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Read More.  Amazon.com Corporate Apartheid
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
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Corporate Apartheid

by Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson


In 1996 Texaco officials were caught red-handed on tape making racially derogatory remarks about blacks. This triggered an avalanche of charges from black employees and former employees that Texaco gave them the worst assignments, lower pay, and fewer chances for promotions. They slapped the company with a colossal lawsuit. Shamefaced Texaco officials quickly caved in and agreed to pay $175 million to the employees to settle the suit. This was the largest employment discrimination settlement ever. Many believed that this would send the powerful and permanent message to corporations that if they discriminate they're going to pay and pay dearly. Many still haven't got the message.

Recently black employees and former employees filed a lawsuit against Coca Cola in Atlanta, scheduled a trial date against the Seven Up/RC Bottling company in their discrimination suit in Los Angeles, and won millions in a judgment against Hyundai Semiconductor in Oregon. In each of these cases, the employees also charged that they were given the worst assignments, lower pay, and fewer chances for promotions.

Company executives at Seven-Up, Hyundai, and Coke angrily denied that they practiced any discrimination. They, like most major corporate executives, routinely issue flowery press releases, brochures, assorted hand-outs and annual stockholder reports that boast of their commitment to employee diversity. On paper they appear to be in compliance with Federal Equal Opportunity guidelines, have a well-established program for hiring, training, and the promotion of minorities. They have black faces in visible corporate management positions, and a even few prominent blacks that sit on their board of directors.

Indeed many blacks have made gains in corporate America. They are not barred or discouraged from participating in company social functions. Some are included in their company's discussions of important business decisions. Some even join the country clubs where much of America's corporate business is discussed and deal making is done. Few corporate officials fan the flames of racial hostility by telling whites they can't hire them because they must hire a (less qualified) woman or a minority. Many corporations don't repeat the tired line that they can't find a qualified black and have active minority recruiting programs.

But the numbers of blacks that have cracked the corporate glass ceiling tells a story less of corporate progress than corporate apartheid. There are still only a handful of black CEOs at the Fortune 1000 corporations. Nearly ten out of ten senior managers are white males. Black managers make up less than ten percent of the total managerial positions for all races and are paid on average less than their white counterparts.

As the discrimination lawsuits against the three companies show blacks often are still regarded by their corporate peers as pariahs. Many corporate managers and employees believe that blacks are: Lazy, undisciplined, and poorly organized, incompetent and Less skilled, affirmative action hires, possess bad attitudes, are outspoken, and rebellious, and quick to blame management, or white employees for their problems/failures. These stereotypes are reinforced by an insular corporate culture in which mostly white, male managers are responsible for implementing company policy and directives. They write the reports, make the performance evaluations, organize training, are responsible for mentoring, and make crucial job assignments. They demand strict conformity to middle-class norms in the company. They feel threatened by and adopt a them-vs.-us siege mentality toward anyone who doesn't share those interests. This attitude bolsters the belief of many blacks that they are held to a different standard of accountability then whites and must constantly prove they can be team players too.

Many blacks discover that departments or divisions within the same company are top heavy with black employees and managers while others are virtually lily-white. Corporate managers get away with this by employing a sophisticated tracking system in which they instantly identify certain individuals as "sharp," a "go getter," and a"good company person." They quickly put them on the fast track up the corporate ladder. Blacks burdened with loads of racial baggage are seldom favorably typed that way. Years later many still find themselves stuck in the same dead-end positions, or stacked into the corporate ghetto jobs or positions such as director, VP, or manager of the community relations, equal employment opportunity or human resources departments. Or they are assigned to oversee special markets (i.e. black/minority). This practice effectively prevents them from having access to vital internal company data and information, and being involved in decision-making.

It took lawsuits, boycott threats, selective buying campaigns and calls for stock divestment by blacks to force Texaco and dozens of other corporations to take some public steps to clean up their discriminatory act. Three years after the Texaco victory many black employees are still forced to take these same actions to break down the barrier of corporate apartheid.


Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black. email:ehutchi344@aol.com

 

 

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