I don’t like the way he speaks… His pronunciation identifies a different ethnicity.’
‘She’s fluent, but anyone working for our organisation needs to speak with a different accent.’
‘I don’t recognise that family name. I know he qualifies in every area, but he can’t be from here.’
These were the deciding evaluations for very different job interviews.
Discrimination comes in many forms, but one area that’s overlooked is insidious discrimination and bias against individuals of the same colour, gender and nationality whose failure to conform to a personal identification with ethnicity, religion or class distinguishes them sufficiently for lifelong challenges by empowered prejudice.
The difficulty is that while racial, faith-based and gender discrimination are clearly identified and laws (the efficacy of which may leave much to be desired) exist to help both prevent their application and compensate victims, covert discrimination governed by racial, ethnic, faith, socio-economic and gender rules based on an imagined sense of superiority remain embedded across communities.
As the daughter of a mixed marriage, I have at times been labelled a half-breed by employers and have often had to stand up for my identity amongst colleagues who questioned my work based on their imagined racial advantage, and as a result, the complex subject of covert workplace prejudice is heartfelt for me. I’m not alone in this.
Covert discrimination can range from commonplace verbal or behavioural slurs and insults to comments that are insensitive to the issues different racial, ethnic, faith and socio-economic groups face, or which invalidate their experience. Underlying this, is a worldview based on an imagined sense of community uniformity and superiority by the discriminating individual or group…
Here are three things to remember:
1. Call people out on it
One of the most obvious places where we experience subtle discrimination is during the hiring process. If you witness this, or experience it yourself, it’s important to question the behaviour of the hiring manager or recruiter. Simply, ask a hiring manager or team if they would react in the same way if you, or the candidate, had conformed with their beliefs about homogeneity or racial, religious, gender and socio-economic identity.
Other discriminatory behaviours should not be ignored, and you should report all forms of prejudice and racial bias. Even when your voice seems alone or futile, the more the issues are raised, the more policymakers are obliged to address them and seek workplace equity and inclusion.
2. Insist on diversity in all working groups, committees, boards etc
Board X has three members from the same family, three heads of inter-related companies and one businesswoman. The group shares the homogeneity of experience class and status afford.
Diversity opens the door to creativity and innovation. The more varied the composition of your committee or group, the more perspectives and solutions are devised for the challenges at hand. So whether you’ve been asked to form, or join, an events committee or a strategy working group, or the board of a prestigious company, question the composition and outcomes and insist on diversity.
3. Run internal training programmes
I remember undertaking a short cybersecurity assessment and online training course at work. Although the subject was important, the cybercriminals portrayed in the case study depicted one religious and racial background, another instance of subtle bias. Of the 80 employees in the organisation, only one complained about this, indicating the long-term effect of discrimination on our subconscious.
Call for behavioural assessments and training that fosters inclusion and equality. Organisations run regular skills training, but often don’t question the behaviour and biases of their employees and representatives sufficiently. People can be trained to recognise unconscious bias and covert discrimination in order to change their institutional and personal practices accordingly.
The recent outcry and the many policy and procedural commitments made following the murder of George Floyd are an example of how leaders and organisations can recognise problems and address them.
The covid-19 pandemic has seen governments, institutions and people revert to a tribal mentality and behaviour. Don’t let this present state of local and global affairs slow down your path to change and ensuring that inclusion and equity are continuous objectives and values in every business, organisation and authority where we work.