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Why Does Workplace Discrimination Persist? How to Address It?

Why Does Workplace Discrimination Persist? How to Address It?

Discover why discrimination still exists in the modern workplace and explore concrete steps employers and employees can take to create a more inclusive and equitable space for all.

Workplace discrimination is a pervasive problem that affects millions of people every year. It occurs when an individual is treated unfairly or unequally in their workplace based on race, gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic that makes them unique.

Discrimination can take many forms. It can range from direct acts like name-calling or harassment to subtle forms, such as exclusion from training or promotion opportunities. In any case, it can have severe consequences for the affected individual.

They might experience emotional distress, decreased job satisfaction, and even physical health problems.

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Addressing workplace discrimination is of utmost importance. It creates a toxic work environment, leading to lowered productivity, increased turnover rates, and costly lawsuits, tarnishing the company's reputation. 

Employers are responsible for taking proactive measures to make the workplace safe. This article outlines how companies can address discrimination. It also dives into why it still exists in today's corporate environment. 

1. Top reasons why discrimination still exists in the modern workplace

Despite numerous legal protections and increasing awareness, workplace discrimination persists even in modern times. People express this behavior in many forms, making it challenging to identify and address. We'll explore why modern workplace discrimination persists.

Unconscious bias

One major reason for modern workplace discrimination is unconscious bias. It occurs when people unintentionally form opinions and make decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions.

Take, for example, a hiring manager who chooses a candidate just because they went to the same school and share common hobbies. These characteristics do not concern the applicant's ability to perform their job well. However, the manager's unconscious biases have influenced his decisions.

Lack of diversity

It can be difficult for employees from underrepresented groups to feel valued and supported. A workplace's lack of diversity can intensify the sense of exclusion, leading to discrimination.

Additionally, many workplaces have a culture that tolerates or encourages discriminatory behavior. For example, in some workplaces, a "boys' club" mentality may prevail, favoring men over women for promotions and leadership roles. This practice can make career success difficult for people who don't fit the mold.

The rise of digital communication

With the prevalence of email, messaging apps, and social media, it's easier than ever for people to engage in discriminatory behavior. Cyberbullying and online harassment can strip the culture of respect in the workplace. 

In a virtual environment, people may feel encouraged to comment or engage in behavior they wouldn't necessarily do in person. This can include derogatory comments based on someone's race, gender, or other characteristics. It can also involve sharing inappropriate memes or images or sending harassing messages.

Lack of consequences

There are instances when consequences for discriminatory behavior are not severe enough. Light sanctions may not deter future conduct. Employees who are victims of discrimination may lose confidence in reporting their experiences. Problems persist when we consistently sweep issues under the rug.

Lack (or the absence) of consequences can also create a sense of impunity. Employees who engage in discrimination feel they can get away with their actions without repercussions. It can lead to a culture of fear and intimidation. Targets of such behavior may feel reluctant to speak out for fear of retaliation.

2. How Discrimination Manifests in the Workplace?

Discrimination in the workplace has been a persistent issue for years. Unfortunately, it has not gone away despite progress in various areas. It may take the following forms:

Ageism

Image of an old man talking to a young employee.

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Negative stereotypes may lead to the exclusion of older workers from promotions or opportunities. The assumptions about their ability to keep up with new technologies can significantly impact their career growth and financial stability. The shadow of ageism can affect the overall culture of the workplace.

Gender Identity

LGBTQ+ employees may face harassment or exclusion in the workplace and be denied opportunities for advancement due to bias and prejudice.

Discrimination because of one's sexual orientation or gender identity can make it hard for them to do their jobs effectively. Feeling consistently undervalued as a team member can lead to an unwelcoming work environment.

Race or ethnicity

People of color may face barriers to advancement or be subject to stereotyping and prejudice. These situations can isolate and crush an employee's morale, impacting their confidence and sense of belonging in the workplace.

3. The impact of discrimination in the workplace

The impact of modern workplace discrimination is significant and far-reaching. It can result in lower productivity and morale. It can also cause higher turnover rates and absenteeism. Constant discriminatory behavior creates a toxic workplace culture that erodes trust and damages employee relationships.

In addition, discrimination can significantly affect employees' mental health and well-being. Experiencing negative behavior can cause stress, anxiety, and depression—conditions with long-term consequences.

Addressing and preventing discrimination in the workplace is in the employer's hands. Here are some concrete steps they can take to end this damaging behavior.

Develop and implement clear anti-discrimination policies

The employer's policies must outline unacceptable behaviors and the consequences of engaging in discriminatory behavior. They must communicate these protocols to all employees and reinforce them through training programs.

Provide regular diversity and inclusion training

Employers must provide regular diversity and inclusion training to all employees. This initiative can help them identify and challenge their biases. It can also lead to understanding how to eliminate racism

Foster a culture of respect and inclusion

Supporting diversity in the recruitment and hiring practices fosters inclusion and respect at the onset. When you ensure each member of the team feels valued and supported, it can boost their confidence and productivity. Additionally, providing collaboration opportunities for employees with different backgrounds creates a dynamic and positive work environment.

Encourage reporting and addressing of discrimination

When there are clear procedures for addressing discrimination and harassment, employees are more confident to report their experiences. Taking swift action to investigate allegations and supporting targeted employees must be part of the process. The employer must also take appropriate disciplinary action against the guilty party.

Offer support and resources

Employers should provide support and resources to employees who have experienced discrimination. They can include counseling services, legal aid, and other forms of assistance.

Conduct regular reviews and evaluate policies and practices

Employers should regularly review and evaluate their human resource policies. This step ensures that they are effective in preventing and addressing discrimination in the workplace. It includes auditing recruitment and hiring practices, performance evaluation processes, and other areas where bias may occur.

By taking these steps, employers can create a work culture that appreciates and respects all employees—regardless of their background or identity. It is important to remember that ending workplace discrimination is an ongoing process that requires commitment and effort from everyone in the organization.

4. Moving past the challenges of workplace discrimination

Overcoming resistance to addressing workplace discrimination can be a challenging task. Still, creating a workplace culture that values and respects all employees is essential.

Here are some tips for Human Resource managers and business owners to navigate this hurdle:

Educate leader

Image of an employeee trying to educate and conduct meeting with other employees.

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Educating the organization's leaders and decision-makers about the negative impacts of discrimination is essential. The company can do it through training sessions, workshops, and other learning channels. These methods must highlight the importance of creating an inclusive and diverse workplace.

Engage employees

Engage employees in discussions about workplace discrimination to get their perspectives and ideas on addressing it. These activities can create a sense of ownership and accountability among employees. Additionally, they can increase their commitment to creating a more inclusive workplace.

Provide data and evidence

Use data and evidence to demonstrate the impact of workplace discrimination on employee morale, turnover rates, and productivity. It can help convince resistant individuals that addressing discrimination is a moral and business imperative.

Foster dialogue and communication

Create an open and supportive dialogue among employees to address any concerns or issues related to discrimination. This practice can help build trust and understanding among employees and foster a sense of unity and collaboration.

Set clear expectations

Set clear expectations for employees and leaders regarding creating an inclusive workplace culture. Human Resources must outline the consequences of engaging in discriminatory behavior. These steps can help develop a culture of accountability and discourage discrimination.

Celebrate diversity

Image of a white, black & asian women working together, displaying to celebrate diversity.

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Celebrating diversity and inclusivity in the workplace entails recognizing and valuing employee differences. It can create a sense of belonging among employees and foster a more inclusive workplace culture.

5. The role of employers and employees in addressing workplace discrimination

Addressing workplace discrimination is a shared responsibility between employers and employees. Employers are legally and ethically obliged to provide a safe and inclusive work environment. On the other hand, employees are responsible for treating their colleagues with respect and dignity. 

Here are some ways in which employers and employees can work together to address workplace discrimination:

What employers can do

Employers can initiate the following to ensure the workplace is free from discrimination.

Develop and implement policies

Employers should develop and implement policies that prohibit discrimination and harassment in the workplace. They should clearly define what constitutes discrimination and harassment and provide clear guidelines on reporting them.

Training and education

Employers should provide regular training and education on diversity and inclusion to all employees. This practice can help employees understand the importance of creating an inclusive workplace and identify unconscious biases that may lead to discrimination.

Take action

Employers must take swift and appropriate action when incidents of discrimination occur. These actions include conducting investigations, imposing disciplinary action, and supporting employees who have experienced discriminatory conduct.

Foster an inclusive culture

Employers should foster an inclusive workplace culture that honors diversity and values all employees. It would be a brilliant idea to celebrate cultural events once in a while. They can also support employee resource groups and create cross-cultural communication and collaboration opportunities.

What can employees do?

A company's employees also have the following tasks to maintain an inclusive and respectful work environment.

Express respect and inclusion

Employees should treat their colleagues with respect and inclusion, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or other differences. They should avoid discriminatory behavior, including derogatory comments or jokes.

Speak up

Employees who witness or experience discrimination should speak up and report it to their supervisors or HR department. Reporting bias can help prevent future incidents and create a safer workplace for all employees.

Participate in training and education

Employees must participate in training and education on diversity and inclusion. These activities can help them better understand and identify their own biases.

Celebrate diversity

Employees could celebrate and embrace diversity in the workplace by attending cultural events and resource group meetings. It would also help if they engaged with different types of people in the company.

6. The challenges and future of workplace discrimination

There has indeed been progress in recent years, but discrimination still exists. Recognizing that employers and employees still have work to do is crucial to eradicating it.

Technology's continued evolution is one of the challenges in the future of workplace discrimination. The increased use of digital communication and artificial intelligence (AI) amplifies the risk of discriminatory behavior. For example, AI algorithms could be trained on biased data sets, leading to unfair outcomes.

However, technology can also address discrimination. For instance, AI algorithms can remove identifying information from resumes to reduce unconscious bias during hiring.

Another challenge is the increasing importance of diversity and inclusion. As more and more companies recognize these values, the pressure to address them will only increase. So, employers must be proactive in creating a culture of belonging.

Discovering intersectionality

There is a growing awareness of intersectionality. It refers to how multiple forms of discrimination can intersect. For example, individuals may discriminate against a woman of color based on race and gender. Employers and employees must understand and address this phenomenon to create a truly inclusive workplace.

Final Thoughts

The future of workplace discrimination is complex and multifaceted. While challenges are ahead, opportunities exist to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace. Companies can leverage technology, promote diversity and inclusion, and prioritize education and training. These endeavors can discriminate a thing of the past.

Jinal Lad Mehta is a digital marketing enthusiast. She is known for writing creative and engaging content. She loves to help entrepreneurs get their message out into the world. You can find her looking for ways to connect people, ideas, and products.

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