Views from the EEOC
Freedom to Compete: EEOC’s Human Capital Initiative
The Freedom To Compete Initiative advances the EEOC’s mission to prevent and eradicate employment discrimination.
It is an outreach, education, and coalition-building strategy designed to complement the Commission’s enforcement and litigation programs.
The vision of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is to become the world’s preeminent civil rights employment law agency, serving as the standard-bearer for excellence in outreach, compliance, and professionalism. We want to go beyond enforcement, and be a proactive partner with American organizations in ensuring equal employment opportunities for all workers.
While our nation has made great progress in fighting workplace discrimination, even after 37 years in operation, the Commission continues to receive about 80,000 charges of discriminatory employment practices annually. This number has been fairly consistent over the past decade: 35 percent are race-related charges; 30 percent are gender-related; 20 percent are age – and 20 percent are disability-related; and 2 percent are religious discriminations. Issues most commonly cited include harassment, retaliation, failure to promote, discharge, and failure to provide reasonable accommodation. About one-third allege systemic discrimination.
Most of the charges filed come from hourly wage earners. We know anecdotally that many professionals and executives would never file a charge or come to the government for intervention, regardless of the exclusionary treatment they believe they have experienced. They view doing so as a CLM or CEM – a career-limiting move or a career-ending move. Rather than jeopardize their careers, they silently move on.
This knowledge, combined with shifting demographics and changing business environments that have reshaped today’s workplaces, spurred the Commission to reevaluate its approach. It was clear that the EEOC needed to place greater emphasis on proactive prevention of discrimination. That is why we launched the Freedom to Compete (FTC) initiative, a nationwide education, outreach, and coalition-building effort designed to complement our enforcement and litigation activities.
Our message is simple: Everyone should have the freedom to compete in the workplace on a fair and level playing field, and to go as far as their talent and abilities will allow, regardless of race, gender, age, national origin, religion, or disability. It’s all about having free and fair competition.
To promote our message, we launched a series of televised public service announcements (PSAs) timed to coincide with the 2002 Winter Olympics. These award- winning PSAs received over a million dollars of free air- time and were tremendously popular. They can still be accessed on our website: www.eeoc.gov.
Through the FTC initiative, we have formed a series of partnerships and strategic alliances with leading organizations, including the MCCA®, the Executive Leadership Council, DiversityInc.com, the Society of Human Resource Management, and the American Corporate Counsel Association-among others. These alliances help us reach expanded audiences, influence change, and ultimately level the playing fields of our nation’s work- places without the need for costly litigation.
Most of all, these partnership opportunities allow us to be proactive. Our goal is to provide helpful, timely support on the front end – whether it’s for pipeline issues, mentoring, promotional issues, or EEO fitness accountability – the whole gamut of employment responsibilities.
Under the FTC campaign, we also conducted numerous roundtable discussions throughout the country. Believing that the most effective route to change starts at the top, we reached out to opinion leaders from a wide variety of organizations. Participants included a cross-section of corporate line executives, CEOs, attorneys, consultants, trade and professional association executives, academics, and human resources and diversity executives. The attorneys participating in these roundtables, including MCCA’s Executive Director Veta Richardson, were especially helpful in drawing out issues and making recommendations, which included the following:
- To create a central clearinghouse of EEO/diversity workplace best practices within the Commission;
- To complement the Commission’s enforcement and litigation units with an equally strong and independent FTC outreach/communications unit;
- To evaluate data collected by the EEOC to anticipate trends and shifts in the workplace, and to share this information with stakeholders and the general public;
- To establish solid two-way lines of communication with the highest level of organizational leadership, especially the CEO level, in an ongoing dialogue to define and evolve the business case for workplace access and inclusion;
- To develop more strategic alliances and partnerships with stakeholders that can help reach expanded audiences and influence positive change in the workplace; and
- To develop a formal reward and recognition program for excellent EEO practices that encourages employers to promote diversity and equal opportunity.
The EEOC is moving forward with all of these recommendations. From sharing best practices, to aggressive outreach, to real-time data evaluation, to top-level dialogue, to enhancing strategic alliances, to starting an EEO recognition program, the Commission is committed to repositioning itself as a full partner in the 21st century workplace.
Today’s business environment is ripe for this kind of proactive approach. As we seek to restore the public’s trust in America’s business practices, having sound, inclusive people practices, whether they involve customers, vendors, employees or board members, is a true business imperative. Indeed, recent experience has shown that business practices are sound only if people practices are sound. Corporate governance will never fully reach optimal performance without active and independent people governance. The health of our nation’s capital markets can decline if we are not diligent in the use, management, and inclusion of all of our human capital because it is our human capital that drives the engines of the marketplace.
At the EEOC, we are called to protect and preserve the American promise of equal employment opportunity. With the support of organizations such as MCCA, we are keeping that promise alive for today’s workers and for the generations to come. It will take our combined efforts to make a difference. In the words of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, “The legal system can force open doors and sometimes even knock down walls, but it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me.”
Cari Dominguez is chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the Equal Pay Act; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination affecting individuals with disabilities in the federal government; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. To contact the EEOC, or to get further information about the Commission and the FTC Initiative, please visit the EEOC’s website: www.eeoc.gov.
From the January/February 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®