African Americans' Perceptions of Access to Workplace Opportunities: A Survey of Employees in Houston, Texas

By Khosrovani, Masoomeh; Ward, James W. | Journal of Cultural Diversity, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

African Americans' Perceptions of Access to Workplace Opportunities: A Survey of Employees in Houston, Texas


Khosrovani, Masoomeh, Ward, James W., Journal of Cultural Diversity


Abstract: Although increasing numbers of African Americans are employed in predominantly white organizations, anecdotal and scholarly evidence suggests that they still must overcome barriers to have similar career trajectories as their white counterparts. This study is motivated by other studies pertaining to racial discrimination and inequalities at the workplace as experienced by blacks. We examined how African Americans perceive their own access to workplace opportunities and rewards, their views of other minority employees' work remuneration and career trajectory, as well as gender bias in their organizations. The findings indicated that many respondents believed that in crucial areas of job advancement (e.g., advanced training, mentoring, and promotion), they do not receive what they consider to be a fair share of opportunities from their organizations. Some respondents felt that other minority employees receive more attention and favorable treatment at work than they do. Considering gender bias, many thought that women of all ethnicities had more access to work benefits than their male counterparts.

Key Words: African Americans and Workplace; Career Advancement; Workplace Opportunities

The literature abounds with evidence that discrimination and inequality exist in today's organizations despite Title VIl of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited gender and race discrimination in hiring, promotions, and firing. Such practices targeted racial /ethnic minorities and women, hindering their career trajectories and remuneration. (Bartlett, 2009; Hirsh & Lyons, 2010; Nunez-Smith et al., 2009).

Extensive research conducted in this area indicates that African Americans as a racial minority group receive fewer opportunities and career benefits in corporate settings, especially in those areas available to white males (e.g., Ibarra, 1995; Westphal & Stern, 2007). Moreover, blacks' income level is drastically lower when compared to that of whites. In 2004, the average income of a black family between the ages 30-39 was 48% less than the average income of a white family within the same age group [blacks, $35,000; whites, $60,000] (Katz & Stern, 2008). These inequalities and disadvantages are far greater for black women who experience both racial and gender discrimination at the workplace (Browne, 1999).

The first part of this study investigates how African-American employees perceive their own access to workplace opportunities (favorable performance evaluations, advanced job training, and mentoring), and career attainments /rewards (promotions and pay increases). The second part examines how AfricanAmerican employees perceive other minorities' access to the same opportunities and rewards. Lastly, we examine black employees' opinions regarding gender bias in the workplace.

This study is significant because it seeks to understand the perceptions of a group of minorities, namely African Americans, concerning their achievements in the workplace. By understanding how individuals think and feel about their work outcomes, through the fair distribution of career opportunities, and equitable treatment of employees, organizations could increase employees' job satisfaction, which could improve productivity, maximize profits, and increase company success. Perceived or real inequality at the workplace hampers employees' morale, resulting in apathy dissatisfaction, and subsequent loss of experienced manpower to competitors. This is important to the advancement of our overall society, as the United States increasingly becomes a multiethnic and multicultural nation. Most people are more likely to enter and stay in an organization if they discern that career opportunities are equitable. As Carr-Ruffino stated (1996), an ideal workplace is one that includes all employees and excludes none.

LITERATURE REVIEW

African Americans and Workplace Opportunities Relative to their White Counterparts

According to Bartlett (2009), discrimination and inequality exist in today's work environments, which often can be concealed, obscured, and difficult to prove. …

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