What do we mean by Discrimination?
Discussions around discrimination can be considered one of the defining conversations of our time.
It is important that we remember that fair discrimination is a useful and necessary part of society. We discriminate every time we choose one thing over another. For example where one job is available within an organisation and there are multiple candidates, one candidate must be chosen over the others. So long as this choice is made fairly, based on merit, the other candidates should not feel aggrieved. Discrimination becomes problematic when it is unfair.
Unfair discrimination occurs when a judgement is made or action taken towards somebody based on an irrelevant characteristic. Often characteristics are transposed from one individual to another based on an irrelevant commonality, such as age, gender, race or religion.
Why do people Discriminate?
On face value discrimination can appear to be a straightforward topic. It is easy to forget how far cultures and attitudes have shifted in recent history. There remains no real consensus as to why humans have historically discriminated against one another. People can also be unaware of their biases and it can be extremely difficult to identify discriminatory behaviour.
Discrimination is arguably deep rooted in many societies, for example if an education system is discriminatory the impact may be felt for generations thereafter. What is abundantly clear is that discriminatory behaviour should not be, and is no longer, tolerated by modern society.
It is increasingly clear that diversity of thought dramatically improves decision making and outcomes. It is in all of our interests to identify and challenge discrimination to drive more equitable and productive organisations and societies.
Why is fighting Workplace Discrimination important?
Unfair discrimination is unethical and in many cases illegal. In modern meritocratic society individuals should be judged by their actions, experience, ability and potential.
Victims and witnesses of unfair discrimination often become disengaged and potentially seek employment elsewhere. This results in a monoculture with little creativity and poor long term prospects.
There are a whole raft of positive benefits to having a diverse workforce explored in more detail here [link to equality and diversity].
How do people discriminate?
It is possible to discriminate against people by any characteristic. Common themes by which people discriminate against each other include;
- gender reassignment
- marriage or civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
Discrimination can be both positive and negative. The issue arises when inferences or assumptions are made about an individuals' characteristics or abilities based on any factors which are not directly related.
People are not always conscious of their biases and therefore are not aware that they are discriminating. This in no way excuses discriminatory behaviour, but is worth bearing in mind.
Where might discrimination surface?
Some workplace activities carry higher risks of discriminatory behaviour or practices. These are typically significant choices relating to career progression, work/life balance or team integration.
- Performance Reviews
- Promotion / Progression
- Flexible working arrangements
- Training / Development
- Positions of Responsibility
- Employment Conditions
- Team inclusion
In isolation these decisions often have serious or even life changing outcomes, if discrimination is commonplace the effects of each decision compound leading to even more significant outcomes.
For example, imagine you choose whether or not to send an employee on a training course. A colleague then decides whether to ask them to do a significant piece of work based on that training. It is then decided whether to promote that person based on their contribution. The individual decides to leave but whether they are able to get a more senior position elsewhere depends on their experience.
When making decisions like these it is important to do so based solely on information and not presumption. If you realise you need additional information, it is vitally important that you gather than information rather than assuming what the answer will be.
Assuming that someone will not want to do something, or will not be capable, based their personal characteristics as opposed to their observed willingness or ability is unacceptable.
How do I combat discrimination?
As discussed discrimination is a broad and complex subject. Employers can combat discrimination in the following ways;
Awareness – ensure that your workforce is aware of and able to identify discrimination
Policies – ensure that your policies make it clear that discrimination is unacceptable
Monitoring – ensure that high risk areas such as recruitment, training and promotion processes are monitored
Enforcement – where discrimination is identified swift decisive action will reinforce the message that discriminatory practices will not be tolerated
Following these steps will help all of us live in a fairer more equitable world and enjoy the benefits provided by equality and diversity.
How can Safecall help?
While not a replacement for appropriate training, policies and management an independent whistleblowing service provides confidence that should issues of this nature occur you have a much higher chance to discover and resolve them.
Discovery of discriminatory activity is vital to reducing its impacts. Safecall provide the means for individuals to raise concerns regarding potentially discriminatory behaviour safe in the knowledge their concerns will be taken seriously, pertinent details taken and information passed to an appropriate party for investigation. The individual is able to do so free from fear of stigmatisation and retaliation.
In order to deliver positive change you need to know where to focus your efforts. Individual instances of discrimination, or even institutionalised discrimination, act as a drag on performance and create a negative culture. We must work hard to protect colleagues and cultures in order to create safe, positive and productive workplaces.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.