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The US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced revisions to its standards for collecting data on race and ethnicity in an effort to better reflect and capture diversity of the United States. One highlight includes a new category for Middle East or North African (MENA) in an effort to capture people from these regions that neither identify as Asian or Black. Another notable change is the elimination of the two-tier question for race and ethnicity which has been replaced with a single question “what is your race and/or ethnicity?” In its previous version, this question played an important role by better capturing Afro Latinos: 

“The racial and ethnic classifications that the OMB originally devised in 1977, were for the specific purpose of facilitating the application of civil rights laws. By comparing the demographic count of individuals by race to the statistical presence of each racial group in workplaces, housing purchases and rentals, and access to mortgages, racial disparities can be uncovered and then investigated for discriminatory practices. The data is also used to design electoral districts and enforce the Voting Rights Act protections against discrimination. The revised 1997 format first asked whether someone’s ethnicity was Hispanic/Latino-Origin, followed by a second question of what was their race (American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, Other). This two-question format explicitly recognized that within Latino ethnicity there are racial differences.”

There are distinct social outcomes based on labor market access, housing segregation, educational attainment and prison sentencing that vary for Latinos if they are dark-skinned and especially if they are visibly Afro Latino. Thus even though Afro Latinos demonstrate higher levels of education than white Latinos, white Latinos have higher earnings, lower poverty status, lower unemployment rates and possess more assets. These powerful and disturbing economic and labor market disparities have been documented thanks to the previous separate race and ethnicity questions; statistical viability now under threat. 

Demographic data helps us understand the behaviors and needs of historically marginalized groups and the ability to understand intersectional experiences helps create solutions that address the needs of all groups instead of just a subset of a community. While the government works to revise its data collection process, now is the time for your organization to review its demographic collection process to uncover blind-spots that may exist. Ask yourself, does my data represent intersectional identities? Are there groups within marginalized groups that are not well represented? You may create focus groups and have discussions with your employee resource groups to gather more information and ensure that you are collecting the most useful demographic data to meet the needs of your workforce. 

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The Editor

Ngozi Okeh is an experienced leader with a history of driving efforts to conceptualize, define, assess and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as strategic business processes. Ngozi is currently the Director of DEI at a leading marketing technology company where she develops and executes enterprise-wide DEI initiatives through rigorous strategic planning efforts, community partnerships, leadership collaboration, strategy evaluation, and careful management of communication and buy-in as well as policies and procedures.  Previously, she worked at an independent mortgage bank, where… View Profile