management accountable for results. 
  • Agencies should ensure that education requirements are job related and a business necessity. 
  • As part of their annual performance ratings, managers, supervisors and senior executives should be evaluated in at least one element that assesses their commitment to equal employment opportunity principles and goals. 
  • The EEOC should publicize findings of discrimination in the federal sector in press releases.
  • The EEOC should seek legal authority to order punishment for responsible management officials.
  • The EEOC should “ issue an agency ‘EEO Scorecard’ that evaluates agencies’ EEO programs, inclusiveness, and accomplishments in various critical EEO elements, and it should be presented in a digestible, user-friendly manner that is available to the public.”

The workgroup cites a 2007 survey by the Merit Systems Protection Board that almost three quarters of all African Americans who work for the federal government report experiencing race discrimination on the job. More than half (51%) reported there was “great” or “moderate” discrimination while 15 percent said the discrimination was “significant.”