Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Systemic Discrimination in the Federal Sector

A writer writes!

After 35 years, in November 2012 I retired from a career in Human Resources with the federal government.  I began my career as a college co-op from the University of Evansville working every other quarter at the U.S. Army Finance and Accounting Center (USAFAC) in Lawrence, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis.  I was 19 years old as I began my first internship.  I had naive perceptions of the inner workings of the federal government.   Over my career I discovered that discrimination that existed in the "real world" was mirrored by systemic discrimination within the federal government.

I soon found out that there were very few Black males in administrative/professional positions within the agency I worked for.  The numbers of Black males in such positions consistently stayed at low levels throughout my 35 year career.  I often found myself being the only black male in my office and in meetings that I attended.  Throughout my career there seemed to be a sign that said, "Black males need not apply."  I witnessed first hand an attempt by my employer to fire a young African American male because he spoke too eloquently and didn't fit the quiet Negro mold that my employer was seeking from African American male hires.

Early on in my career I observed that if you were a Black male who spoke his mind, once you left the agency there was no chance you would be allowed to return if a job opened up.  I saw first hand how a skilled African American man had left the agency for another job.  When he attempted to return the door was closed to him.  Periodically the agency would have a hiring surge of African Americans when ratio levels were below acceptable levels.  Once those ratios were met, there would then be no attempt to hire African American males into vacant positions.  When interns were sought for vacant positions during succession planning, the hiring of African American men was limited to achieving the minimum number of hires to meet statistical quotas.

During my career I saw the bar raised which identified what applicants were "Best Qualified" for vacant positions.  The bar went from requiring a Bachelors degree to then requiring a Masters Degree for select first level supervisory positions.  Later as more African Americans attained a Masters degree the bar was raised to require additional "certifications" as being the preferred level that warranted being identified as being the best qualified employee.

Obtaining these degrees and certifications put an economic burden on the employee to pay for higher education and to prepare for and pay for the cost of the certification test.  For awhile employers would pay the employee to attend school to pursue their degree. But, government spending to pay for education had decreased over the past 10 years, leaving the employee to their own means to reach the new bar.  Those who could not afford to pay out of pocket the cost to obtain a degree or a certification had their job advancement hopes derailed.

Many Caucasian supervisors will not admit that they often did not feel comfortable dealing with African American employees.  Those supervisors had preconceived stereotypes regarding African American employees.  Those supervisors also expected you to conform to their interests but had no intention of caring about the interests of their minority employees.

I obtained high level supervisory positions in my agency through my technical expertise and due to the need for my agency to have at least one token Black male to point to as evidence that it was a diverse employer.  In the latter stages of my career, even though I was one of the most experienced employees in the entire agency and federal government in my field, my advice was rarely sought.  It came to a point that after working for my agency for 34 years I decided to leave my agency to seek a job elsewhere.  At that point I was a GS-14 in terms of pay grade while actually making GS-15 salary due to our agency having been under the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) for several years.  Under NSPS I had flourished as NSPS was a pay for performance system.  After improving a key program for two years I sought to move up within HR.  But, my skills were not valued to reassign me to a comparable position.

Until I found a job outside the agency that I was selected for, I spent about 10 months being highly overpaid for the money I was making.  I wound up applying for and accepting an HR managerial job in another agency in St. Louis, Missouri some 267 miles from my new home which I had just purchased some 2 years ago.  My new agency gave me a relocation incentive to pay for an apartment in St. Louis.  I worked in St. Louis during the week and then returned to Indianapolis for the weekends.  I accepted the job in St. Louis simply to earn the salary I was being paid and to take control of my career.  I did not want my skills underutilized by my agency.  It was my career and I took control of it.  I understood the systemic discrimination that existed in my agency and chose to no longer allow it to control my career.

Discrimination still exists in the Federal sector.  Caucasian people will not admit it, but they still have viewpoints towards African Americans that limit our ability to be selected for positions.  Also, the new Jim Crow rules that raises the bar that determines a candidate being deemed best qualified for a position supports efforts to keep some people from making the final cut to be considered for selection to a job.  Selection criteria at times is developed to exclude some people from making a final selection list.  This is systemic discrimination that if investigated would show that there is a correlation to the negative impact on minority applicants.

What can you do?  Play the game.  Get those degrees and certifications that management establishes as being preferred.  Then go to management and ask them. "Well, I've met all the requirements to succeed in this agency?  Can you now explain why I am not being selected for positions?"

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