How You May Unintentionally Discriminate with Your Behaviour

How to be more inclusive with your behaviour at work.

Posted Jan 19, 2021

Previously, I described examples of how we may be unintentionally discriminating against others and I discussed the language we use. However, sometimes it's not about what we say, but what we do.

Many times our actions unintentionally discriminate against others. We lean towards people more similar to ourselves; we furrow a brow when trying to understand someone's accent. We put more weight in the opinion of the person who reminds us of us. Similarly, we miss hearing a valid point until it's repeated by a more "dominant" voice.

To begin to examine how you may be unintentionally discriminating, start by being more mindful of your actions. For example, who are you assigning specific tasks to? That is, do you assign administration tasks like taking notes or organizing the social event to particular people? Is this part of their job description or is this a task that should be rotated around the team? Does this person enjoy these tasks or have you even asked?

Also ask yourself if you tend to give some employees your full attention, while others you multitask, hurry along, or half-listen to? Are there patterns to whom those people are?

Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels
Source: Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

To ensure we hear all valid voices and to ensure we are treating people equally we need to become more mindful of our non-verbal communication and the behaviours we exemplify. We also need to ensure others are in line with the company's values and expected behaviours.

Unfortunately, the statistics are grim and in the face of discrimination, the behaviour that many choose is nothing. For example, 41% of men don't do anything or ignore the event after seeing a sexist encounter. This generally is because the organization's climate is combative or doesn't allow for those to speak up or disagree or they feel speaking up is futile1. So how can we change this culture, even if it's just for your own team?

  • Be mindful of the choices you make, especially before you make them.
  • Pay attention to the body language people have in response to your actions.
  • Call on voices you haven't heard yet and specifically ask for divergent thinking: "What do you think we are missing?"
  • Apologize for past behaviours. Demonstrate you are learning and trying and want to do better. Ask them to voice when they see you slip.
  • Promote humility by admitting that you don’t have all the answers. Ask lots of questions and don’t make assumptions—especially assuming that everything is okay (or "no news is good news").
  • Ask for feedback on how you can improve your inclusiveness.
  • If you see something discriminatory, take them aside to discuss. This is not, however, a time to shame. This is a learning moment. Approach the situation with curiosity to open dialogue rather than "talk to." Ask questions like "can you explain why you said that?" and then explain why you felt uncomfortable with it.

Remember that the small things matter. On a daily basis. examine whether your behaviour encourages employees or shuts them down. Look around the room and see who’s speaking up and who’s not, and follow up appropriately. When talking about challenges at work, make sure you fully understand what people are experiencing through active listening. Only once you have heard the issue from all sides can you make an informed decision.