The Civil Rights Act of 1964 forever changed the work environment. But has that legislated diversity really changed the complexion of today’s workplace?
Monique W. Morris, director of the Discrimination Research Center in Berkeley, thinks not enough.
Morris concedes that many people of color have made giant strides over the past 40 years, but there still are those who continue to struggle in menial jobs. “Discrimination is not as overt as it has been in the past. But that doesn’t mean it’s gone.
“There are still barriers to getting hired, advancing and keeping your job,” according to Morris. “For example, a recent DRC report looked at equal access promotion rates for nurses of color and found some interesting pieces of data.”
Nursing Not Immune
According to the report, California’s diverse population is not yet reflected in its nursing workforce. Latinos, African Americans and Asian Pacific Americans make up only 33 percent of the RNs. Caucasians account for 47 percent of California’s population but make up 64 percent of the RNs. However, the trend is definitely toward greater diversity. In 1990, 77 percent of RNs were white.
Minority nurses reported barriers to promotion significantly more often than white nurses, although Filipino and other Asian nurses were less likely to apply for promotion. Filipino and African American nurses were more likely than other nurses to report being denied a promotion.
“Forty-four percent of minority nurses perceived race and ethnicity as the reason for denial of promotion,” Morris says. “Almost one out of four reported that they would not feel comfortable discussing a race-related issue with their supervisors.”
Despite perceived barriers to promotion and problems with diversity, minority nurses are more likely to pursue further education or certification, according to the study.
Morris believes that when diversity problems arise in the workplace, employers need to step in immediately and diffuse the situation. They can do many things to address the disparity.
“Employers need to address problems,” she points out. “For example, they can create a climate where race and ethnicity are not ‘unspoken’ but where diversity is celebrated.”
Among the significant structural actions they can take is to implement and enforce accountability standards for racial discrimination in the field.
“Also, we have a long way to go to unmask and dismantle language access barriers and race and gender discrimination,” Morris notes. “Language access barriers come into play when a minority is unable to receive healthcare or other public services because there is no one on the other side of the counter to interpret for them.”
Speaking for Law Enforcement
Another industry confronting the urgent need to communicate in many languages is law enforcement.
“There are more minorities applying to the Bureau now,” reports Sharon Niel, an administrative support person with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in San Francisco. “Many more women and minorities from diverse cultural backgrounds are needed, and they are applying and are accepted.”
People with diverse backgrounds who have specific skills and abilities are more aware that they have an opportunity to have a job with the FBI. “Those include language speakers and translators, analysts, and military intelligence personnel,” according to Neil.
Women in Law
Claudia Center, a lawyer with the Employment Law Center in San Francisco, cites statistics that illustrate how the legal profession has dramatically changed since the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed.
“Gender is the most stark example,” she says. “In most law schools, the classes are now divided 50-50 between men and women, and that is spectacular.”
Asian Americans are represented in greater numbers in law schools, and African Americans and Hispanics are more of a presence, although they lag behind white women and Asian men and women. Those figures don’t represent their population, but gains have been made, Center points out.
A pothole on the road to diversity was Proposition 209, which was approved by the California electorate in 1996. Known as the California Civil Rights Initiative, Prop 209 decreed that the state cannot discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to any individual or groups on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin for purposes of public employment, public education or public contracts.
“Even though it (Prop. 209) was a step backward, we are going forward in most of the professions,” Center continues. “However, partners in the big corporate law firms are almost always white male dominated.”
There are lots of reasons for that fact she says. Part of it is the historical truth that these law firms are from another era when women were not welcomed. Those who want to climb the ladder to lofty heights most often have someone else to help take care of the other facets of their life.
“Women don’t want everything to center about their careers. We want to have a balance and other values,” she believes. “Women who tend to succeed are willing to play the game in the same way as their male counterparts.”
The upside of the gender coin is that in governmental, nonprofit and small law firms, women and minorities are predominately represented.
“In my opinion, the work we do here overshadows the power, money and influence of working in the larger firms,” she concludes.