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December 9, 2016 Published in Letters/Opinions

The Harsh Reality About Workplace Discrimination Towards African American Women

Opinion: Courtney Overton, George Mason University Student

It is no secret that African Americans are discriminated against. However, one of the places where discrimination affects their livelihood is the workplace. African American women have even more of a disadvantage than men. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families survey, African American women make an average of 60 cents for every white man’s dollar. That number is more disturbing than the 79 cents when you include an average of all women in the US. Companies always advertise that they are equal opportunity employers who accept all ethnicities, but their actions say otherwise.

Women who are treated negatively at work are more likely to beunsatisfied with their job. When their coworkers do not treat them with respect, they feel like outsiders. These hard-working women think they need to prove their value in order to gain the respect of their colleagues. With this pressure on African American women, it is not surprising that many of them are stressed and some have depression.

An extra stressor on African American women is the amount of money and time they spend to get their hair done so they can be accepted in the workplace. One of the leading security companies in the Northern Virginia region enforces a strict hair policy on its employees. A white male supervisor told one African American employee that if she was serious about getting a promotion, she should do something about her hairstyle. Before the comments on her hair were made, the employee would come to work with her natural hair texture whether it was in braids or a bun, but it never looked unkempt. The statement by the supervisor implies that she was not good enough for the promotion based on her natural hair texture. The promotion should have been based on her qualifications, not her appearance as an African American woman.

These issues are not only a burden on African American women, but also on any woman, especially those who are not white. A woman I know was offered a lower pay raise than her white, male colleagues who had worked with the company far less time than she had. When I asked her why she did not speak up, she replied, “Because I knew nothing would change”. On average, 42 percent of women of color believe that they are not offered promotions like their white colleagues who have the same qualifications. And about 22 percent of women of color believe they have to suppress their ethnicity and gender in order to succeed at work and gain the respect of their colleagues. This means that they are less likely to speak up or report a racial or gender discrimination issue. If any woman feels uncomfortable or unaccepted at work, her motivation to work hard will decrease. It would benefit any company to support their female employees because the ones that work hard will be most qualified person for the position.

As a white woman, I will never know what it feels like to be discriminated against based on the color of my skin. I wrote about this social injustice because I care. I wanted to educate myself to understand how different the experiences are between white women and women of color. The most important thing I can do as a privileged white woman is to help bring awareness to the issues of racial and gender discrimination. My only hope is that some day every man and woman of all various ethnicities will recognize their colleagues as equal and speak up for each other.

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