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Study: Work Attitudes Differ Between Races

African Americans perceive lowest levels of fairness at work; Hispanics and whites perceive the highest

While many barriers to workplace diversity have been broken, new research shows that many companies may still have more work to do. A new study by Sirota Survey Intelligence finds that whites in both management and non-management positions perceive more fairness at their jobs than non-whites. African American respondents said they see less fairness and fewer development opportunities than any other groups surveyed. The report drew on 800,000 employee responses at 40 companies between 2005-2009.

In regards to the management level, three quarters of whites were favorable about their employer’s fairness; only 61 percent of African Americans had the same positive feelings. Hispanics are at 74 percent, while Asians are at 68 percent.

For non-management employees the differences are similar. While 66 percent of Caucasians expressed strong sentiments about fairness, only 59 percent of African American felt the same way. Hispanics (67 percent) and Asians (64 percent) were more positive.

Patrick Hyman, vice president of Sirota Survey Intelligence who worked on the study, said that these statistics reflect a need for organizations to examine how they are approaching diversity among their employees.

"You need to monitor and measure. Good organizations depend on data and use it to understand how they are performing," said Hyman. Companies should look at hiring practices; conduct employee satisfaction surveys, as well as exit interviews to get a sense both of what employee perceptions are of the company, he said. "Also it's important to look at who is getting promoted--who is in your highest levels of leadership, and is there representation from a variety of backgrounds or is there one demographic group that is overly represented?"

Development opportunities for non-managerial employees were even across ethnicities, with 62 percent of Hispanics holding a favorable view of their opportunities, followed by whites (61 percent), African Americans (60 percent) and Asians (59 percent).

Those in management positions see much more opportunity, with 84 percent of whites and Asians, 83 percent of Hispanics and 78 percent of African Americans reporting favorable views.

Despite these diverging numbers, the study did find a high level of engagement among all employees. Eighty percent of whites in management positions reported they felt engaged, and 81 percent of minority managers said the same. Hyman believes companies can tap this interest from workers to help shift the culture throughout the organization. He cites several companies including Tiffany's, IBM and Shell that have taken these diversity issues on and succeeded in creating a more inclusive work environment. But he emphasized that change happened not because it seemed like the right thing to do, but was seen as vital for the company's bottom-line success.

"What stands out about IBM or American Express is that they look at it from a business stance. They are not taking a paternalistic or moralistic approach to diversity," said Hyman. This may take the form of providing specific training or assigning an individual or group to be held accountable for improving the culture and sense of diversity at the organization. "These companies realize that if they’re going to succeed in a 20th-century world that is much more diverse and much more global, they need to create a business environment where people from all different backgrounds feel respected and treated well."