Discrimination in your workplace? Here’s how to call it out
18 February 2021
Workplace discrimination hurts the individual, the team, and the organization as a whole. So when prejudice sneaks into your company’s ways of working, how do you stop it? You need to speak up.
Would you stand up to discrimination at work?
Witnessing discrimination puts us in a difficult position at work. It could be an off-the-cuff remark during Friday Night Drinks. It could be a promotion decision based more on age, gender, physical/mental health, and preference than verifiable potential and skill.
Either way, the questions we ask ourselves are often the same:
Should I make a fuss? Is this a real issue or am I just being sensitive? Could speaking up cost me my job? Would anyone else back me up?
Equal opportunity requires us all to take a stand
You’d maybe be forgiven for allowing one or two dubious comments and actions to slide in the past. Workplace confrontation is something we’d all rather avoid. And no-one walks into a job expecting to challenge upsetting, prejudiced behavior. But as HR professionals and team leaders, it’s definitely part of what we signed up for.
It’s our responsibility to resolve challenging issues; we help create a company culture that serves every employee.
And rest assured, drawing attention to the discriminations that fly under the radar would be applauded in most modern businesses. As long as you handle yourself professionally, of course.
So what is the professional approach to calling out discrimination in your workplace — and putting an end to it, too?
Confronting discrimination in your workplace: three ways to get it right
The hiring pattern of one manager may not seem like a big deal. But cultures are built by affirming the behaviors and mindsets you want to see and working hard to get everyone on the same page. That way, mutual respect, and consideration is a given in your organization — and not something you have to actively defend, day in and day out.
Find your voice in the moment
Before you speak up against discrimination, ask yourself: what’s the right response for this context?
Confronting injustice in informal team settings
Picture the scene. You’ve stepped out for lunch with a colleague. While catching up about your weekend plans, they make a joke (or you think it’s a joke) that could be offensive. You feel uncomfortable, but what do you do?
If the “joke” is uncharacteristic of them, it’s probably enough to push back, say “that’s not appropriate, is it?”, and move on. They’ve made a problematic remark, but they aren’t a problematic person.
Should these untoward remarks continue though, further action may be required. Take them aside and ask them to explain where these “jokes” are coming from. Help them to understand why their comments are inappropriate in the first place, then ask them to stop their problematic behavior — before it needs to be officially raised.
Confronting injustice in formal workplace conversations
Let’s imagine you’re working as a team to sift through job applications. One of your managers has discounted a number of candidates, but they can’t actually explain why. Their cover letters are good, their experiences match what you need… but your colleague won’t consider taking them further. And, when asked, they can’t tell you why these candidates don’t fit the bill in their opinion.
This could come down to an unconscious bias, in which case speaking to them about their opinions and setting them up for unconscious bias training is what’s required. If their behavior is intentionally discriminatory — as in, they’re outwardly showing a preference for one candidate’s age, race, or another identifying factor — you may need to escalate the issue through appropriate channels.
Those appropriate channels may not be internal to your organization, though. Expert guidance from an independent culture consultant or D&I mentor could be the best course of action.
Confronting injustice when other stakeholders are around
How about if you’re in front of clients or suppliers? It would be many HR managers’ worst nightmare to have a team member exhibit prejudice in front of other stakeholders. So what do you do? You absolutely say something. Silence in this instance could be incredibly damaging for your business’s reputation.
The same goes for the content shared via personal social media accounts — even retweeting an article or news story that could be seen as offensive. What an employee does in their personal life could certainly impact the business, especially if they’re senior in the team.
Check the legislature
≈lays out clear rules: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age cannot factor in workplace decisions.
Armed with crystal clear legislature, you’ve got every reason to speak up against bias and discrimination as you see it at work. More importantly, knowing the law on discrimination will help you feel more prepared and ready to combat injustice — and people can’t argue with it, either.
Respond as a group
Allies are incredibly important for creating positive change. Have you ever felt overlooked or ignored at work because you were challenging the status quo? It happens to us all.
One HR manager pushing for change makes ripples. But a group of employees coming together sends shockwaves. Management simply can’t brush you off as just one unhappy person when there’s a group of you standing up against what you’ve seen.
Engage your allies individually in private, but avoid whispering in the corridors. If you’ve noticed discriminatory behavior in your workplace, chances are they have too. Maybe they’ve just been unsure of how to respond — until now.
We’re not fighting people, we’re fighting prejudice
Combating discrimination doesn’t have to be personal. You’re not targeting individuals and their opinions, you’re looking to build an inclusive, safe culture for all your staff.
That is something we’re dedicated to at Headstart. If you are too, then check our resources page, or book a demo of our innovative, bias-fighting recruitment software. Together, we’ll achieve the change we’re all after.
Get in touch
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