Coping with Employment Discrimination 

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What We Want from Work and What We Actually Get   
by LaTonya Irby, Editor-in-Chief | Career | Tuesday, January 21, 2014 

One of the main reasons we go to work is to provide happiness and security for ourselves and for our families. Everyone wants to experience the feelings of having job security, good pay and opportunities to advance. But unfortunately, what many of us actually receive is insufficient pay, and very few, if any, opportunities to advance as a result  of workplace discrimination. 

Discrimination in the workplace can be race-based, or it can be related to one’s religious or political affiliation, age, disability, and/or gender or sexual orientation. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), businesses lost $100.9 million in 2012 from race-based discrimination charges alone (up from $41.8 million in 1997), not including litigation costs. These numbers also do not include cases of “color-based" discrimination or race-based “harassment” charges. 

Researchers have also found that most acts of discrimination are experienced at work. It can be related to the process of getting hired, the distribution of work assignments or getting paid or promoted fairly. Sadly, these challenges are all too familiar among many African Americans who consistently lead in unemployment rates compared to all other racial groups in America. 

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Many African American men and women say they go to work with the best of intentions, ready to work as a team and contribute their absolute best. However, they later become discouraged or burned-out from the challenges they experience in return for their efforts from prejudice employers or co-workers who constantly doubt or undermine their skills and abilities. 

Such has been the case with *Renee, an African American woman who works as a computer technician in Information Technology at a large non-profit organization. In addition to biased co-workers undermining her capabilities and expertise, Renee often feels socially excluded and underpaid, which she believes is primarily attributed to her race.

“I’m not viewed as being as knowledgeable as my counterparts,” says *Renee. “So, when someone needs help of a higher caliber, for instance someone from the executive staff, they usually turn to the white men for that assistance. They don’t immediately think of me, so I get looked over from actually being able to prove my skills to them because they don’t even call me. They fall back on me as a last resort when my colleagues aren’t available. And then I’m able to prove myself. But I’m never looked upon first for assistance.”

When asked how she handles these situations when it occurs, Renee goes on to say, "They immediately begin their request with: 'I don't know if you can help me, but--' So, I have to work that much harder to prove that I'm able to help them...It's like the pressure is on. So, I work much harder than the others." 

Employment discrimination should not be ignored. It should be a major concern for employers and employees alike. When employees are treated unfairly and do not feel as if they have equal opportunities for advancement they may become dissatisfied with their jobs and disengaged from their work. Eventually, the less engaged employees become with their jobs, the more likely they are to leave, and turnovers can be costly. 

Furthermore, employees who feel undervalued because their skills are being overlooked can develop low-self esteem and become severely depressed. They may also unconsciously adopt the attitudes and low expectations of their biased employers and continue to work in roles with dead end assignments that leave them with no opportunities to advance professionally or financially.

Renee admits, “I still feel inferior in a lot of instances, and I want to just shrink down and not be apart of it. But thinking that way has kept me from a lot of different things…I do my job, and I do my job well, but I don’t branch out as much as I should or could because it’s hard.”   

Although employment discrimination continues to be an ongoing issue in our society, Renee believes that it’s important not to internalize these negative experiences so that it doesn’t become an occupational hazard in your career. 

Based on her experiences, Renee advises, “Don’t do things to prove them right. Always stay professional, and do your best. It’s either going to turn around, or you’re going to be moved into a different area that appreciates you…I found that you can experience it anywhere. So getting angry and upset and leaving one job, thinking that the next one is going to be better is not always the best remedy to me.” 

Employment discrimination is a serious issue that can severely impact your financial, emotional and mental health and overall wellbeing. If you believe you have been the target of workplace discrimination, you can visit FindLaw.com or the EEOC website for tips on how to effectively handle employment discrimination claims, or seek legal counsel for immediate help.  

Note: *Renee is a fictitious name used to protect the identity of the interviewee.
Photo of bull clips by © Pamela Hodson | Dreamstime. 

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