The Magnolia Mediator

Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman speaks out on the changing dynamics of the 21st century workplace

particular, continue to focus on this question of pay equity. We know, for instance, younger women and men are seeing more of a pay leveling off. But, when you stay with those profiles, you find that as women get older [and] leave to have children, that pay gap starts to widen. It’s also true for African American men, and that’s in part because the kind of jobs that African American males used to be employed in are no longer there, particularly in the manufacturing sector where African American males were able to get better-paying jobs. Those kinds of jobs are not there in the numbers that they used to be and the jobs of the future are going to require more skill and more education to take advantage of this new labor market.

I think networking on the job is very important for African Americans. We have to remember that it’s those informal systems that drive the workplace.

For many African Americans, however, that process is not so comfortable, not so easy or not there. They are looking for senior African Americans to mentor them. But they [senior executives] may not feel able to do that. Is there some responsibility that those who are on higher rungs on the ladder have to move people through the process?

First of all, I think those of us who are in leadership positions in corporations and government have a clear responsibility to make sure that we are mentoring other young African Americans. We should see ourselves as the role models and continue to open even wider the doors of opportunity. For the most part, if you look across corporate America today, we can still name who the top leaders are. As impressive and as important as it is that we have more African Americans in the cabinet of William Clinton [than] of any president in history, you can
still count us on one hand. So we have a lot more that we have to do. The young people also have a responsibility to reach out and talk about what it takes to be mentored.

You’ve talked about something called the Work Force Investment Act. How does it work?

The Work Force Investment Act is changing the way we have traditionally operated our job training programs. By July, we will have put in place a new system, so it’s an historic opportunity for us to change the way we traditionally prepared workers. We firmly believe that any worker who is dislocated, who loses their job through no fault of their own should be able to get the training they are going to need to compete and get a job that is paying at least the same rate of pay, if not better. If they need to get training and skill development to help them find that job, they will be entitled to an individual training voucher they can take to a community college of their choice, to an Urban League or some of our traditional training vendors who prepare

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