Black staff report bad treatment at higher rates than colleagues

Last year, the Office of Human Resources (OHR) partnered with a number of different committees and departments across campus to generate the 2015 Employee Climate Survey, administered anonymously by the Gelfond Group. Employees were asked about their treatment and whether the College was a good place to work. The rates of African American employees’ responses to these questions were more unfavorable than responses of the average College employee.


15 percent of African American employees reported unfavorable treatment, and nine percent found the College an unfavorable place to work. Out of all employees, nine percent reported unfavorable treatment and six percent reported that the College was an unfavorable place to work. By the Gelfond Group’s aggregate measure of employee engagement at the College, 74 percent of respondents reported favorably, a response higher than the average by three percentage points.

The OHR has partnered with the President’s Task Force on Race and Race Relations to provide more detailed survey data and analyses in order to better equip the task force to take on this disparity. The more detailed data reported a “concentration of negative responses” for African American faculty and staff within the classification of employees eligible for overtime pay or “non-exempt” employees. These are typically operational or administrative jobs, such as dining and building staff.

Chief Human Resources Officer John Poma ’86 discussed this negative concentration, stating that while African American exempt employees responded similarly to the university professionals, African American non-exempt employees responded more unfavorably.

Recruitment of diverse faculty and staff remains high on the priority list of on-going initiatives for the partnership between the Task Force and the OHR. Over 80 percent of faculty members are white and four percent African American, while over 50 percent of building and dining staff are African American.

Poma said his office is committed to bringing attention to affirmative action and recruiting efforts of staff and faculty.

“We want to be of help to the task force without getting ahead of the important work they’re doing now,” Poma said.

We want to be of help to the task force without getting ahead of the important work they’re doing now,” Poma said.

According to the Office of Student Diversity student coordinator Pallavi Rudraraju ’17, diverse faculty members are important to students.

“When you do not see diversity in faculty, you don’t see a high diversity in students,” Rudraraju ’17 said. “[Diversity] increases your chances of learning —if there’s not greater diversity of experiences in a classroom, students will not question these normalized problems.”

Additionally, Rudraraju discussed the importance of representation, particularly among professors.

“Representation … is important,” Rudraraju said. “When you see people like you in positions of power or leadership, it makes you feel like you can fit in that space as well.”

The survey also brought attention to upward professional mobility and pay concerns. Only one-third of employees favorably rated their opportunity for advancement, and less than one-third of employees favorably rated their pay.

Poma said that these responses are an opportunity for improvement across all employee groups, and that Human Resources can make a positive impact on these responses through training and education programs. In terms of Title IX and discrimination training, the College scored much better than in other areas. 98 percent of employees responded that they had a good understanding of what discrimination constituted and over 90 percent responded that they knew how to report any discrimination problems they were having.

Deputy Compliance Officer Pamela Mason said that she was satisfied with the results in those areas.

“We wanted people to know how, where, and what to report,” Mason said. “I was pleasantly surprised.”

We wanted people to know how, where, and what to report,” Mason said.

The response rate for the survey, administered anonymously, was 71 percent, which was significantly higher than 2010’s 46 percent response rate. Poma attributes this rise in response rate to the use of the third party organization and the guaranteed anonymity of the respondents. Poma said he was pleased with this increase.

According to Poma, one of the important changes to the survey was that Gelfond ensures complete anonymity. Poma said that when people felt their jobs were secure they could be candid. Another change in the survey from previous years was the inclusion of instructional faculty.

Employee engagement will continue to be an important part of the OHR’s strategy for improving the climate of working at the College. Programs will include a “Get to Know You” program wherein randomly selected employees will be able to meet with Poma once a month, as well as the implementation of a feedback mechanism on the Human Resources webpage for suggestions or advice about issues in the workplace.

“The climate survey is an important part of making this school not only a Public Ivy, but also one of the best places to work,” Poma said.


  1. Was there any research done to look at performance versus perceptions of treatment? If the employees who felt they were poorly treated were predominantly poor performers, (my hypothesis), then the reason for their perceived treatment may have much more to do with their performance than their race. Should poor performers expect the same treatment, (promotions, pay increases, better assignments), as good performers. In the real world the answer is simply no.
    Discrimination on the basis of race, sex or religion is already illegal. Discrimination on the basis of performance is both illegal and health, as it deferentially rewards good performance. If the root cause is primarily performance, those employees would do well to leave and find some place where they can perform well. Both they and the college would be better off. But just assuming the discrepancy is due to race is simply poor research, regrettably common these days, including in academia.

    • I wasn’t going to reply to this comment, but it continued to bother me so I’ve come back to address it. It may not have been your intention, but your remarks strike me as both unfounded and racist. Your suggestion that African American employee’s reports of poor treatment is due to thier being “poor performers” hits far too close to harmful stereotypes of African Americans being lazy (for a discussion:

      I expect far better from the William and Mary community, and college employees–especially African American ones–deserve it. I’m a recent alum (2012) and I have nothing but respect for the non-exempt staff at the college. They work extremely hard, for long hours, often on thier feet the entire time. Its thier physical and emotional labor that makes life on campus possible and enjoyable. I have one particularly vivid memory of an African American staff member cleaning up vomit in one of the dining halls on a Saturday morning (thankfully not a common occurrence) and they still had a nod and a smile for me. I’d challenge *anyone* to meet that level of exemplary performance.

      I very much hope that the concerns raised by this survey will be addressed.

      • Rachael, I am opposed to racial bias, or other types of discrimination, as I said. But before we start another assumption that their is a racial problem, I simply ask that the research look into performance. If bad performance results in individuals feeling they are badly treated, and the majority of the poor performers are black, then bad treatment has to do with performance, not race. Note I did say if.
        I tire of the assumption of racial bias due to research like this. The justice system is biased because dis-proportionally more blacks are in prison. No, blacks commit more crimes than whites. Police are racist because more blacks are shot than whites. No, 90% of black shooting deaths are black on black.
        My issue with the survey is the assumption of racial bias, when that may not be the case. Wouldn’t you want to have the correct diagnosis before we start treatment?


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