These are the differences in the Black, white employee experience

The killing of George Floyd has led to a moment of reckoning in the U.S. and around the globe, sparking a worldwide conversation about equity, justice and racism. For decades, many organizations have made a concerted effort to promote diversity and inclusion for both ethical and financial reasons. A growing body of research shows that when teams and organizations are more diverse, they perform better financially, attract and retain top talent, and generate more creative and innovative ideas.

While a number of companies and communities have made progress toward creating a more just world, recent research suggests that many American institutions could do more to fight structural racism. Mercer’s recently published Let’s Get Real About Equality report finds that 81% of U.S. organizations that participated in the study say they are focused on improving diversity and inclusion. But less than half (42%) have publicly documented commitments to racial or ethnic equality. Only 38% evaluate their engagement survey responses by race or ethnicity to determine if experiential differences exist.

Related: HR’s mandate to model diversity and inclusion

To better understand the extent to which Black and white Americans are having equitable work experiences, our research team at Mercer | Sirota recently analyzed our normative database from 2005 to 2019. Using Zeynep Ton’s Good Jobs Strategy as a framework, we explored attitudes on a set of employee experience items from over 4 million Black and white management and non-management employees. Four main findings emerged.

  • Most Black and white employees feel they are getting a fair deal, except when it comes to pay. Various researchers have argued that good jobs provide fair deals to employees. Based on our normative data, seven out of 10 Black and white American employees feel they are receiving a fair deal when it comes to their health benefits, job security, work/life balance and developmental opportunities. Across these items, we did not find any notable attitudinal gaps based on race. But when we explored attitudes about pay, we did. Over the last 15 years, ratings of pay fairness from Black non-management employees have consistently fallen five to eight points below ratings from white non-management employees.
  • Black and white employees feel supported by their managers, but a trust gap exists. Based on analysis, we know that the relationship between manager and employee has a profound impact on employee engagement and commitment. In our normative data, we found that three out of four Black and white Americans feel their manager supports their professional development, and four out of five Black and white Americans think their manager is sensitive to their need for balance. But we also found that Black employees were less likely to agree that they trust their immediate manager. In our latest norms, 83% of white non-management employees said they trust their manager, compared to 77% of Black non-management employees.
  • Perceptions of organizational justice differ by race. In comparison to white employees, Black employees were, on average, nine points less likely to agree that there is minimal favoritism in their organization, that they work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination, and that their organization is an equitable place for everyone. When comparing results from white and Black managers and leaders on these items, the attitudinal gap was even wider. For example, in our latest norms, 86% of white managers and leaders agreed that their company had created an environment where diverse people could succeed. Only 66% of Black managers and leaders felt the same.
  • Black and white employees are equally engaged. Despite perceptions of inequity, engagement levels for Black employees are similar to those for white employees. We found that Black employees are committed to their organizations, satisfied with their job and highly motivated. In fact, in our latest norms, 85% of Black employees and 91% of Black leaders and managers said they were motivated to go above and beyond to help their organization succeed. These results were incrementally higher than motivation levels for white employees (83%) and for white leaders and managers (90%).

For organizational decision-makers, these results highlight a need for organizational action and reflection. If you are a leader, manager or HR professional seeking to ensure your workplace is equitable, we recommend four things.

    1. Talk to your employees. For many employees, these are trying times. If you have not asked your employees about their personal, professional and societal concerns, you are missing out on critical information. During times like these, it is essential to give your employees an opportunity to voice questions, share concerns and identify emerging issues.
    2. Examine your data. There are multiple ways to explore people data to determine if your organization is a fair place for all employees. Survey results are a good place to start. Are there any attitudinal gaps–particularly on items related to basic needs and fair treatment–based on race, gender, sexual orientation? Do written comments reveal any concerns about racism, sexism or discrimination? Next, your HRIS data can be used to evaluate hiring, promotion and retention patterns within your organization–for example, through an internal labor market analysis to determine if human capital decisions are made equitably and a pay equity analysis. Such analyses can reveal between-group gaps and more complex issues involving intersectionality.
    3. Address issues with systemic solutions. If you discover inequities in your organization, it is critical to address them with the right evidence-based strategy. For isolated issues, manager and team training are good first steps, although researchers and experts caution that training alone rarely affects deep change. Creating change usually requires broad-scale, system-wide interventions. When diversity programs fail, it is often because organizations fail to identify and address structural and systemic problems.
    4. Embed an anti-racist mindset. In light of recent events, various diversity advocates have started to argue that organizations need to be more than just diverse, inclusive and inviting places to work–they need to be anti-racist as well. For many employees, knowing they are in an anti-racist work environment will represent a reinforcing and reassuring step forward from this crisis. Communicating your organization’s commitment to anti-racism is a good start. Backing it up with meaningful actions–both within your organization and in the community–will lead to positive change.

A growing number of business leaders realize that their organizations have an obligation to make the world a better place for all stakeholders. Fighting racism is the moral imperative of the day, and it will continue to be for years to come. Now is the time to create meaningful change by talking with your workforce about current events, taking a critical look at pay and promotion practices and instilling a culture of accountability for racial justice.

Patrick Hyland, Megan Connolly and John Sherman
Patrick Hyland is Director of Research and Development at Mercer | Sirota; Megan Connolly is a Mercer Principal and Senior Consultant, Employee Listening Practice; and John Sherman is a Mercer Senior Consultant.