Better Education for Better Opportunities — A Shared Responsibility
Around 350 B.C. Aristotle, tutor to Alexander the Great, offered this correlation between education and the future: “All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind are convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.”
America’s academic community stands to make a tremendous contribution to the next generation of workers, especially women, people of color and disabled workers. As we have become an information/knowledge-based society, education and job training are undeniable prerequisites to gaining access to better paying jobs, career advancement or just getting in the door, in many instances. Federal agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and America’s educators — whether they be teachers, deans, administrators or librarians — face a shared responsibility to provide students and workers with an understanding of the requirements of today’s workplace and the resources to prepare them to compete.
The EEOC’s primary mission is to remove barriers to discrimination in the workplace. I believe that this mandate goes hand-in-hand with education. The EEOC continues to receive on average 80,000 filed charges of workplace discrimination annually: 35 percent of the charges are race related; 30 percent are gender related; 20 percent are age and 20 percent are disability; 10 percent are national origin and 2 percent are religious discrimination charges.
On average, the charging party is a lower-skilled, hourly wage earner with limited educational background, some with limited language skills, working within a services or assembly-line environment. Many complainants have tolerated poor working conditions where they were taken advantage of because they had limited language, education and workplace skills. This does not, in anyway, indicate that people with higher levels of skill and education do not experience workplace discrimination. It does suggest, however, that they are less likely to file a charge because it could be more damaging to their careers in the long run. They simply change employers or pursue entrepreneurial ventures. Despite the barriers they face, their skills and education give them better access to opportunities and better armor to compete.
Since the EEOC was founded in the early 1960s, we have made a great deal of progress on the civil rights front, but we have a lot more work to do to ensure all of America’s workers have the freedom to compete on a fair and level playing field. Being prepared with the necessary skills increases workers’ chances of overcoming greater obstacles and improving their chances of success.
We must work in partnership to foster an environment where all members of our society understand that today, more than ever, education and preparation are keys to unlocking the door to better opportunities. Work-force preparedness is critical to ensuring our nation’s global competitiveness.
— Cari M. Dominguez is chairwoman of the U.S. Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission.
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