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Workplace discrimination being witnessed or experienced by majority of employees

Posted at 6:23 PM, Jul 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 19:23:53-04

MILWAUKEE — Studies show workplace discrimination is happening more often than it may be perceived. The study by Glassdoor, shows 3 out of 5 U.S. employees have experienced or witnessed discrimination based on age, race, gender, or LGBTQ Identity at work.

When it comes to specifically race-related discrimination, 42 percent of employees have reported experiencing or seeing it.

"We've seen the stats, but the bottom line is, it's a well-told story that starts to change hearts and minds," Corry Joe Biddle, Executive Director of FUEL Milwaukee said.

Biddle hosted a webinar through FUEL Milwaukee Thursday focused on workplace race discrimination. It's the latest iteration of their race bridge webinars to discuss these topics. The replay is available on FUEL Milwaukee's Facebook page.

The group had a variety of professionals, from retail to professional. Their jobs may be different, but the racism they've experienced first hand is the same.

"I work in cosmetic retail," Krystal Hardy, a freelance writer and retail manager said. "Some colleagues came to my area and found the darkest bottles of foundation they could find. They are in front of me, they don't engage with me at all, but they hold it up to each other and are laughing and joking. Who wears this color? Who is that Black? This is my first day."

It even happens in professional jobs. Attorney Edgar Lin recalled a time early in his career in the Fox Valley region.

"I was a new lawyer, less than a year in," Lin said. "There was a judge known to make very racially insensitive comments. He liked to set court dates based on your client or your ethnicity. So if you have a Native American client, he would set a court date on Columbus Day and he thinks it's hilarious. So he said, Attorney Lin, set a day on Chinese New Year. Do you know when the Chinese New Year is? I said, no, I actually don't when it is this year because it changes every year. He said, oh look at this China man. He doesn't know when the Chinese New Year is. I was in this awkward position where everyone is laughing. I have my client's life on the line. What do I do?"

Lin says he felt shame for not speaking up in the moment. However, as a new lawyer, knowing this judge had the decision for his client, it was difficult for him to feel the confidence to say something.

"I was young," Lin said. "I was brand new. I laughed along like it was a funny joke. I was embarrassed there but ashamed of myself for not speaking up."

Biddle says it helps when white colleagues speak up for their fellow co-workers of color.

"White people who see discrimination at work are the least likely to speak up but the most likely to be believed if they speak up about it," Biddle said. "If you see it or suspect it, talk to the person you feel was discriminated against and take that step to support and elevate them to the people who can do something about it. Folks who can help make the change are silent for various reasons. If you're listening, you are probably on that path to being a friend and ally in this fight."

These aren't anomalies in the workplace either. In the hour-long conversation hosted by FUEL Milwaukee, Hardy shared several personal stories. Including one involving her appearance and hairstyle.

"The policing of our bodies and hair," Hardy said. "What is kept and unkempt, professional and unprofessional. You're more approachable when you straighten your hair. This is literally the hair that grows out of my head. You just look nicer. You look so militant when you wear an afro and wear all black. How am I supposed to feel being at work and hearing that?"

"A lot of organizations don't have that subject expertise," Genaro Baez, Director of Human Resource Operations for Milwaukee County said. "It's just not within their skillset to mediate, what was that situation?"

Baez says things are changing though.

"Organizations are looking at hiring diversity and inclusion focused talent to their people, their talent management structure," Baez said. "They're looking at how Human Resources actually investigates claims of discrimination and how Human Resources ensures that there is an equitable playing field for their employee population to move and be recognized."

Even with a background in Human Resources, Baez shared his own story of being discriminated; after he accidentally received an email from a colleague with a racial slur directed towards him.

"I was forwarded an email where one of the executives in the group referred to me by a racial epithet," Baez said. "You can recall a message before someone reads it, so this person who sent it was trying furiously to recall the message but I sent it to the Senior Vice President. This person, while not fired, even though I was advocating for that, they did get zero bonus for that period of time. There was a direct punitive financial impact to that particular executive."

Baez was happy to see some sort of repercussion done, however, it didn't make everything better in the workplace.

"This individual, when confronted, I said, we need to schedule a time and sit down and talk about this," Baez said. "All I received was a smirk. The penalties were already communicated to him. That aggression you feel going into the workplace, because of being that level of disrespectful. It was incumbent on me to not take that path. To not succumb to toxic masculinity that seemed like he was trying to insight out of me. To give me that smirk when I said, we have to sit down and talk about this."

Biddle says through the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, they have a pledge for businesses to sign to vow they will make efforts to have a more diverse workforce, including those in managerial positions. For more information, you can visit their website.

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