Views from the EEOC
Full Inclusion at Every Level
In his book, Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Those words clearly resonate with today’s organizational leaders, as they attempt to maintain their EEO fitness in a fluctuating economy.
Yes, our economic landscape has shifted. We have gone from a labor market so tight that it fueled a talent war to a market that rewards employers with a windfall of talent for each available job. The decline of the dot-com sector, corporate accounting scandals, the aftermath of September 11th, and regional political instability have affected the marketplace and, consequently, the workplace. Temptations abound to quickly cut costs to restore profitability. Decisions involving layoffs, benefit and salary reductions, and other employment activities are put on the table.
So what is an employer to do? More than ever, today’s corporate leaders must be able to inspire trust and loyalty within their companies’ ranks. Among other factors, whether an organization succeeds or fails will depend upon the chief executive’s ability to inspire commitment and rally support among the company’s workers. Workforce allegiance and support during hard times will come only when a sense of fairness, dignity, and respect for the individual are believed to drive employers’ actions, no matter how adverse those actions may have to be. If, on the other hand, those actions are perceived to be driven by discriminatory factors such as age, disability, race, or gender, companies will lose good will, support, and even more. Discriminatory behavior is morally and monetarily costly to our nation. When companies think about how to achieve savings, they should be mindful of the price they pay when their employment decisions are questionable. Companies cannot “save” dollars at the expense of exclusionary people practices.
Americans always have been concerned about job security. Now they must also be concerned, in a very real and ever-present way, about personal security. For employees, an assurance that their company cares about them will go a long way. Those at the helm must keep in mind that their workers will look to them for guidance under all kinds of circumstances – good and bad. How management at all levels conducts itself and the examples it sets are important.
As for employee programs, the very strategies that have worked during times of prosperity are also applicable during times of uncertainty: Workers do best in an environment where they can make their full contributions and develop their skills. Their productivity is largely driven by their morale. They appreciate employers who offer alternative work schedules to meet their work/family needs. They thrive in a workforce that is reflective of an increasingly diverse population and consumer base.
When drastic cost-cutting measures cannot be avoided, enlightened organizations still will keep the people equation at the forefront. For example, if layoffs become necessary, employers should ensure that the process is fair and that no particular groups are adversely impacted. Managers must communicate openly and honestly with employees about the state of the company and how they could be impacted. Human resources and legal units need to work in partnership with line leadership to provide appropriate guidance and ensure fairness.
How the company handles delicate situations such as these will have profound repercussions for both the work- place and the marketplace. Those who are let go will long remember – and communicate to others – how they were treated on the way out. Historically, during periods of economic downturn, the EEOC and fair employment practices agencies around the country have experienced increases in filings of discrimination charges. After a layoff, those employees who remain, mindful that they could be next, watch for fair treatment. From the organization’s point-of-view, it is especially important to preserve the loyalty of the remaining workforce. Employees who weather the storm, depending on their perceptions about the company, may choose to re-engage, disengage, or simply leave.
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 May/June 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®