Initiatives have shifted from their roots in equal opportunity for workers toward a focus on marketing goals and accessing diverse markets. But this new model may not survive stepped-up government enforcement and budget cuts threatening programs with unproven results. By Fay Hansen
Bank of America’s award-winning diversity program includes executive and regional inclusion councils, affinity groups and diversity networks. In February 2010, the bank was slapped with a $60 million racial discrimination lawsuit. The complaint alleges that the bank’s “apartheid system of business allocation” systematically segregates black employees into jobs that keep them away from wealthy white clients and creates vast inequalities in pay and career opportunities for black employees.
After two decades of corporate diversity programs, rampant racial discrimination in hiring, promotions and wages is still evident in comprehensive data produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other statistical sources. The number of racial harassment charges reported to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has doubled over the same period.
Since their inception in an era of lax federal enforcement, diversity programs have steadily abandoned the hard world of racial discrimination and slipped into the softer realm of “inclusion” initiatives aimed at boosting engagement and productivity across the entire employee population. Program objectives have shifted away from their equal opportunity origins and toward marketing goals. In the context of this shift, the short-lived quest for better diversity metrics and return-on-investment calculations has largely disintegrated into a collection of surveys about employee engagement and customer satisfaction.
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