The average person will spend approximately 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. This is about one-third of our life, which means, besides home, the workplace is where we spend the majority of our time.
For this reason, it is important that we feel safe, not mistreated or discriminated against in the workplace. Companies have to learn how to prevent discrimination in the workplace.
They can do this by taking a closer look at companies’ practices or policies to ensure employees’ needs are taken into consideration, as otherwise, productivity, performance, staff commitment, and morale can be affected.
Unfortunately, this issue is often overlooked or not spoken widely about, leaving employers and employees in the dark when it comes to dealing with discrimination. In several cases, this will also lead to employee turnovers due to a lack of effective measures to stop the problem.
This article will provide a better understanding of the issue and important steps you need to take towards the prevention of discrimination in the workplace.
What Is Discrimination In The First Place?
The legal definition of discrimination is the distinction, exclusion, and unequal treatment, of a person or group in comparison to others based on certain characteristics.
Individuals are protected from illegal discrimination based on the following:
- Race, color
- Ancestry, national origin
- Religion, creed
- Age (40 and over)
- Disability, mental and physical
- Sex (including pregnancy discrimination, childbirth, breastfeeding, or related medical conditions)
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity, gender expression
- Medical condition
- Genetic information
- Marital status
- Military or veteran status
Discrimination can be in the form of unfair treatment, harassment, denial of a reasonable workplace change, improper questions, and even retaliation for complaining
or having been part of an investigation/lawsuit about job discrimination. You can check out the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibited policies/practices
for a better understanding of what might constitute workplace discrimination.
How You Can Stop Discrimination In The Workplace
Now that you know what discrimination is, let’s talk about the steps your company can take to prevent it in the workplace.
Develop a written policy that defines procedures and rules
Companies’ anti-discrimination policies can vary widely depending on their culture and nature, however, it is important to highlight the employee’s right to work in a professional environment, where their skills, abilities, and knowledge are the most important factors in their success. Your company work policy should have zero tolerance for any form of harassment
. Encourage employees to come forward and participate in the investigation, assuring they will be kept confidential (to a reasonable extent) as well as people who make complaints will be protected at all times. Having clear procedures and rules established is also a way to make managers and employees aware of acceptable workplace behavior within your country. In case of misbehavior, it will be easier to point to the policy than to refer to a law the employee may not have heard of.
Educate all your workers about discrimination
Some state laws require employers to conduct anti-discriminatory training programs on a regular basis. It is important to ensure that all employees are aware of potential discrimination issues in the workplace, have knowledge of your policies and procedures as well as how to report the allegation. It is recommended to have separate training for supervisors and managers as they are your first line of defense in preventing workplace discrimination. Also, you should strive to inform employees of the possible outcomes of discrimination, which include potential lawsuits. There are many ways to keep everybody informed and up to date about the issue, like face-to-face training, internal communications or even using visual aids in common areas to promote anti-discriminatory practices.
Establish a process for resolving discrimination issues
Any employee who feels they have been discriminated against or treated negatively should report the issue to Human Resources, their direct supervisor, manager or director, and they should feel comfortable and safe when doing so. In these cases, all companies must be consistent in addressing issues through a fair and reasonable investigation even if your business is not in legal jeopardy. This will show your companies’ expectations of equal and unbiased treatment among all employees. Solving workplace discrimination issues in a timely manner should be a priority as otherwise, trust and credibility may be lost.
Consider more than one option for communication channels
An important part of the complaint process is providing effective and transparent communication channels. Ideally, have more than one option for employees to report discrimination, which will ensure that a supervisor cannot hide issues from Human Resources and upper management. Formal communication channels like an Intranet, emails, letters, or face-to-face interactions are crucial for the employee to be able to make their complaint and some even allow anonymous reports to be made in order to start an investigation. You can also consider keeping a more informal type of communication like holding lunchtime conversations and continuous collaboration among team members where you can identify potential discriminatory practices that otherwise may go unnoticed.
Reduce bias in your hiring process
Unconscious biases are stereotypes that we unintentionally have learned. They have the ability to affect our behavior and perception of others. This is an issue that many companies may not have in mind, but a vast body of research shows that the hiring process is biased and unfair. This can frustrate diversity, recruiting, promotion, and retention efforts. Awareness training is the first step to solve unconscious bias in the workplace
, as it allows employees to recognize that everyone possesses them and to identify their own. It is also recommended to have a standardized interview process by asking candidates the same set of defined questions that allow employers to focus on the factors that have a direct impact on performance. Giving a work sample test can also be a great tool against unconscious bias as it forces recruiters to critique the quality of a candidate’s work versus judging them based on appearance, gender, age, and even personality.
Implement an anti-retaliation program
Retaliation is the most common workplace discrimination charge and the easiest for an employee to allege as well as most challenging for a company to defend. It is common for an original discrimination charge (other than retaliation) to fail to establish a violation of the law, but the following retaliation charge to result in an actual discrimination finding. Therefore, you should be providing all your management staff with anti-retaliation training to make sure they have a full understanding of what this entails and how to avoid reactive behavior once an employee has engaged in the process of a complaint. You should also keep thorough documentation of the employment actions you take and the reasons behind them. For example, if you deny someone a promotion, you must have enough proof of the selection process to show there were valid reasons for you to select another candidate over that employee. If that person claims that your denial of promotion was retaliatory, you will have this data to back you up and avoid further issues.
In addition to these important practices, you can also consider some of these tips for creating a better work environment:
Conduct team-building activities
Besides holding training in a meeting environment, hold team-building exercises and events to help your employees interact and understand each other better. This is a great opportunity to encourage diversity and inclusion
as there are many activities that can accomplish that, like for example a potluck that invites everyone to bring a dish from their cultural background.
In an employee focus group, employees take part in a guided discussion on a particular topic and are often used to improve employee engagement. They serve as an extra opportunity to communicate that you value employee feedback and are committed to positive change. These discussions can also help employers to proactively identify workplace stressors, frequency of conflict and address issues to employee morale.
Provide managers and supervisors with a soft skills training
When talking about discrimination, one may immediately think of cases where a person was denied a job or a promotion for unfair reasons or treated unequally by their direct supervisor or manager, but, we need to keep in mind, employees can also be discriminated against by their co-workers. In many cases, this includes bullying and harassment. Instead of immediately getting HR involved, your managerial employees should be fully qualified to deal with these issues in a prompt and effective manner. Providing continuous soft skills training can significantly improve their interactions with subordinates and keep problems like this from escalating to a discrimination complaint.
A healthy workplace is a productive workplace
Creating a work environment free of discrimination and harassment is not an easy job, and it is important that you put in all efforts to eliminate as many gray areas as possible.
As an employer, you may think of a satisfactory salary and numerous other financial benefits as the ultimate motivational factor to employees. However, creating a pleasant and affirmative environment should be among your top priorities if you want to bring productive and happy employees to the organization.
In short, you can prevent discrimination by:
- Educating and training all your workers about what constitutes discrimination
- Train higher-ups like supervisors and managers on how to properly respond to discrimination in the workplace
- Handle any discrimination complaints confidentially and carefully
- Develop a strict workplace policy that does not allow discrimination
- Make sure the workplace policy is properly laid out and enforced
- Review your organization's policies regularly
This constitutes a step forward in the task of keeping a happy and productive workforce that is eager to contribute and therefore increase your profit. Additionally, preventing discrimination will avoid long complicated investigations, negative impact on company morale and culture, and even high legal bills.