“Only five black employees work here out of 500 or so employees”, I said to myself. Wow! What is going on in this place? With over 22 years of HR experience, I knew that something was very wrong in my former workplace.
As it turned out, I was witnessing nepotism, the practice among those with authority or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs. The work environment was also mainly white employees. Since this was a government agency, I knew it was not only wrong; it was illegal. The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has a mission to protect the Merit System Principles and promote an effective federal workforce free of prohibited personnel practices.
One of the Merit System Principles is that Recruitment should be from qualified individuals from appropriate sources in an endeavor to achieve a work force from all segments of society, and selection and advancement should be determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills, after fair and open competition which assures that all receive equal opportunity. You can learn more about government prohibited personnel practices at http://www.mspb.gov/ppp/ppp.html.
From my perspective, it made me angry to see management hiring their family and friends. It was common to hear coworkers brag that they had certain privileges that others were not offered because of their connection to the management. Growing up in a mixed culture of black and white people, I never recalled a single issue with racial discrimination. I never recalled there being racial discrimination as a child, in fact, many of us were all friends
My childhood home was the last stop for the black garbage men who picked up our trash each week. My stepfather, E.B. Goss Jr. encouraged the gentlemen to come into our home and enjoy a simple lunch with my family. My Pop had grown up very poor and never forgot his humble roots and besides, he was a great humanitarian who served the poor in multiple ways. He taught me how to serve others and to ease their burdens as a child.
My wisdom of their economic hardship increased, while I served these kind gentlemen fried bologna sandwiches and chicken noodle soup each week. They never complained of their difficulties but embraced being employed and able to feed their families.I enjoyed their company each week as we laughed and gave gratitude for all the good in our lives. I lost track of all the times I carried freshly picked vegetables from our garden to give to the teachers and our favorite janitor in my elementary school. These were simple days, but powerful events to later stem my advocacy to serve others.
It would be years later before I saw people unfairly judging other people because they were different. I believe that people discriminate because they have formed belief systems that cause them to think that others are not equal to them. When people cannot appreciate others for their talents and uniqueness they bring to this earth; you have epidemic problems that are creating a lot of harm to the American public.
According to the Department of Labor, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment, on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. This law is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Yet, it happens quite often in the workforce and can be a challenge for those affected by discrimination. Every state in the U.S. is required to have a process in place for handling discrimination complaints that allege discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), national origin, age, disability, or political affiliation or belief according to the Department of Labor.
You can file either at your local level, state or the Civil Rights Center. You can learn more information at https://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/crc/external-enforc-complaints.htm You can also file charges at the government level, by contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at www.EEOC.gov
I hope you never have to face discrimination in your workplace, but if you do, knowing your rights will most likely give you more courage to stand up for yourself. Knowledge about how to help yourself if you are being harassed or discriminated against is powerful. It’s ok to be scared because everyone feels fear—it’s what actions you choose in your life that dis-empower you or empower you. I also encourage people to feel their fear and decide to take action to become more empowered.
I moved through my fear when I reported my management for prohibited personnel practices, disability discrimination, and later, severe retaliation. The ending was very powerful! I held my bullies accountable and settled without a “gag order” to stay quiet because I knew I would be helping others to stand up to workplace bullying and discrimination. I knew there was a reason for landing in the mental health ward from horrific bullying. I had to learn from this experience, overcome, heal, and then mentor others.
I would never have become an HR consultant, speaker, author, and coach if it was not for being severely bullied and discriminated while working in my former job. Sometimes our gifts in our lives come in ugly wrapping paper. This was the case for me. I was blessed to stand in front of our Senate in April 2015 and tell them my story and encourage laws to be formed that help people who stand up to injustice and prohibited personnel practices in government agencies.
At the time of this writing, I am finalizing my book which will share all the strategies I used to stand up to workplace bullying and discrimination, so be sure to sign up for my newsletter at www.DawnMarieWestmoreland.com
Hear More From Dawn in an interview with SharRon Jamison
Dawn Marie Westmoreland
-Award Winning Author-