Discrimination in the workplace can be an upsetting and challenging ordeal. Whether you feel discriminated against for your race, age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, disability or other factors, it is important to remember you are not alone. In many places, there are an abundance of resources and legal protections in place to discourage discrimination in the workplace and to protect workers from such prejudice.
In this article, we’ve created a guide on how to address discrimination in the workplace and possible avenues to explore for conflict resolution. Every country, region and workplace are different, so it is important to refer to the workplace discrimination protections as they apply to your unique circumstance.
Here’s what we’ll cover
What Is Office Discrimination?
What is discrimination? Workplace discrimination can take many forms, including both overt and more surreptitious forms of discrimination. There have been numerous studies conducted on the ways individuals, especially visible minorities, experience discrimination at work.
While these studies can vary greatly, they often agree that despite the body of research available, these types of workplace discrimination complaints continue to be underreported. These studies highlight the real problem many individuals face in the workplace including discrimination from employers and coworkers limiting them from promotions, job opportunities and generally feeling safe and respected at work.
Examples of Office Discrimination
Workplace discrimination can take a variety of forms, from conflicts and prejudicial treatment by a particular individual to larger more systemic structures of discrimination within a company or industry. It is important to understand the possible solutions and repercussions of raising concerns and seeking help and in addressing workplace harassment.
Preferential treatment based on personal prejudices
One of the most common examples of workplace discrimination is the preferential treatment of certain individuals, which can include hiring policies, promotions or other work perks, based on discriminatory factors. An example of this type of treatment could be an employer only choosing to hire individuals of a certain race, gender or ethnicity.
This type of discrimination could also work in reverse. For example, an employer actively choosing not to promote individuals on the basis of sexuality, not the skills required to do the job.
This type of discrimination is often accompanied by other discriminatory behaviours, but sometimes this type of discrimination is more subtle and difficult to understand. For example, an employer may hire all races and ethnicities of people, and treat all fair and equal in their interactions, but only promotes individuals from a certain race. This behaviour can often go unnoticed until trends are identified and employees speak up.
Inappropriate comments, jokes or assumptions
This type of discrimination can be very overt and often very difficult to address. These types of comments can be easily dismissed as a joke and employees may be pressured into silence for risk of appearing “too sensitive” or “unable to take a joke” This type of pervasive discrimination is often commonly associated with bullying, creating a very toxic work environment.
Inadequate discipline or work structure
Another way an organization or employer may exhibit workplace discrimination is through an uneven work distribution amongst employees based on a number of discriminatory factors.
An example of this could be an employer who is unfairly critical of an employee’s work because that employee has a disability and needs accommodation. This employee may be paid less or receive fewer opportunities than their able-bodied coworkers.
How to Address Workplace Discrimination
Confide in someone you trust
An important first step in addressing workplace discrimination is to confide in someone you trust, ideally an impartial and trusted friend or professional such as an attorney or therapist. We do not recommend having this initial conversation with someone in the same organization where you have experienced discrimination.
While this person may understand the workplace dynamic and the players involved, it can be very risky to raise these concerns without gaining an outside perspective. At this stage, we do not recommend raising these concerns with a boss or human resources professional. This advice is not to discourage employees from addressing their concerns within their organizations but as a first step, it is important to seek the perspective on a trusted source outside of the situation.
Understand all your options
After thoroughly discussing your concerns with a trusted outside source, it is time to decide how you’d like to approach the situation. For many, this decision comes down to the ultimate choice of whether to quit or stay and try to address and resolve the problem. No matter your reasoning for staying or leaving your current role, you have a right to employment free of discrimination and harassment. However, addressing these problems can often be easier said than done.
There are various routes you can take for conflict resolution and only you can know the best option for your situation. Whether this harassment is a one time experience or systemic, ongoing problem, it is important to understand your workplace’s policies on these matters and the internal conflict resolution processes that may already be in place.
Before you proceed, consult a lawyer
Before proceeding with a complaint involving workplace harassment, it is important to consult an employment or labour law attorney so you can best understand the options available to you. We recommend bringing a copy of your company or organization’s workplace discrimination policies so you can be prepared with the most information available.
A lawyer is the best resource to advise you on the specific labour laws and workplace discrimination legislation in your area and can advise how to address the problem. They can also provide helpful guidance on navigating internal conflict resolution procedures and can support in advocating on your behalf.
If you choose to stay in your current workplace and address the discrimination you are experiencing, it is important to keep documentation and records of your conversations, interactions and experiences throughout the process. Should your issue end up going through the court system, this will be important evidence necessary for presenting your case.
Address your complaint personally
The decision to address your complaint unofficially is a risky one but can have a positive outcome for those involved. Addressing your concerns directly with the individual involved can be an uncomfortable experience, especially if the other person is unaware of their behaviours.
Often this type of direct discussion is required when addressing discrimination concerns within a company or organization. It is important to be firm and direct about your concerns and offer the other person a chance to remedy their behaviour. This strategy is best for specific complaints or one time occurrences. This type of discussion is not a suitable solution for long term or systemic discrimination.
When having these types of conversations it is important to avoid making value judgements or trying to change another person’s beliefs or prejudices. It is not your job to educate or condemn a person’s values or beliefs, but it is your right to be given equal opportunity in the workplace and to be treated with respect.
Oftentimes, conflict can arise when there’s either poor communication, or no communication at all. Does your office have poor communication? Here are the 3 Signs That You Have Poor Communication In The Workplace.
Take advantage of your human resources department’s support, but remain cautious
Many organizations have conflict resolution strategies in place to help mitigate workplace discrimination or conflict. In fact, these types of strategies and systems are often mandated by law and can include a third party negotiator or assessment to help address your complaint.
It is important to understand that despite their best efforts, the role of the human resources department is to protect the company or organization as a whole from legal action or criticism. This is not to say that you cannot trust your human resources colleagues, but it is important to continue to advocate for your own rights as an employee in addressing workplace discrimination.
The hard decision – leaving your job
Unfortunately, in some circumstances, it may not be possible to resolve workplace discrimination with a particular employer or organization. This is particularly true for discrimination that is systemic or ongoing in nature.
If the situation cannot be resolved, we’d recommend removing yourself from the situation on your own terms if possible, rather than potentially face repercussions for speaking out against a discriminatory person or policies.
Key Takeaways On Discrimination in the Workplace
Workplace discrimination is, unfortunately, an all too common occurrence across a variety of organizations, businesses and industries. If you, or someone you know, are experiencing discrimination based on race, age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, disability or any other factor outside of their control, it is important to understand your options to address these concerns. As an employee, you have a right to a fair and equal opportunity workplace.