There seems to be a lack of Black and Brown skin in the management and recruitment level at many staffing agencies. It took a minute before one could see the homogenized environment in which one walks into if one is a person of color. If you look at many of the staff group pictures of various staffing agencies, you will not see one person of color or at the very least one or two with one of them being the receptionist. There is nothing wrong with having a position as a receptionist since it is one of the most important position within a company because it is first voice of the company a client will hear when they call the company.
In case you missed it, there was a great deal of publicity generated recently when Google’s Laszlo Bock openly announced Google’s diversity numbers. Even Google was disappointed in them, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. Almost every major corporation struggles with meeting their diversity goals as a result of a poorly designed diversity recruiting effort that hasn’t changed much since the 1970s.
Researchers and government officials say hiring discrimination is a particular problem in the industry. Temp agencies face financial pressure to please their customers. Employers sometimes think they can get away with it if a temp agency does the dirty work for them. Temp workers, replaceable on a whim, are especially vulnerable. And with multiple companies intertwined, it’s hard to prove claims of discrimination.
The problem is significant and growing, said Jenny Yang, chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged with enforcing the federal ban on job discrimination. “Staffing agencies are refusing to place African American employees based on their race,” she said, “and they are terminating employees when they complain about that, as well as limiting assignments that individuals may have.” Employers turn to temp labor to boost flexibility – shrinking or expanding their workforce with ease. Workers hope to turn the temporary jobs into permanent ones.
Around the country, other temp agencies have used code words to filter workers by race, age and gender, according to interviews and lawsuits brought by former employees. Simple, creative or plain offensive, the codes show how institutionalized the practice has become.
Temp agencies are service providers. They handle payroll, workers’ compensation claims and dismissals when workers no longer are wanted or needed. But some employers look to temp agencies as a convenient way to discriminate as well, said Marc Bendick, a Washington economist who studies discrimination and consults for plaintiff’s attorneys, some large employers and the government. “The fact of the matter is that a lot of the regular employers basically want to contract out their discrimination,” he said. “They know the workforce they want, but they don’t themselves want to violate workplace discrimination laws. They want clean hands.”
If there are temp agencies that discriminate against blacks, it’s hard to know how many. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not tally complaints against staffing firms. The commission has sued a few of the agencies in recent years. Jean Kamp is a top attorney in the EEOC’s Chicago office.
“There have always been staffing agencies willing to steer employees based on race and other illegal factors, and that’s certainly ongoing. And, as more people are working through staffing agencies, it’s more of a problem,” said Kamp. Staffing agencies registered in Illinois now list 933 offices around the state. In Chicago, the ones handling blue-collar workers tend to locate in Latino areas. Almost none are in black neighborhoods. Still, it’s no easy task for temp-worker advocates to prove discrimination.
Let’s hope that when the year ends and many staffing agencies will be posting pictures from the their holiday parties, there will be more people Black and Brown as part of their recruitment staff.