Report: Black and White Workers Diverge on Racial Inequity in American Workplaces

August 3, 2020
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ALEXANDRIA, Va., August 3, 2020 – Black and white American workers differ in their perceptions of racial inequity in the workplace, of incivility, and whether their employers can do more to promote equity and inclusion at work, according to a new report by SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management). The study, surveying HR professionals and American workers during June 2020, examines race and inequality in the workplace.

Key findings from SHRM's "Journey to Equity and Inclusion Report" include:

  • More than a third (35 percent) of Black American workers agree that discrimination based on race or ethnicity exists in their workplace, while only 7 percent of white workers agree.  
  • Similarly, while 29 percent of white American workers say their workplace is not doing enough to promote racial justice in the world; among their Black colleagues, the number jumps to over 50 percent.
  • However, an equal amount (38 percent) of both Black and white American workers claim they don't feel comfortable engaging in candid conversations about race at work.

(Download the report here.)

"For years, the business community has invested in diversity. But diversity alone isn't enough," said SHRM President and CEO, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP. "While we have progressed in making that famous American promise of equality a reality, the journey is far from over—we need true equity and inclusion. And what gives me hope is that HR knows we must strike at the root of the problem—not with trainings and policies—but in and through workplace culture."

Taylor added: "In the coming months, SHRM is diving even deeper into Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DE&I) to provide actionable, practical guidance for employers and employees. However, before we can act together, American workplaces must first come together and pick up the conversations about race that this nation—and the world—have put off for far too long." 

HR professionals also agree that racial discrimination exists in the workplace and this group is also divided with 49 percent of Black HR professionals agreeing compared to just 13 percent of their white counterparts. Like all employees, HR professionals are not comfortable engaging in candid conversations about race at work. However, despite their discomfort, 70 percent of all HR professionals say such discussions are appropriate at work, compared to only 43 percent of American workers who agree. 

The full report details how organizations report their actions in communications, education and financial investment in responding to racial bias and injustice. It also provides guidance from HR industry experts on how to shift cultural norms around taboo topics like race. These include listening while not comparing or contrasting, discussing without debate, and setting goals and honoring feedback.

The report is one part of SHRM's "Together Forward @Work" initiative which is a call to action for the business community and HR professionals to drive racial inequity and social injustice from the workplace. The initiative includes ongoing publicly available content and resources and will serve to convene HR experts with business leaders who will demand accountabilities and measurable action for eliminating inequity at work.

Media: To schedule an interview, contact Julie Hirschhorn at Julie.Hirschhorn@shrm.org and 703-842-5152 or Cooper Nye at Cooper.Nye@shrm.org and 703-535-6447.

Methodologies:

U.S. Worker Survey: A sample of 1,257 Americans, which included an oversample of Black respondents, was surveyed using the Amerispeak Omnibus, NORC at the University of Chicago's probability-based pane. Designed to be representative of the U.S. household population, the survey was administered from Thursday, June 11 through Monday, June 15, 2020. Of the 1,257 Americans surveyed, 685 were either working as a paid employee, temporarily laid off or furloughed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, or permanently laid off since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the purposes of this survey, we refer to this group as "American workers." All data was weighted to reflect the U.S. adult population. Where reported, sample size is unweighted.

U.S. Human Resources Survey: The HR Survey was fielded electronically to a random sample of active SHRM members from June 11, 2020 through June 17, 2020. In total, 1,275 members responded to the survey in-full or in-part. Academicians, students, consultants, and retired HR professionals were excluded from the survey. Respondents represented organizations of all sizes—from two to 25,000+ employees—in a wide variety of industries across the United States. HR data is unweighted. 

About SHRM
SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, creates better workplaces where employers and employees thrive together. As the voice of all things work, workers, and the workplace, SHRM is the foremost expert, convener and thought leader on issues impacting today's evolving workplaces. With 300,000+ HR and business executive members in 165 countries, SHRM impacts the lives of more than 115 million workers and families globally. Learn more at SHRM.org and on Twitter @SHRM.

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