Views from the EEOC
Evolving Trends in the 21st Century Workplace
During the past four decades, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has not wavered from its overall mission – to prevent and eradicate discrimination in the workplace – even as dramatic shifts in demographics and constantly changing business conditions have led to employment twists and turns that no one could have ever predicted. Everywhere we look, change abounds, which has left us all pondering that most profound of philosophical questions…who moved my cheese? And, I might add, is there any left?
During these changing times, the Commission’s enforcement responsibilities are being influenced by the same three megatrends that are redefining the workplace: demographics, technology, and globalization.
The American workforce is now comprised of approximately 130 million workers. Demographically, the gender, racial, ethnic, linguistic, cultural and generational composition of our workforce continues to shift dramatically. Women, minorities, and immigrants make up the majority of the net new entrants in the workplace. California and fifty of the largest U.S. cities no longer have a clear majority of any single race or ethnic group.
Women, who now account for nearly half of the workforce, continue to increase their presence and influence in all areas of the employment and economic sectors. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women-owned businesses contribute $1.15 trillion to the economy each year.
Workplaces are also increasingly becoming more agediverse. We now have four different generations of workers – from the few remaining but still active “Traditional Generation” (pre-WWII), to the retirement-eligible but working longer “Baby Boomers” (Post WWII) to the rising “Xers” (1963-1977), and the entering “Y” or “Millenial Generation” (1978-1983).
Recognizing the distinct perspectives each generation can offer is important for building organizational strength. Careers are no longer forged out of one-job journeys to a gold watch, but rather out of a collection of modular work experiences that cut across industries, functions, and a range of employment categories: fulltime, part-time, temporary or contract, just to name a few. An astounding 30 percent of the labor force has joined the ranks of contingent workers, some by choice, others by necessity. Every employment situation requires a full understanding of the particular needs and interests driving each worker.
The second megatrend affecting the workplace is technology. With a will and speed of its own, technology is transforming the way people work. It’s putting laptops, pagers, cell phones, and handhelds in our briefcases. In today’s “point and click” culture, job applicants can simply email their resumes through cyberspace. Companies no longer just recruit, they e-cruit as well. The advent of cyber-searches has leveled the recruiting field for employers of all sizes, yet made it more challenging to ensure diversity of applicants.
Consider that all of this is happening on a global scale. Globalization, our third megatrend, and the technological, political, and marketplace forces behind it have wiped away borders and spurred competition while creating greater economic interdependence. The world — the U.S. and 80 other nations — is now online, allowing workers to apply for jobs, interview and even work for companies while living oceans away.
This bold, new employment landscape raises all kinds of fundamental questions for employers: How does one promote teamwork when employees work independently in different settings at different times, across oceans and different cultures? How can we ensure equal opportunity for advancement for workers who are rarely “seen” by management? What constitutes “overtime” in a 24/7 business environment, when workers are “on-call” at all times? The application of our aging employment laws must continue to be flexible and adaptable to the trends.
The challenge of EEOC and every employer is to stay in step with these continual workplace changes, to be vigilant and identify potential discrimination issues before they develop, and, through a concerted effort, to look for the “cure” to discrimination, rather than always having to treat its symptoms.
For more information, see our website at www.eeoc.gov.
Cari Dominguez is chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the Equal Pay Act; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination affecting individuals with disabilities in the federal government; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. To contact the EEOC, or to get further information about the Commission and the FTC Initiative, please visit the EEOC's website: www.eeoc.gov.
From the September/October 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®