In case you didn't notice while you were filling out your Census 2000 form a few months ago, there's been a major revision in the format: Individuals may now identify themselves as members of more than one race. In other words, if you consider yourself both Asian and white, you may now check both race boxes.
As a result of this new standard, the five basic race categories can now yield 63 different racial combinations. What does that mean for employers? Most likely a whole new set of Equal Employment Opportunity issues to comply with. "The big question is, how will all this new information affect affirmative-action plans and civil-rights monitoring and enforcement?" asks Deron Zeppelin, director of governmental affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Virginia.
The Office of Management and Budget recently issued a bulletin that summed up the reason for the change: "Data from Census 2000 will capture more accurately the increasing diversity of the nation's population." But the office is conspicuously vague on how the information will be used and what new regulations will come from it.
"They are just starting to put the puzzle together," says Zeppelin. "Employers need to realize there will be implications down the road. You need to start thinking about and preparing yourself now."
Ellen Paris is a Washington, DC, writer and former Forbes magazine staff writer.
- Society for Human Resources Management, (703) 535-6027, firstname.lastname@example.org.