Annual diversity survey finds young N.J. workers are more concerned about racial issues

The fifth annual New Jersey State of Diversity Survey found in New Jersey, young workers are far more concerned about racial issues in the workplace than their older colleagues.

The annual survey by Taft Communications, the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and Fairleigh Dickinson University focused on the major differences in attitudes and experiences around race, religion and ethnicity in the workplace.

The poll is timely, considering the civil unrest of the nation and an increased focus on workplace training and diversity.

“This continues to be a very profound moment in our nation’s history as it relates to racial and gender inequities,” Michele Siekerka, CEO and president of the NJBIA, said. “The timely results of this year’s survey further justify the need to take full stock of our words and actions if we truly want to effectuate meaningful change in the workplace. Businesses can also facilitate solutions by enabling an open discourse among their workforce that lends itself to a better understanding of sensitivities, a broadening of perspectives and evolving education.”

Each year, those polled are asked the same question: “Over the past year, have you overheard things at work that might be considered offensive to certain groups?”

The response:

  • 28% “very often” or ”occasionally” hear things that could be considered offensive to racial and ethnic minorities;
  • 24% said they hear things that could be offensive to women, compared to 14% last year and 13% in 2016;
  • 23% hear things that could be offensive to LGBTQ people, compared to 12% last year and 16% in 2016;
  • 23% hear things that could be offensive to Muslims, compared to 10% last year and 19% in 2016;
  • 20% hear things that could be offensive to Jews, compared to 10% last year and 9% in 2016.

On the question, differences were noticeable by age and political affiliations. For example, 43% of those aged 18-34 said they “very often” or “occasionally” hear things that could be offensive, compared to 17% of those aged 55+.

“Taft’s fifth annual diversity poll took place against a background of renewed and overdue focus on issues of race and racial justice facing New Jersey, the nation, and the world,” Ted Deutsch, president, Taft, said. “The findings offer some hope, especially in the responses of the youngest New Jerseyans. Their sensitivity to their surroundings and the feelings of others is encouraging. Yet the increased reports of offensive remarks and a sense among nearly half of non-whites that they have felt discrimination at least occasionally is a sobering reality check.”

In terms of political party, 36% of Democrats said they overhear negative comments at work  compared to 21% of Republicans. And 35% of non-whites say its a common theme  compared to 22% of whites.

“The partisan differences that we observed, particularly in relation to reported instances of offensive comments in the workplace, are worth noting,” Krista Jenkins, director of the poll and a professor of politics and government at FDU, said. “By and large, Republicans were less likely than Democrats to report hearing things that some would find offensive to women and minority groups. This could be a reflection of the parties operating as a prism through which people evaluate workplace banter. Regardless, these differences mark yet another way that political party differences are increasingly seen in regard to seemingly apolitical issues and behaviors.” 

Beyond the core question of the poll, a number of new inquiries were added to focus more on issues of discrimination and employer response.

When asked, “Have you personally felt or experienced discrimination based on race, gender, religion or sexual preference?” nearly half of non-white respondents (47%) said they have felt discrimination “often” of “occasionally” compared to 31% of whites; 42% of women vs. 35% of men; and 43% of those age 18-34 vs. 27% of those older than 55.

More than half (54%) of New Jerseyans “strongly agree” that “the opportunities in your workplace are similar for employees regardless of race, gender or sexual preference,” with Republicans more likely than Democrats to “strongly agree” (63% vs. 50%), white mores than non-whites (62% vs. 46%) and men more than women (59% vs. 50%).

Nearly a quarter (23%) said they worry “a lot” or “sometimes” about race relations at work, again with a sharp divide seen among the various categories: 35% of those 18-35 vs. 12% older than 55; and 27% of Democrats compared to 15% of Republicans.

The poll of 506 New Jerseyans has a margin of error of +/-5.2 points.