Frequently Asked Questions
What is workplace diversity?
Diversity means having distinct or unlike elements. In a workplace, diversity means employing people who may be different from each other and who do not all come from the same background. The differences may be those of national origin, physical appearance, religion, education, age, gender, or sexual orientation.
What is workplace discrimination?
Workplace discrimination occurs when an employer treats another employee unfairly based on religion, age, ethnicity, gender, disability, color or race.
What are the key types of workplace discrimination?
Religious: No employer can discriminate against a person based on religious beliefs or the beliefs of a spouse. This includes organized religions or sincere spiritual beliefs. This can also mean that an employer has to accommodate the religion, as long as it doesn't interfere with company practices.
Age: Employers cannot treat an employee unfairly based on age. This is typically seen in older workers, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1967 makes it illegal to discriminate on workers over age 40.
Gender: Also known as sexual discrimination, this type occurs when an employer treats a person differently based on gender. This can include gaps in pay for two sexes in the same position, as well as the protection of people with gender identity issues.
Pregnancy: Pregnancy must be dealt with like any type of nonpermanent illness. Treating it otherwise constitutes discrimination.
Racial: Employers may not base decisions in the workplace or hiring process based on a person's race.
What are the common examples of workplace discrimination?
Employment discrimination could occur in any number of situations, including:
Stating or suggesting preferred candidates in a job advertisement
Excluding potential employees during recruitment
Denying certain employees compensation or benefits
Paying equally-qualified employees in the same position different salaries
Discriminating when assigning disability leave, maternity leave, or retirement options
Denying or disrupting the use of company facilities
Discrimination when issuing promotions or lay-offs
Favoritism when issuing promotions or company restructuring
Mary is six months pregnant. After ten years working at an accounting firm, she applies for a senior position that has just opened up. Despite having more experience and qualifications than the other applicants, she was passed over. When she asked the manager, he said: “I need someone who will be more dedicated to the position.”
Off-color comments or inappropriate jokes that cause stress to an employee
Robert works on a construction site. His co-workers recently found out he was gay and have started calling him “princess”.
Annie works in a toy store and has a physical disability preventing her from carrying heavy items. She recently found out her co-workers earn more than her despite having the same experience and working just as hard. When she asked her manager about it, she said it was because “you just don’t carry as much weight around here.”
What are the key differences between discrimination, bullying and harassment?
One of the hardest parts of identifying discrimination is differentiating it from bullying and harassment. To understand it better to improve workplace relations, consider these definitions:
Discrimination occurs when someone gets subpar treatment based on one of his or her protected characteristics. This can occur even when the offending behavior isn't necessarily directed at a single person.
Harassment occurs when an employee endures offensive, intimidating, threatening, or humiliating actions or comments because of one of his or her protected characteristics. Sexual harassment is one branch of this, and it happens when an employee is the subject of unwelcome attention or advances of a sexual nature.
Bullying is a behavior that affects an employee's mental health and physical health as a result of unreasonable, repeated behavior.
How can companies promote workplace diversity?
It’s OK -- and necessary -- to admit that people are different from one another, whether it be race, gender, religion or even personality and management style.
“Don’t feel guilty,” says Stewart. “Be thankful you’re aware so that moving forward, you can minimize the incidence of discriminatory behavior and decision making.”
No matter how open and bias-free we think we are, judgments are often engrained because of socialization and life experiences. Implicit bias training helps create a safe place to raise awareness of unconscious attitudes, and teaches tools to help change behaviors. Harvard hosts an online Implicit Association Test that anyone can take.
Connect underrepresented employees with internal and external mentors in their group to provide support and promote growth. Encourage participation in appropriate professional organizations.
Offer Implicit Bias Training -- for Everyone
If you’re a CEO with only one female engineer, you don’t have an opportunity to put her on a team with other women, says Blancero; but you can offer her a leadership role so her success will speak for itself and open male minds.
“Having people act ‘out of the norm’ is often more powerful than trying to unearth deeply held attitudes because now you have objective evidence that is a more direct and more likely to change attitudes,” she says.
And be mindful of the potential added stress of minorities feeling they have to prove themselves.
Let People Learn by Doing
In executive training, Blancero asks people to look at their LinkedIn network or Facebook friends and calculate the overall diversity to open up your mind. If all the senior people in your network are men, does it imply that you think women are not leaders? “Reviewing your contacts is something you can do privately and nobody has to see it. You get a window into your behavior.”
Whether you’re hiring, firing or promoting, ask yourself, “If this person’s social identities were different, would I still be doing the same thing?” Female or minority managers, for example, will often have a different set of etiquette than their male counterparts.
“You have perspectives that no one else has,” shares Stewart. “You are part of that tapestry that adds value. Inclusive means that everybody can have a place and a voice on projects and goals.”
Encourage Personal Evaluation