How You Unintentionally Discriminate

How to be more inclusive at work.

Posted Jan 11, 2021

Virtually none of us see ourselves as discriminatory, misogynist, or racist. We would never intentionally discriminate or hurt others. Yet injustices occur every day, and unfortunately, many of these injustices go unnoticed.

Hate crimes are obvious injustices, but many equity-seeking groups experience subtler issues like bias, microaggressions, and isolation. Let's talk about these issues in a workplace context.

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels
Source: Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

For instance, let's say you are a manager working with a female employee. You have received feedback from the rest of the team saying she can be brash and confrontational. You decide that in her development meeting to develop her skills in this area.

Let’s pause for a second.

First, if she was male, would people see him as brash or would they see him as direct? Would they see him as confrontational or would they see him as assertive or "telling-it-like-it-is"? Let's first check the specific behaviours and see if the label is even correct. Next, consider is this something I would ask my male employees to develop? If no, should you ask her to develop this? Equal justification needs to be made for either developing it for both genders or reframing the feedback to be equivalent. 

Other times discrimination comes from what you believe is a "positive intention." That is, you make a decision based on a positive stereotype. For example, assuming the Chinese employee will be better to crunch the numbers, or that the female is better to bring the group together for a social event. You may think you are playing to people's strengths, but many times you may be basing these choices on stereotypes rather than actually knowing if this is the appropriate skillset for the individual.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting about ways to become more mindful of the language you use, the behaviours you exhibit, the expectations you have, and the blind spots you have.

In the meantime, some tips to get you to start thinking about whether you may be discriminating is:

  • Be mindful of the choices you make, especially before you make them
  • Pay attention to the body language people have in response to your words and actions
  • Ask others if they felt singled out or discriminated against
  • Ask for feedback on how you can improve your inclusiveness

Subsequent articles: