Want to Impress Me? A Diversity Best Practice Award is Not Enough!
African American Recruitment & Diversity Best Practice Organizations
The workplace is where people aim to make their economic lives better. Perceptions of income disparity affect perceptions of unfairness and inequities in the workplace. That is because differences in income have real-world consequences. The perception that African Americans enjoy less income on average than other groups influence their engagement and retention.
According to a National Urban League workplace satisfaction study, African Americans tend to have the least favorable view of their workplace environment–even for diversity best practice award organizations.[i] The awards give them a greater sense of inequity rather than a sense of pride in their workplace. If an African American worker perceives that black employees are concentrated at the lower levels of their workplace and few mobilize to the higher levels, that impacts their view of how inclusive the organization is.
Managers and human resource officers do not want a single employee to feel undervalued. When African Americans feel underappreciated, many managers feel a sense of falling short of creating an inclusive culture. They want to treat each employee fairly but often admit that finding ways to address a sense of inequity among African Americans in the workplace is complex and challenging. I refer to this as Ambivalent Bias, which is simultaneously valuing cultural diversity and, unconsciously, exclusive stereotypes of other groups. African American recruitment requires not only thinking out of the box but also resolving negative stereotypes. One way to break through reduce the threat of stereotyping is to treat cultural diversity recruits as indispensable talent.
How a Sense of Unfairness Impacts African American Recruitment & Retention
A perception of pay inequity is more than a desire to be treated equitably. Lower pay has consequences for quality of life. While salary represents only one part of the job satisfaction equation, understanding the African American workers’ economic circumstances can offer insights into some of the factors that contribute to a sense of unfairness and inequity. A recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report, Income Spending Patterns Among Black Americans[i], characterizes African American employees’ incentives as reflected in their financial situation.
Some of the Study’s Relevant Findings Concerning African American Household Income
- African Americans annual income on average is about 70% ($45,287.00) of the national average ($63,935.00)
- About thirty-five (35%) of the annual African American income is accounted for by those with income in the range of $12,500.00–$37,999.00.
- The average African American household is inhabited by 2.57 people.
- There are 1.25 vehicles in a household on average.
- Most African American households are renters living in apartments or flats with 5 Â½ rooms and 1-Â½ bathrooms on average.
- STEM jobs offer greater income opportunities, which is likely the reason 34% of African American college student freshman choose the career.
How far does their income go?
- Their expenditures account for nearly 80% of their pretax wages ($36,139).
- Housing alone consumes the largest proportion, which accounts for about 1/3rd of their wages.
- Transportation and food account for the next highest percentages of expenditures.
- The remaining 1/3rd includes things like personal insurance and pensions, healthcare, entertainment, cash contributions, apparel, and education.
- Many African Americans with a desire to complete a degree in STEM change their field of study as the challenges in completing the degree become a reality.
Income Level Differences Among African Americans
- High-income African Americans make on average about $112,000.00 with a range of $94,000.00–$162,000.00).
- Low-income households were made up of about 1.9 people while high-income households averaged 3.3.
- High-income households average 2.1 vehicles while low-income accounts for about 0.5 vehicles.
- Those in the high-income category tend to own their homes while low-income rent.
- High-income households spend about 70% more in expenditures than their lower-class counterparts.
- Those with high income spend about 1/3rd of their income on housing while housing accounts for nearly half of low-income expenditures.
- High-income African Americans spend more for expenditures overall compared to low-income African Americans with one exception–tobacco and smoking supplies. Lower income persons outspent and proportionally outranked their higher income counterparts in this area of consumption.
What Can We Learn from the Data?
The African American STEM degree candidate is a commodity. Many organizational leaders say that they value cultural diversity and it is a key component of their organization’s success, yet they do not offer pay equal to white American recruits. Instead, the organization should treat African Americans and other historically excluded group candidates as commodities â€“ like hiring top performers or the talented athletes. Few would reject an offer to pay above scale to a candidate that has graduated top of the class.
African American recruitment requires showing them the money. The ‘pay them at the top of the scaleâ€ call to action may be difficult for many to embrace. It is considered too disruptive, which is appropriate given that disruption is valued in the technology sector. Treating the African American STEM degree candidate as a commodity shows that the organization truly values cultural diversity and differences in problem-solving. This is one way to increase recruitment success as I point out in the recent article “How to Turn Your Cultural Diversity Recruits On!“.
It may be that African American candidates assume that the organization does not care enough to pay them what they are worth. Pay equity is a start. Paying them at or near the top of the scale sends a message that they are valued. That’s the best way to compete for the best and brightest in an increasingly culturally diverse applicant pool.
About the Author
Billy Vaughn, Ph.D. CDP CDT CDE is director of the Diversity Executive Leadership Academy and an award-winning cultural diversity expert.
This is a reprint and update of the article by the same name, which is a Diversity Blog publication. The original is located at
[i] Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014). Income and spending patterns among black households. Vol. 3, No. 24.
[i] National Urban League (2005). Diversity best practices that work. National Urban League, New York.