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Diversity in the Workplace
There are several factors to consider when discussing the prudence of the decision of the city of New Haven, Connecticut, to dismiss the results of two promotional exams for its fire department on the grounds that its results would leave the city open to litigation based upon racial bias. In a case as morally and legally ambiguous as this particular one, the complexities among the various bureaucratic decisions regarding the judicial appeals and partisan lobbying are virtually interminable, and perhaps even distracting from the managerial process of determining whether or not the city was justified in rejecting its test results on the grounds that they would leave it liable for a disparate impact law suit. Particular attention, then, must be directed to the implicit and explicit intentions of the city in its rejection of the exam results. If the city based its decision on the fact that it was simply trying to avoid any legal action taken against it, its decision is certainly understandable yet (as history indicates) greatly misplaced. However, if the intention of the city was to void the test results simply in attempts to produce results which would favor a wider selection of fire departmental and municipal racial consistency, this goal, although commendable in a utopian sense, is not reasonable enough to cancel these results on its own.
For all practical purposes, a diversified labor force is an ideal which is rarely manifested in the truest sense of the definition of the term diversity. African-Americans comprise approximately 12% of the population in the United States, Latinos who are not considered of European descent comprise less than this figure. The vast majority of residents, approximately 72%, are of European descent. Accordingly, despite the fact that there are variations within population groups as indicated by region, city, occupation, and other stratifications, these percentages largely tend to manifest themselves within the workforce. A statistical look at the applicants who tested to be promoted to the positions of captain and lieutenant within New Haven's fire department ( 25 of the 41 applicants for captain were Caucasian, eight were African-American and eight were Hispanic; 43 of the 77 applicants for lieutenant were Caucasian, 19 African-American and 15 were Hispanic) readily confirms these facts and strongly implies that no matter what testing procedure is used, regardless of the level of position, the majority of those promoted will be of European ancestry.
At this point in this discourse it becomes prudent to examine the ramifications and projected purposes of procuring a diversified work environment, both in New Haven, in theory, and in practice. One of the reasons why diversity is encouraged in the workforce is to reflect the diversity of the surrounding communities which comprise a specific application pool for a workplace environment. This reason not only discourages allegations of discriminatory practices which may be levied against a particular employer, but also is thought to promote diversity in thought, procedures, and ultimately, in human resources which may potentially aid a company in whatever endeavors it has chosen to specialize in. It should be noted that such diversity does not only include racial or ethnic make-up, but also includes gender, socio-economic background, and other such factors.
Secondly, the active promotion of diversity in the workforce serves as a motivational tool in several regards, the most prominent of which is based upon the principal that if a member of a particular racial/gender/socio-economic category sees another from his or her similar category employed in a specific market for a specific employer, it will enable that potential applicant and others from similar backgrounds to believe that they also can obtain such employment. Presenting a diversified workplace to a particular community serves to motivate others to aspire to such employment, as ther is now an example or a precedent-setting that it can be done. Worker productivity and company output increases accordingly.
This latter reason, however, has certain ramifications within the areas of promotions and positions stratified within a company, which is where the example of New Haven's fire department becomes most eminent. Diversity in upper management positions is a trait which is considered desirable by most companies, as it can be a powerful indicator to minorities and to people from a broad range of socio-economic factors that there is potential for advancement within such a company for them and those like them. When there is a lack of diversity within such positions, companies not only lose a key element of motivation for employee proficiency and hard work at their jobs, but they also become potential targets for charges of discrimination or for implementers of the proverbial "glass ceiling." Lastly, they also become targets for a particular component of the litigation based on Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, (which was recognized by the Supreme Court in 1971 and codified by Congress in 1991) known as disparate impact, which states that the results of a selection method for a job process -- such as promotion -- has under-represented a certain demographic (Dorf, 2009).
It should be noted that it took the Civil Service Board of New Haven five days to reject the results of the aforementioned exam administered in 1993, largely on the basis that it would leave the municipality liable for a disparate impact law suit. The results of the two tests did indeed appear as though non-Caucasian demographics were under-represented by a testing process that was 60% multiple choice and 40% orally based and for which the top three applicants for each position (one Hispanic and 14 Caucasians) would be awarded the 15 promotions. Further evidence that could possibly underpin such a legal claim can be based on the fact that six of 19 African-American applicants passed the examination for lieutenant, and three of eight passed the exam for captain. Other possible corroboration includes the fact that the score ranges for African-American and Hispanic firefighters were approximately 34 to 59% of those for Caucasian firefighters (Totenberg, 2009).
However, it should also be noted that the city of New Haven paid roughly $100,000 to an examination design firm known as IO Solutions, Inc., with the express intention of creating a promotional examination without any bias based upon racial or ethnic make-up. The effectiveness of the company's exam (with its primary emphasis on multiple choice and oral component devoid of tools, equipment, or other applicable "props"), is largely up to interpretation depending on the opinion sought and the "expert" asked. However, the city did institute such an examination as the sole criterion for its selection for promotion, and despite the fact that only one Hispanic and no other traditional minority group members would have been eligible for promotion based on these measures, it should have adhered to these results and promoted these firefighters accordingly, without the lengthy legal debate which was eventually decided by the Supreme Court in 2009.
From a managerial standpoint, if New Haven was truly so committed to embracing diversity in its workforce it should have promoted the virtually all-Caucasian group of firefighters who scored sufficiently on this examination (which took place in 2003) and then adopted other measures based upon different criteria which would have ideally yielded more diversity in its selection of promotion. However, the most important facet of determination for a position (especially one which may be so vital to the health and the welfare of a surrounding community base such as firefighters and their upper level management) should be competency and proficiency on the job. There is no point to including a diversified workforce if that workforce is not the most proficient and capable applicants for a particular job. Efficacy is the primary outcome desired by all for any potential job opening, regardless…[continue]
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