Straight Talk

Dec. 21, 2004
The devil is in discrimination

The devil is alive and well in corporate America. In fact, Beelzebub is thriving in one particularly insidious area -- discrimination -- and his evil has the potential to grow unabated as businesses become more global. Sadly, the No.1 discrimination complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is race discrimination. In a future world without borders, the need for better understanding and tolerance of our differences as people will become increasingly critical, even vital. Beelzebubian hatred -- and even things that may seem like harmless mischief -- can lead to workplace discrimination based on race, sex, age, disability, religion, and national origin. And the painful result to the perpetrators or their employers has been major lawsuits and huge monetary settlements with the EEOC. Much media and corporate attention has been focused lately on sexual harassment, the sin of forcing unwanted sexual attention on a co-worker or -- even more evil -- a subordinate. But the record shows that less sensational but more prevalent sins of discrimination should be receiving more of our attention. The EEOC, which receives sexual-harassment complaints in conjunction with state and local fair-employment practices agencies, reports receiving 15,618 sexual-harassment complaints in 1998. The same year, the EEOC received 28,820 discrimination complaints based on race, 24,454 based on gender, 17,806 based on disability, 15,191 based on age, 6,778 based on national origin, and 1,786 based on religion. Although the agency saw a slight drop from 1997 in the total number of cases filed (down 1.3%), that's nothing to celebrate considering the increase in the total number of cases settled each year since 1992 and the amount of EEOC settlement fees businesses paid. In 1992, 68,366 discrimination cases of all types were settled. In 1998, that number grew to 101,470 cases. The increase: 48%. In 1992, the dollar amount for EEOC settlements of all types of discrimination cases -- excluding settlements from lawsuits -- totaled $117.7 million. In 1998, it grew to $169.2 million -- up 44%. Why is this happening? Despite countless workplace sensitivity programs and legal reforms, we aren't getting better. One has only to study the profile of the American population mix. The U.S. is an increasingly pluralistic nation composed of multiple cultures with dramatic ethnic differences. Only 1% of our population is descended from Aleuts, Inuit, American Indians, and other peoples who inhabited the North American continent before it was settled by Europeans, according to The Macmillan Visual Almanac (1996, Blackbirch Press). Today, whites who are not Latinos are estimated at 73% of our population, according to Macmillan. Blacks who are not Latinos represent 12%, Latinos 10%, and Asian and Pacific Islanders 4%. By the year 2050, if current trends continue, non-Latino whites will make up 52.5% of the population; Latinos, 22.5%; blacks, 14.4%; Asians and Pacific Islanders, 9.7%; and Aleuts, Inuit, and American Indians, 0.9%. Prior to 1950, American males outnumbered females. Now females outnumber males. Our median age is increasing. More of us are living in urban communities. More of us have no religious preference. More of us are attending college, and more of us are marrying people of other races. The American melting pot is more crowded, more spicy, more costly, and much hotter than ever before. Tomorrow's American business missionaries will be looking to grow new markets in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. These projections and the increasing number of EEOC filings tell me two things: This problem is going to get worse, and our current system to combat it isn't working. On the surface, the U.S. gives the impression that eradication of discrimination is a priority. If so, how does one explain its continued prevalence and cost? It's too easy to simply blame the devil. Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Media Inc. and an IW contributing editor. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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