Becoming 17% and Why a Vacant Position Needs to be White

Y’all, I’m tired. So this is not really my best writing.

I’m tired from constantly pointing out disparity to people who should know better, who are paid way better than me to know or at least learn how to discern better.

I’m tired of pointing out microaggressions and being in hostile environments, constantly having to weigh whether that thing that was said in front of other staff is even worth me commenting. Of constantly having to weigh is it more damaging to me emotionally to keep quiet or to respond. Of constantly having to figure out will saying something in the wrong space at the wrong time cost me my job or my life.

And I’m just regular old tired tonight… Well, maybe not, because this has not been a “regular” day or week or month.

I didn’t even want to write. But I’m going to write and share this with you because sometimes numbers do lie, and I just can’t let that stand.

The [Prickliness] is in the Details

Sometimes racism isn’t overt. No, scratch that: Oftentimes, racism isn’t overt.

Sometimes racism shows up in the details of things. And looking at the details is the way of survival for many people of color. We learn to study these details—perhaps a look, the other person’s body language, how you are referred to or marginalized—to know where we are welcome, and where the underlying message is that you are not welcome here, or you do not belong. As a person of color, paying attention to the details of human interaction allows us to have some idea of how to operate in white spaces, and to determine whether compliance or resistance is appropriate or—like I said above—even worth it. And then sometimes, racism shows up in how you refer to people of color versus how you refer to white people.

Perhaps the difference in referencing language isn’t meant or intended. Take for instance these two sentences:

Of the children who received intensive tutoring 83% were black. Four white students received tutoring.

The difference is subtle: Black students are referred to as percentages, while white students are referred to as whole numbers. One set of referencing language dehumanizes, the other humanizes. Both sets of students could have easily been referred to as whole numbers.

But, perhaps, maybe saying or writing “83%” has more of an effect than an actual whole number. And if effect is what you are going for instead of plain apples-to-apples language, then that’s also a whole other discussion on subtle racism through the commodification of black bodies… and that’s simply too much for me to get into right now.

So back to the matter at hand…

In a recent web post, colleagues of mine who are also staff of color, were referred to as 83%. I can’t speak for my other colleagues of color, but for me, being referred to (by default) as a percentage, while white staff were referred to as whole people, felt dehumanizing and cold.

More [Prickliness] in the Details

Let’s look at some sentences together and numbers together.

These sentences and numbers are taken from Salaries: Staff Changes Follow Up Information, starting with the second paragraph. (Edit: This content is quoted as current as of 8:00 am 3/25/17.) I want to show you how these sentences and numbers are either misleading or inaccurate.

Descriptions of the changes and their impact on the budget
As a result of the review, I increased the pay for nine staff members and decreased the pay for two.

9+2 staff members, 11 total. 9 increases; 2 decreases. Remember this total of ‘11’; it is important later.

Of the nine positions for which the rate of pay was increased, two positions also were expanded to some degree, which required a greater increase than their old jobs otherwise would have received.

2 of the 9 people (not positions) who received pay increases, also had expansion of job duties. I feel it’s important to re-humanize this language because the people in these positions become important for their race and gender later.

The rate of pay was decreased for two positions because they were being paid at a rate higher than the comparison rates for the scope of work now in the job description.

The 2 people whose pay rate were decreased, received the decrease because the scope of their work [as of April 1] will change.

One of the positions is currently vacant.

Here’s where things start to get questionable, because up until now, it seemed as though we were talking about two actual, real people who received decreases in pay.

You cannot count vacant positions as part of salary calculations, especially if you are including them in discussions or calculations about disparate racial impact. Vacant positions are vacant… no one is in that job. You cannot count a “no one” by race or gender.

The net of these salary changes will cost about $14,000 in this fiscal year and in the neighborhood of $30,000 next year.

Okay. Although that “in the neighborhood” bothers me a bit; when you can be accurate with numbers in one area, but vague in another, it makes me… uncomfortable.

This net increase in staff compensation is the right thing to do both for our employees and for our ability to continue to attract and hire quality staff.

Okay. Sounds good—especially that part about “the right thing to do” but remember ‘net’ does not mean all. For example:

4 employees could be earning a total of $100K/year combined, each earning an equal amount of $25K.  Then the following year, the 4 employees make a total of $125/year. Even if the $25/year increase went to only one employee, you can still say there was net increase in staff compensation. Do not let the term “net increase” lull you into equating it with fairness.

In PYM’s case the net increase still comes at the cost of the further marginalization of a person of color.

In terms of the number of staff positions, full-time equivalent (FTE) positions should increase by only 0.15 FTE when the 2018 fiscal year begins on October 1.

Without apples-to-apples comparison of staff positions, and apples-to-apples comparison on FTE losses and gains, this sentence does not make clear its meaning or how it was calculated.

In addition, staff positions are not the same as FTE. In this sentence, it seems like they are given synonymous meaning; they are not synonymous.

Patterns of the changes
We also reviewed the data to determine if there were patterns related to race or gender in the previous pay scale or in the new changes.

“We” refers to the senior members of staff mentioned earlier in the web post on salaries. The senior staff of PYM (all-white) are most certainly not professionally trained for fully analyzing data for racial/gender disparity or patterns.

Our staff of 24 (with one vacancy) includes six people of color and 18 white people, fifteen women and nine men.

Here’s where what numbers are used in the calculations become crucially important.

First, a correction: for current, regular staff (not temporary or on contract), there are 16 women and 7 men. Trust me, I have counted, and re-counted the number of women on staff many, many times for this post; I have yet to make one disappear. Nor have I been able to make 2 men appear.

Yes, 16+7 adds up to 23. I’ll get to that discrepancy in a bit.

The way the above-quoted sentence reads, the staff of “24” is inclusive of the one vacancy. And since the pattern established above is to include this vacancy in the count, it seems to follow that the position is included here (even if illogically so). Yes, I still think you cannot count a “no one.”

Here’s the thing though, this vacant position of “no one” appears to have been counted as belonging to a white (male) person. I am completely perplexed about how that is possible.

What I do know, is that the person in the old HR position, eliminated as of the end of last year, was a white male. What I do not know, and what I’m doubtful anyone knows, is the race or gender of the person yet to fill a vacant position.

And because of the way averages are calculated below, I question whether this position needs to stay as (1) being somehow occupied in its vacancy; and (2) occupied by a white male person.

This vacant position is the only other position where the compensation is being decreased. It is very possible the vacant position needs to “stay white” because the calculations below need a large negative effect to obscure the averages indicating racial disparity.

All of the pay rates of the people of color were affected with 83% of them increasing.

I addressed why this is offensive earlier. There’s also my erasure. But maybe, I guess, the sentence sounded “better” that way. To be clear one more time, we have 6 staff of color. The way this sentence is written, it is clear to me that it is referring to 5 staff of color receiving increases, and 1 staff of color receiving a decrease. 6 total. The cold, hard math used for the calculation meant that 83% receive increases and 17% receive a decrease. I became 17% by default.

Edit: And I forgot to mention how this sentence is also basically an admission that for years PYM had been underpaying at least 5 out its 6 staff of color. Since the 6th position is only “now” (as of April 1) changing in scope, it seems to follow that we question the possibility that under its previous scope, the 6th position might have been yet another position of a staff of color being underpaid as well (6 out of 6).

Four white staff members’ pay was affected with one decreasing.

It’s interesting that the vacant-but-somehow-white male staff position receiving a decrease can be mentioned and not erased… even though the position doesn’t even actually exist as connected to a real person. This sentence asks us to believe 4+1 white staff had their pay affected. 5 white staff people in total.

The average compensation for staff of color changed in the same direction as the average compensation for white staff, that is, the average change was an increase for both groups of staff. The average increase for staff of color was higher than the average increase for white staff.

Okay, here’s the real meat of why the vacant position needs to “stay white.”

Hypothetically, say you are the head of an organization.

  • You have 6 staff of color with salary changes, and their net average compensation increase was $1/hour.
  • And you have 5 white staff with salary changes, and their net average compensation increase is $0.50/ hour.
  • With that combination, you get to make statements such as: (1) “the average change was an increase for both groups of staff”; and (2) “the average increase for staff of color was higher than the average increase for white staff.”
  • Both of these statements would be true based on the above information.

But what if you removed one of those positions that had been labelled “white”? You removed it because you could not count that position (for either race), because it was vacant.

And what if taking away that one position meant the calculations become this:

  • 6 staff of color with salary changes, and their net average compensation increase was $1/hour. (Stays the same as above.)
  • You have now 4 white staff with salary changes, and their net average compensation increase is $2/ hour. (Definite change from above.)

Just taking away one position from the white staff count dramatically changed things. That one non-existent-white-male-employee skewed the original calculation so much because that one position was attached to a substantial decrease in compensation.

Now, instead of being able to say sentence number two as above, you can’t. Instead you would have to say: the average increase for staff of color was lower than the average increase for white staff.

“Lower” in this case could indicate disparate impact or discriminatory practices. More investigation by well-qualified, trained individuals would be justified and needed.

If–and I stress, if– this is the case with PYM, where numbers and positions and race and gender have been misrepresented, then I would sincerely hope that at least: (1) immediate corrections in representations and calculations are made by well-qualified individuals; and (2) immediate remediation of any and all disparities.

Five men and five women were affected by the changes.

How did we get to 5+5, meaning 10 people, from the originally stated 11 people (9+2)? Why is 10 people a good number here, but nowhere else in the above calculations we are originally given?

The mutable use of numbers is not acceptable.

The average change was an increase, and was nearly identical for men and women.

I am not sure if I can trust that statement, given all the above questions and concerns I’ve raised.

And that’s it folks.