Racism and Networks: Missing Tens of Thousands of Able Workers of Color

The Ricci case we have discussed touches numerous employment discrimination issues, some of which Ginsburg brought up in her dissent. I have been reading research by Marc Bendick, Jr., and Mary Lou Egan on racial discrimination and inequality in advertising agencies, many part of large global firms. They found that African Americans make up just 5.3 percent of advertising managers and professionals, but the relevant Census Bureau and EEOC data suggest this percentage should be roughly 9-10 percent. Their study found black employees tended to be hired for segregated advertising positions—such as those dealing with customers of color–with less influence and pay than white employees with comparable credentials. Black college graduates with advertising positions were found to be paid about a fifth less on average than their comparable white colleagues.

Many employers, in the private and public sectors, complain they cannot find enough “qualified” employees of color. So, if they do happen to take any remedial action, they tend to emphasize educational strategies (scholarships for students, etc) to improve job situations of people of color. Yet, as Bendick and Egan point out, this is not the main reason for low percentages of black employees. The more important reason is the

persistent unwillingness by mainstream advertising agencies to hire, assign, advance, and retain already-available Black talent.

This unwillingness is rooted in a racist framing of black Americans as employees, and positive preferences for white employees like themselves. One lawyer described this employment arena as one where “favoritism rules and merit is cast aside.”

White networks run the country’s major historically white institutions, including most large companies. Job networks are part roysterof the structure of systemic racism. Deirdre Royster examined black and white students at a technical college and found that, even though they worked harder and did better in their training, black graduates had much more difficulty finding jobs than white students. White networks gave white students much better opportunities. Lack of access to important networks usually has a very negative impact. Compared to comparable white workers, black workers must spend much more time and effort looking for work over their careers. This, of course, makes it harder for them to compete with white workers who have otherwise comparable abilities. Such factors are not even considered in decisions like that involving New Haven–although the dissenting Ginsburg does just touch on the general idea.

Not just in the advertising industry, but in many other employment sectors the central problem is the highly discriminatory practice of white managers operating out of the traditional white racial frame and using predominantly white networks to hire and advance white managers and professionals like themselves.

In this process, as Bendick and Egan underscore in another paper, they typically

ignore the availability of tens of thousands of African Americans with educational and experience backgrounds comparable to whites routinely hired in their industry.

That’s right, tens of thousands. Consider that US reality for a minute. The presence of such very able workers pretty well blows lots of racialized arguments some whites make about not being able to find “qualified” employees of color right right out of the proverbial water. They just do not care to look for them. White power and privilege, again.