The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission recently rounded out its 40th year. Just how much progress have employers made in battling discrimination? U.S. companies have come a long way, but they've still got a ways to go. Formal EEOC discrimination complaints dropped almost 5 percent between 2004 and 2005, but a recent Gallup survey concluded 15 percent of all workers have faced discrimination in the workplace; sex bias and race and age discrimination were most common.
Asian workers cited the most discrimination but also tended to file fewer discrimination complaints than other ethnic groups. One factor behind this could be that Asian-Americans tend to live in areas where they're the only minority in many business settings. "Therefore, some may have more reluctance to challenge the majority," says John Fuller, founder of Decisive Solutions, a Fairfax, Virginia, firm that conducts independent EEO investigations and training. In addition, "There are many studies which show that Asian cultures with imbedded Confucian values do not feel comfortable confronting others, no matter how stressful the situation."
Employers fare much better with issues of equal pay and educating their work forces about race and age discrimination, but retaliation--when an employee is fired or isn't promoted for filing a discrimination complaint--and pregnancy discrimination are problem areas for employers. The EEOC received 4,400 pregnancy discrimination and 22,000 retaliation complaints last year, and these numbers may not include complaints filed with local and state employment commissions.
More diversity in the work force is creating fresh tensions, too. New research by Christine Riordan, associate dean of the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, reveals greater perceptions of discrimination when a white worker has a black boss, and vice versa. "People paired with a racially different supervisor felt stronger discrimi-nation in general," she says. "And [they] also felt less support from their supervisors." In fact, whites working for black supervisors perceived the most discrimination.
Employers face emerging challenges, including a growing number of har-assment cases reported by teenage employees, Baby Boomer age discrimination, and the return of disabled workers to the work force thanks to technology. Unfortunately, discrimination will probably never go away, but entrepreneurs can do their part to create a model workplace. "As long as we have conflicts in this world," says Fuller, "there's going to be some kind of discrimination."