Change isn't simply coming; it has arrived.
In the 2013 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report of enforcement and litigation statistics, discrimination charges in the Tennessee workplace were shown to have decreased by 9 percent from the previous report. The annual report, produced for every state each fiscal year (from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30), also reflected a 5.7 percent decrease in complaints nationally, comparing the 99,412 claims received in 2012 to the 93,727 claims received in fiscal year 2013.
"Given that harassment and discrimination across the nation decreased 6 percent in 2013, seeing a 9 percent decrease in Tennessee is definitely encouraging," said Jimmy Lin, vice president of Product Management and Corporate Development at The Network, the company that provided data visualization for this year's EEOC report. "However, Tennessee still has a ways to go in eliminating harassment and discrimination in the workplace."
Jenny Richter, the associate director of the Office of Equity and Diversity, was stunned at Tennessee's progress and said she has never witnessed such a decline in the numbers.
"We've been watching the trajectory go up for the number of years," Richter said, "not just in Tennessee but across the country."
Richter believes that as more laws and employee education programs are created to teach and enforce nondiscrimination policies, more victims are sure to come forward. At UT, Richter noted that each time she performs a discrimination training session with faculty and staff, she learns of another issue an employee is facing.
"As people come to understand their options," she said, "they are more likely to use that opportunity."
Lin asserted that programs like the training sessions ensure employees understand what constitutes harassment and discrimination, as well as how to react when an incident occurs. These, she believes, are responsible for the decrease.
"Instilling strong ethics in employees from day one is crucial in establishing an ethical workplace that's free of harassment and discrimination," Lin said. "A comprehensive workplace harassment training program needs to include periodic education as well as follow-up awareness learning and ongoing awareness communications. It can't be viewed as a 'once and done' exercise."
Incorporated throughout the year, Richter said every discrimination training session is tailored by department. Sessions are also offered routinely for new faculty. When hiring, university recruiters are trained to identify areas that could be viewed as discriminatory.
"Awareness allows people to have better ideas and to make better decisions," Richter said.