Any organization as large as the federal government is going to face reports of racism from employees. A number of shocking reports in recent weeks, however, highlight the need for vigilance in aggressively rooting out egregious conduct.

In a recent survey of 1,500 VA employees, 80% of them said that racism is a moderate or serious issue, with more than half saying they had personally seen the veterans under their care experience it in their facilities.  The survey’s results led the Government Accountability Office to announce an audit of the organization.

And it’s not just the veterans that experience racism at the VA.  A report released only two weeks after the VA employee survey found that white employees are twice as likely to be promoted within the VA than black employees. 

Claims at the Drug Enforcement Administration were even more shocking, with black trainees being taunted with monkey noises or even being called monkeys in their presence.  The Associated Press was able to obtain a range of discrimination complaints describing a culture of racial discrimination at the agency.  And multiple CDC employees (including a former administrator of the agency) said that the agency needs to address internal problems related to racism.   

Many of the people interviewed for these stories point out that these issues need to become public so they can be addressed.  The reality, however, is that these issues should be resolved by EEO, Civil Rights or HR professionals within the agencies when they’re first raised internally.  By the time these reports become public, agencies aren’t facing a single instance of racial discrimination. After ignoring a handful of individual instances of racially discriminatory behavior, a culture of acceptance (or even encouragement) forms.  At this point, employees may not bother reporting discrimination internally at all.

Once one person takes their story to the press, others with similar past experiences at the agency are likely to follow.  At this point, racist behavior at the agency will seem less like a series of individual incidents over a period of years, and more like an explosion of racist behavior that demands immediate attention.  This further demoralizes current employees and scares away qualified potential employees, creating more problems for the agency.

Avoiding this nightmare scenario requires processes to ensure that no reports of discriminatory behavior fall between the cracks.  If employees have confidence that discrimination will be addressed when reported, they’ll report it.  Employees will quickly learn that discriminatory behavior isn’t tolerated, and they won’t exhibit it.  However, if a case or two falls between the cracks, the negative culture starts forming – and if you give discrimination an inch, it will take a mile.

To learn how CMTS:HR can streamline your HR investigations process and ensure no cases fall through the cracks, call us at 919-747-3812 or email us at