Effective Leadership in Racial Times

Executive Summary

In the United States, while discrimination at the workplace has been a subject of debate and attention, racism still prevails especially at the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Division. Recently, the department has been in the limelight after three detectives sued the department for systematically discriminating against them based on their races while promoting less qualified and less experienced white detectives. In light of this information, we combine an overview of the state of racism at the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Division and try to relate it to the current administration of Donald Trump. Ideally, at the NYPD, reports indicate that black detectives have been suffering for a long time due to racial discrimination from their white commanders. The situation is even worse because only a few of the black detectives are in the senior ranks. Consequently, although president Trump has condemned racism as evil, he has also embraced it on several occasions. Using this information, we analyze the relationship between perceived racial discrimination at the NYPD and challenges faced by leaders especially African Americans who attempt to fight for racial justice. Virtually, perceived racial bias makes it hard for black detectives who climb up the ladder for fear of patronizing their white commanders who facilitated their promotions, even though the promotion was given on merit. In light of this, the challenges make it hard for the leaders to condemn or even fight racial discrimination. However, as leaders, they have a responsibility to denounce an injustice. Thus, the study provides a comprehensive overview of various ways in which effective leadership can be developed in a racial workplace to help in the fight against racial injustices.

Effective Leadership in Racial Times

The world is multiracial as the majority of people take pride and base their strengths on their racial identities. In the United States, racism, especially at the workplace, is outlawed with the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964, 1991) declaring that employers must eliminate discrimination based on race, color, religion, origin, and sex at the workplace. In response, organizations have been fighting racial discrimination, although the act remains pervasive as more and more people report racial discrimination and harassment. For instance, a report published by the New York Times show that in one of the most powerful police divisions, the New York Police Department – Intelligence division, there has been an influx of discrimination against black detectives. Reports also indicate that, with Donald Trump taking over the presidency, racism has been on the increase as departments tasked with fighting racism such as the Justice Department failing to instigate charges on discriminative parties. As a result, this leaves organization leadership at the center of fighting racism in the workplace. Ideally, leadership plays a critically significant role in contributing towards or mitigating racism at the workplace, which determines effective leadership or lack of it. Thus, the importance of effective leadership in cross-cultural management cannot be emphasized enough. However, ways to develop effective leadership with the necessary skills to handle organizational challenges related to racism and unite people is the challenge. More so, in an organization dominated by racism such as the NYPD, it becomes hard for leaders who are against racial discrimination to practice effective leadership. This means leaders must constantly re-examine and reshape leadership towards creating a society where opportunities and benefits are equally shared. In light of this, this study will explore the New York Police Department’s Intelligence division claims of racial discrimination against black detectives to provide an overview of racial discrimination at the workplace. Consequently, the study will also explore how racial concerns have affected people of color in the United States after Donald Trump took office especially with his insensitive remarks towards select groups of people. Consistent with the NYPD racial discrimination, we will explore challenges of developing effective leadership in multi-cultural workplace environment especially when the leader is a Black American fighting against white supremacists. Finally, the paper will explore various ways to develop and support competencies for effective leadership at the workplace in racial times as a way of promoting racial justice leadership.

Racism at the New York Police Department – Intelligence Division

The New York Police Department – Intelligence Division is one of the most powerful police divisions. Inside the division, white commanders dominate high ranks within the department as the majority of the black detectives have worked for years without a promotion. For instance, in 2011, there were no black officials above the sergeant rank. Considering the promotion process, this means that the decisions were left to white bosses (Mueller, 2017). The situation is even worse because, with the high number of white commanders up in the rank, it makes it hard for the black officials to raise the issue of racism in promotion to the same bosses who promoted them. Similarly, as Mueller pointed out, black detectives have been struggling to learn the openings in specialized units as one way of winning coveted investigative assignments and maybe grant them a promotion. Unfortunately, they mostly end up in risky undercover work and even then, they have to work twice as much than their white counterparts. Others watch their juniors who they trained get promotions before them. Most probably, these frustrations explain why the three detectives accused Chief Thomas Galati terming him discriminative and awarding promotions based on personal loyalty. Mueller goes on to elaborate; interviews with current and retired detectives noted that promotions were based on powerful connections with bosses and rarely on merit. In addition to the above, my personal experience as a black detective under Chief Thomas Galati and other commanders reflects the frustrating experience black detectives are subjected to in the division. Virtually, I have served in the NYPD for the last 24 years and only got promotion to the 2nd grade 19 years later; though I feel my white colleagues attain this level sooner. Prior to my promotion, for example, most of the times when we went for an undercover assignment on tracking things such as narcotics, black detectives often did the dirty work, as the case officers who were always white got all the merit and all we got was a part on the back. Needless to mention, although I have been fortunate to be promoted, I still had to support my colleagues during my 11 years tenure in special Victims Unit & Child Abuse Squad, something that always left me behind my colleagues and in a way delayed my promotion. Consequently,  although Chief Thomas Galati selected me to the prestigious position overseas, I was already in my 2nd grade rank when I joined his unit. It should also be noted that I went through the selective process like other candidates and I believe my qualifications, tenure, and experience qualified me for the position and owe no one any favors. Thus, consistent with the allegations cited by Mueller, the U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission launched an investigation into the Department’s discrimination allegations against black detectives and found out the following results.

Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission Panel Findings

After the U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission launched investigations, the respondent, who was the employer, denied the charges basing their defense on several factors. For instance, the respondent claimed that the promotion system is purely discretional with no examination testing of employees’ qualifications (“Panel finds NYPD discriminated against black detectives,” 2017). According to the NYPD, the system worked because conducting interviews and running down leads were skills that cannot be measured through an examination. The other factor they cited was lack of provisions in the Collective bargaining Agreement on the eligibility process for promotion. The respondents also cited traditional promotion criteria such as evaluations, individual tracks, and education. According to the panel report, respondents claim that exceptional personal skills such as mastery of language, or handling of high-profile cases often earned them a promotion. Similarly, it was acknowledged that the department usually rewarded people with recommendations from outside officials. In addition to the above, NYPD provided a rough estimate that indicated that whites were promoted after 4.7 years, and blacks after 5.7 years of service. However, the EEOC investigative analysis revealed otherwise. Virtually, the shortfall of black detectives on higher ranks is not based on individual circumstances. The number of promotions among black detectives is also relatively low as compared to the total number in each grade (Mueller, 2017). Consequently, contrary to the respondent’s assertions, it was revealed that black detectives took two more years in category before they were promoted as compared to their white counterparts. The gap as Mueller notes was considerably broad than what the Police department acknowledged and could not be linked to individual circumstances. It was thus clear that black detectives did not move up the ladder because of their color. For instance, from the report by Mueller, one detective complained that his supervisor once told him that he would have been promoted much faster if he were white.  This comes down to show that the New York Police Department’s intelligence division discriminates against black detectives. Consistent with their responsibility, the commission, which enforces discrimination laws, passed on the findings to the Justice Department. Unfortunately, the Justice department retreated from police oversight under Donald Trump refused to instigate charges against the New York Police Department.

Racism after Trump Presidency

During the presidential campaigns, Donald trump mostly based his campaigns on racial remarks. Before then, he has on several occasions cited as being racist. Discrimination against black people has been considered a pattern in his career (O’Connor & Marans, 2017). For instance, the justice department sued Trump’s company twice for not renting to Black American. After the lawsuit, Trump promised to stop discriminating against the black people. However, two years later, the Justice Department pressed more charges for allegedly discriminating against people of color by denying them apartments. Another incident took place at the Trump Casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey where black workers would be fired upon request of a big spender. The racist practices by the managers at the Casino ware consistent with Trump’s action. In fact, when he and his wife visited the Casino, all the black employees would be ordered to leave the floor. On several occasions, Trump also referred to the black people as lazy in bigoted terms, to the point of asserting that laziness was a character trait among the black people. At one time, Trump faced charges for failing to hire African American workers in Indiana. The incidents are only a few of the several that Donald Trump has been cited racial towards people of color. After he took office, Trump has made little effort to discourage racism against people of color. For instance, a majority of his top advisers and cabinets have histories of prejudice directed towards the Black Americans. Consequently, there have been other incidents that Trump has attacked people of color with his insensitive remarks. Case sample is Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the U.S. national anthem in 2016 before the match began and had continued to do the same. The act of kneeling was his silent protest towards police treatment against Black Americans. However, his silent protest became a subject of national attention after President Donald Trump criticized the kneeling movement. In his remarks, the President called on NFL to fire Colin or any player who disrespected the national flag as well as urged fans to walk out of the game as soon as they saw the players kneeling.

Challenges in Developing Effective Leadership in Racial Times

In the current racial times, effective leadership depends on the skills and abilities of leaders who can manage diversity and implement increasingly sophisticated strategies to mitigate racism at the workplace. A strong relationship based on trust and loyalty between leaders and followers should be developed. Unfortunately, in a department such as the Intelligence division in the NYPD where the people in high ranks are the ones promoting racial discrimination, it becomes hard for leaders, especially for African/ American to fight racism against the people who selected them for the position. Similarly, beyond outright discrimination, most people are likely to suffer psychologically. In particular, and as Keleher, Leiderman, and Meehan (2010) pointed out, black professionals are careful to manage their emotions especially in response to racial issues. They have to suppress emotions such as anger, frustration, and annoyance when faced with cases of racism in their settings or face consequences with their bosses promoting the vice. In this case, since the environment is already hostile, the boss may intimidate the leaders who are likely to raise their voice on racism and may try or force them to quit on the grounds of safety violations. Consequently, talking may lead to lack of promotions in the future, thus jeopardizing their career. Along with that, these leaders are likely to face other challenges especially when trying to create working identity. Seemingly, majority groups do not have to work as hard to build their working identity. However, black men may feel compelled to work longer hours to rebut stereotypes that they are lazy. Unfortunately, the strategies may backfire and instead encourage other stereotypes. Thus, as conceptualized alongside this continuum, this raises the ultimate question, what can African/ American leaders do to promote racial justice in the workplace?

Promoting Effective Leadership in Racial Times

Leadership is often defined as the ability of an individual to influence others by authority, persuasion, or position, but leadership is not intrinsically individualistic (Keleher et al., 2010). More so, with the cultural influence of individualism, a majority of the programs assume that selecting individuals who have demonstrated leadership skills strengthens organizations ability to serve the teams. However, the approach fails to consider structural and systematic issues that surround individual’s ability or that handling racism at the workplace requires more strategies. Therefore, attempting to change the behavior of the individual leaders who are racist will not support system intervention or address the cause of structural racism in the NYPD. However, when leaders develop a systemic viewpoint, it helps them understand better the individuals to support, and ways in which it must be done as a way of eradicating racial injustice within the networks.

Make Racial Justice an Active Commitment and Taking Accountability for Racial Justice Outcomes

In a department such as the NYPD where racism is deeply embedded in the system, the first step for a leader who wants to fight the vice is to build an intrinsic and active commitment to fighting racial injustice (Keleher et al., 2010). This also calls for a deeper understanding of one’s identity with power and their connection to fighting for racial justice. As a leader learns how their lives are influenced by racism, it strengthens their ability to become a voice for the others who are not in a position to fight for their rights. Similarly, it will help the leader strategically plan, and implement the strategies through practice. Additionally, reflection on an individual’s identity with institutional power is a continuous practice that is integrated with the action of developing accountability. When leaders practice responsibility for transforming structural discrimination through their work, they must also be able to track the necessary changes. They must also understand that they are responsible for their actions, which improves their commitment

Support development of systems thinking

In racial terms, systems thinking explain how racial disadvantages manifest and accumulate within organization systems, and make it hard to address them because they are represented as a whole and not as a single system (Stroh& Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015). For instance, at the NYPD’s intelligence division, there is segregation of black detectives who are mostly assigned risky undercover jobs and not the coveted investigative tasks. Virtually, one’s connection to the right jobs or interaction with the boss translates to openings for a promotion for the individual. Alternatively, this has a lasting impact on the marginalized group who are left behind as compared to their white detectives who win the right jobs and their interaction with the boss is often. In light of this, an understanding of how systems operate helps leaders recognize the leverage points to alter the ability of the system. Understanding the nature of organization systems is critical for leaders to mitigate resistance in order to achieve racial justice. Failure to recognize such issues are likely to undermine efforts and effectiveness of leadership. In the case of the NYPD, the major source of resistance is the white commanders, who have been discriminating against black detectives for the longest time now. As a leader focused on promoting social justice in such an organization, it is imperative to come up with the right strategies to ensure minimal resistance from these commanders. Along with that, it is also important to understand the racial messages used within the organization and their meaning. By understanding words being used, it helps leaders to know when a racial remark is being made and its extent to develop means to mitigate the remarks.

Provide time, resources, network, and skills to Black Detectives

Racism not only affects the performance of a task but also hurts individual’s feelings leaving the person helpless. Black detectives have been subjected to years of emotional pain due to the continued discrimination. Leaders who want to fight racial injustice have a responsibility to give participants an opportunity to heal. Ideally, there are several ways that leaders can fulfill this responsibility. For instance, leaders can provide resources to detectives to achieve universal equality (Research Center for Leadership in Action, 2009). In this case, the resources do not have to be necessarily in tangible form, rather by providing opportunities to this detective in coveted investigative jobs, or job openings which could lead to their recognition and thus promotions. The other way is by responding to specific needs when possible. This can be achieved by providing a space for black detectives to examine their own internalized oppression and learn how to stand up for their rights. In particular, instead of encouraging black detectives to work extra hard to prove their working identity, they should instead focus on performing their duties without the pressure to rebut the stereotypes. Consequently, leaders can help the marginalized group by providing opportunities for skills development to facilitate their access to higher job openings that require improved skills. The leader could also try to connect the black detectives with existing networks where they can be mentored, have access to resources to facilitate easy completion of tasks, and easy access to information.

In the United States, black professionals will always end up working in an environment where there is racial discrimination. Contrary to expectations that the NYPD should be on the frontline promoting racial justice, the department is, in fact, one of the most perpetuated with racial discrimination. This has several posed challenges to leaders committed to fighting racial injustice, especially with the current administration of Donald Trump, who has not been forgiving towards the minority groups. Standing and fighting for equality is even harder with the white commanders dominating the high ranks of administration. For African American leaders who manage to climb up the promotion, ladder has a responsibility to fight for racial justice. In essence, amidst a multi-cultural working environment at the NYPD, black detectives in leadership positions have a responsibility to address the disparities in the ways opportunities such as promotions are distributed. Bringing a race-conscious lens raises an important question about the current leadership strategies that have contributed to the increasing differences. Consequently, it is critical to understand that although leadership development strategies do not eradicate structural racism fully, it provides opportunities for marginalized individuals to access resources. More importantly, these leaders must also understand that fighting for racial justice has several challenges and will most likely face increased resistance from other leaders opposed to changes. Thus, a commitment towards fighting for racial justice requires the development of strategies. However, fighting for racial justice is the promotion of effective leadership, which is necessary for the 21st century for an inclusive, networked, and collective society.


“Panel finds NYPD discriminated against black detectives.” (2017). New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/21/nyregion/eeoc-ruling-on-nypd-discrimination.html

Keleher, T., Leiderman, S., Meehan, D., Perry, E., Potapchuk, M., Powell, J. A., & Yu, H. C. (2010). Leadership & Race: How to Develop and  Support Leadership that Contributes to Racial Justice. New Era Series. Retrieved from: http://leadershiplearning.org/system/files/Leadership%20and%20Race%20FINAL_Electronic_072010.pdf

Mueller, B. (2017). Black Detectives in New York Were Bypassed for Promotions, Panel Finds. New York Times. Retrieved from: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/09/21/nyregion/black-detectives-in-new-york-were-bypassed-for-promotions-panel-finds.html?referer

O’Connor, L, & Marans, D. (2017). Trump condemned racism as ‘evil.’ Here are 16 times he embraced it. Huffington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-racism-examples_us_5991dcabe4b09071f69b9261

Research Center for Leadership in Action. (2009). A cooperative inquiry into the work of leaders of color in movement-building organizations taking back the work. Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Retrieved from: http://wagner.nyu.edu/leadership/reports/fles/TakingBacktheWork.pdf

Stroh, D. P., & Chelsea Green Publishing. (2015). Systems thinking for social change: A practical guide to solving complex problems : avoiding unintended consequences, and achieving lasting results. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

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