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Friday, April 8, 2011

Signs A Workplace Discriminates Against Employees of Color

Workplace discrimination against African-Americans and other employees of color these days isn’t as overt as employers simply stating they don’t hire black people. Instead employers implement their discriminatory practices in a much more covert fashion. But because many brothers and sisters are trying to be professional, they aren’t aware of the numerous social cues resentful co-workers and managers are expressing towards them.

The goal of these new discriminatory practices isn’t to stop African-Americans from being hired but to prevent diversity in the workplace long-term. Using the psychological tactics of resentment, resistance, and racism, today’s discriminating employers feel that if they sabotage African-Americans and employees of color, it will give them justification to terminate their current African-American and other employees of color and more justification for not hiring other African-Americans and employees of color in the future.

Some of these discriminatory tactics include:

Telling a candidate they should apply for another position. A psychological trick used to dissuade candidates of color from applying for jobs they want is to complement them on the front end and tell them they’re overqualified for a position and that they should apply for another position. Then when they apply for the higher position, it’s not available. This kind of headgame keeps candidates of color out of the company at the front door.

Discussing hiring someone else during the interview. A job interview is supposed to focus on discussing a candidate’s skills and what they can offer the organization. However in some interviews, I’ve had, employers actually discuss hiring someone else right in front of me! Talk about RUDE! If an employer is talking about hiring someone during your interview else it’s a clear sign they’re not serious about hiring you. In fact it’s an insult.

Offering a different, lower paying lower level position instead of the job a candidate is applying for. Another patronizing effort employers give to applicants of color is to bait and switch them for the position they applied for and offer them a lower paying “assistant” position or other position instead. This is racism plain and simple. If a candidate of color is qualified enough to be interviewed for a position, then they should be qualified enough to be offered that position.

Not taking care of essential paperwork. W-2’s, Federal Citizenship compliance and other paperwork are usually taken care of before a new hire’s start date. If an employer hasn’t taken care of this business before or during the start date it may be a sign they aren’t eager in hiring an employee of color and are still looking for a way to back out of the job offer.

Telling African-American candidates the job is no longer available on or before the start date. Sometimes after being offered employment and taking care of essential paperwork…The job is “phased out” or “budget cuts” cause a job to magically disappear before the start date. While it looks like fate took an opportunity away, behind the scenes discriminating employers are using the back door to duck hiring a qualified African-American for the position all the while making it look like they met the EEOC standards for diversity on paper.

Managers not introducing an employee of color to key staff. This is another covert discriminatory practice some managers do to show their employees they have no confidence in an employee of color. Behind the scenes it sends a message to key staff that the employee is not essential to the team and won’t have a long term place in the organization.

Managers not introducing an employee of color to co-workers. This is another tactic managers do to send a message to members of their team a new hire isn’t valuable and isn’t expected to be around for long. Oftentimes managers will pretend they’re too busy to introduce an African-American employee to co-workers and leave them to do formal introductions themselves.

Not being introduced to important customers/clients. Usually business owners introduce their employees to important customers and clients. Again, this passive-aggressive gesture is to show those customers and clients that an employee isn’t integral to the daily business operations and won’t be part of the organization for long.

Not showing a new hire around the office/complex on the first day. This speaks volumes. A new hire should be shown where the copy room is, the restroom and the restroom keys, the office supply closet and where the break room is. Not showing a new hire around is often a passive-aggressive gesture by resentful managers to show African-Americans they aren’t welcome in the workplace.

Telling a new hire they want someone else for the job. An employee usually is hired because they are the best qualified for the job. However, when co-workers and supervisors tell a new hire of color that they were looking for someone else, they want someone else for their position or that the new hire doesn’t belong there, it’s a open sign of resentment and hostility towards them. A statement like this is a vote of no confidence in an employee and has the impact of a fist to the jaw. Between the lines of the words is a message that the new hire is not welcome there and should take the hint to quit.

Co-workers not taking the time to introduce themselves to a new hire. Usually, most co-workers make an effort to introduce themselves to a new hire sometime throughout the first two weeks. If co-workers in the department are avoiding a new hire it’s a sign that people are resentful or racist and feel that the employee will not be there long.

Lack of support from co-workers and Managers. A workplace is supposed to be a team environment and employees shouldn’t be left at their posts with no work unless there’s downtime. However in the case of so many African-American employees, supervisors often leave them at their desks for days and sometimes weeks at a time, and make no efforts to include them in major workplace projects, then accuse them of being lazy. Again, this is passive-aggressive behavior meant to make an African-American or worker of color appear incompetent so there can be a reason for termination.

Minimal or no training. Part of learning is receiving on-the-job training. Oftentimes when first-line supervisors want to express their resentment towards an African-American employee in a passive-aggressive manner, they just show a new Black employee their desk and leave it at that. Then three to six months later, they give them a bad performance appraisal for poor performance and terminate them. On paper the employer meets the EEOC standards for diversity in hiring, and in their minds have a reason to justify not hiring African-Americans or employees of color. Not training an employee is part an insidious unwritten discriminatory policy some companies use to keep African-Americans out of the workplace long-term, and something many brothers and sisters don’t know about.

Lack of patience during the training process. During the first few months of work there’s an adjustment period everyone goes through and unfortunately, many mistakes will be made as a new hire adjusts to a new corporate culture and company policies. However, when supervisors show a lack of patience with a new hire early on, it could be a covert sign that they’re resentful of them. Threats of write-ups and termination during this time are completely unreasonable. Oftentimes, when it comes to African-American workers, this behavior is a clear sign the employer is discriminating against them.

Constantly given simple tasks to do at work after years or months on the job. Another sign that of covert discrimination. Racist managers often try to minimize the impact employees of color in the workplace by assigning them light clerical/non-essential tasks and not duties in critical projects. This patronizing behavior makes it look like African-American employees are incompetent and that they’re not valuable team enough members to learn more complex aspects of the business.

Hostile/indifferent responses from co-workers.  When African-American workers are snapped at during interpersonal communications in the workplace it’s clear that there may be some resentment from co workers. These resistant responses such as sarcastic answers to questions, vague or evasive answers or ignoring requests can be discrimination if paired with other hostile actions.

Defensive body language. Folded arms, huffed sighs, rolled eyes and scowls are overt signs that someone isn’t welcome. Many African-Americans are so eager to make a good first impression that they don’t see the defensive body language people are expressing towards them in the workplace.

“Lost” memos, documents, “forgetting” to tell a worker of color about a meeting. A sign of co-worker/manager resentment is to “lose” an African-American or employee of colors memos, mail, and other workplace documents. An escalation of this passive-aggressive behavior is to “lose” presentation materials before a major presentation, or “forget” to tell them about critical meetings or reserving a conference room on a certain date. On the surface these actions look like simple mistakes, however, the goal of this sly behavior is making an African-American or minority employee appear incompetent so there can be grounds for their termination later on.

Constantly being watched/questioned. Some employees project racist stereotypes about African-American employees being criminals on African-American employees and think they need to be watched and questioned when they approach the office supply closet, enter private areas of the office or handle cash. This is one of the most blatant forms of racism co-workers and managers express towards African-Americans in the workplace and should not be tolerated. Trust is important to building a strong workplace team, and if the team doesn’t trust an employee, then they should move on.

Changing company policies. Another sign of discrimination is when company policies and rules are constantly changing. When managers have one set of rules for White employees and another set of policies for African-Americans and employees of color it’s discrimination plain and simple.

Co-workers/subordinates told to disregard the instructions/orders given by an African-American or person of color in authority. An effort to undermine African-American supervisors or those in leadership positions is for co-workers and supervisors to tell subordinate employees to disregard the instructions An African-American or supervisor of color gives them. The underlying message sent to employees is that people of color in the workplace have no authority.

Harsh discipline for minor mistakes. Supervisors who harbor hostility towards African-Americans often manipulate company policy to make African-Americans appear incompetent or as a grounds for termination. These include threatening African-American employees with reprimands over small mistakes write-ups, and threats of termination. Meanwhile, employees of other races like Hispanics and Asians who make mistakes are often forgiven and told they’ll learn things.

Supervisors telling co-workers to tell another co-worker to do something instead of talking to them directly. A strong leader in the workplace directly delegates tasks to employees and meets with an employee-face-to face to make sure that there’s an effective line of communication. However, when a supervisor constantly tells a co-worker to tell another co-worker of color to do something it’s a sign they’re uncomfortable around employees of color. This type of delegation not only shows a manager’s racism, but also shows how ineffective a leader they are.

Negative performance evaluation. Combined with tactics like lack of training and supervision, Employers who discriminate manipulate the performance evaluation process as a way to terminate employees of color.

It can be hard to prove this type of psychological discrimination in the workplace in court. Many who practice these emotionally abusive and passive-aggressive discriminatory behaviors will tell an employee of color that they’re “just seeing things”. However, the pattern and a practice of discrimination from these behaviors will become clear upon observing managers and co-workers actions over a period of time.

People of color in this situation must understand that they aren’t seeing things. If you feel like you’re being discriminated against don’t be afraid to document it. More importantly, don’t be afraid to report it to management. And if they don’t take action, report it to organizations like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Workplace discrimination is illegal and should never be tolerated in any case.


  1. Yikes, Shawn this sounds worse than when I was in the job market years ago and hiring for "us" and other minorities was just catching on. But then it would be that way.

    The best defense is a good offense and your blog delineating these odious practices can at least make applicants aware of what's going on. You've done us all a real service here and I praise your helpfulness and hope that you will disseminate this widely.

    Bless you for always being at the ready with help for your fellow men and women.

  2. Yeah, I wanted to share the experiences I've had with discrimmination in the workplace. Today it's a lot more insidious and the racists use psychological manipulation and emotional abuse to get employees of color to react in a way that makes them look incompetent so they can terminate them and have justification for not hiring employees of color.

    These headgames are designed to make African-Americans doubt themselves and how effective they'll be in the workplace. Long-term they can discourage brothers and sisters from competing in the job market and pursuing careers in the field of their dreams.

  3. Hello Shawn,

    You really dropped a bombshell with this one! It is greatly appreciated and now has helped me in my decision to continue with my entrepreneurship goals. I have seen this several times in the past, but may not have recognized the intensity of what was really going on. Since then, I have started my own business in Real Estate Investing -

    When a black man/woman starts his or her own business, it empowers them and gives them complete control. If anyone is experiencing this in the work place, use this as motivation to control your own destiny!

    For more info on this topic, go to youtube and search for Rev.Ike's prosperity teaching. Trust me, you will enjoy it!

  4. I am glad you did this article Shawn! People need to know this information. And might I add, sadly, this stuff happens to Women of all colors all the time in the work place.

  5. a few of those things have happened to me...i'm trying to wait on this year's review to see what happens, but last year's was the worst i've ever had and i was told that just because i had ALMOST A DECADE under my belt with the company didn't mean that i had experience...i've watched an employee get hired as management after 2 and 1/2 years of experience vs. my 5 (at the time)...i watched some one with no book experience get hired on to a manager's position but because it was for the ereader, that was an excuse, but we all had to help him figure things out and now he's a community relations manager (even higher pay! i can't pay my rent most of the time!!!) he's black, but he's gay and friends with the manager's partner and that's how he got his job...there is so much corruption and i don't know where to turn or what to do about it...

  6. p.s.-after that employee got hired for manager, i was told it was because i "didn't have enough experience" but they held her hand the whole way through...