6 Scary Facts about Discrimination at Work

Discrimination is already a scary thing to imagine. Here are 6 things about discrimination at work that will surely get you thinking!

Employee Experience
Work environment

Christine Chartrand

VP Consulting Services

Monday, November 10, 2014


As an employer, you have a duty to provide your employees with a safe and discrimination-free working environment. This means avoiding bias in hiring, promotion, career opportunities, as well as exuding acceptance and fairness in order to set a good example across your organization.

So… do you assume that your organization is free from such biases? Perhaps this is a sensitive topic for you, or are you hungry for more information? Nevertheless, here is some food for thought, which at times may be harder to swallow, about discrimination at work!

Of course, human rights acts and laws may differ from place to place, so it is important for you to remain informed about what your society deems an inequitable mindset in the workplace, or even break the mould on existing biases that you feel are unjust.

1) Discrimination at work comes in all shapes and sizes

Discrimination at work does not just surround gender, race, color or religion. There are other forms of discrimination at work such as age discrimination that, according to some, are apparent and talked about more than other types. Not hiring, promoting, or offering career opportunities on the basis of age or forcing someone to retire may fall under this category.

And, with today’s social media trends (such as LinkedIn) at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to research someone’s profile, view a picture of that potential candidate and get an idea of what age-bracket he/she falls under. I am not saying that doing your research is bad, but when you completely disregard a candidate for looking a little gray, and not because he/she doesn’t have the competencies or experience required, then you might want to rethink your strategy.

Perhaps you think that younger workers are more likely to stay in the organization, which, according to a leading career management and employment solution, is false. Young employees tend to job hop more frequently.

Don’t promote ageism in your organization!

2) Personal life choices must not create a barrier for success

Other forms of discrimination at work that are based on orientation, pregnancy or civil partnership are also present and need to be underlined. For example, a thirty-year-old married woman with 2 children (or likely to have children in the near future), cannot and should not be denied a promotion because an employer believes she will have less time and energy to fulfil the job.

If an employee is a victim of discrimination at work and is constantly being teased, as an employer, you must take necessary action to put an end to this harassment. Turning the cheek and pretending that it isn’t a big deal also puts you at fault.

And discrimination at work doesn’t end at the office. Let’s say a homosexual employee wanted to bring their same-sex partner to the office Christmas party, you must ensure that a respectful and discrimination-free environment be provided. When you exude acceptance, others will hopefully follow your lead.

3) Discrimination at work is not always deliberate

Discrimintation at work is sometimes unintentional. Some might not even know they are doing it!

For example, perhaps you have been administering the same standardized test to new immigrants that do not give them the same chances for success. Maybe your job posting for that new position says “looking for young, creative thinkers”, which may be interpreted as age discrimination.

It could be that a male construction worker frequently tries to help out his female coworker to carry and handle equipment, or worse, delegate these more “physical” tasks to other male workers when his female coworker is perfectly capable of doing so. Are his intentions good? Probably! But his idea of gender equality may need a wake-up call.

4) Lookism is the new racism

Does how you look have an effect on your salary, promotion opportunities and/or the way people perceive you in the workplace? Some research suggests that beauty pays! For instance, an article from Psychology Today mentions a study showing that attractive people earn around 3 to 4 % more than “below average” looking people. Apparently, they are also hired and promoted quicker.

Some studies go even further to suggest that taller men (6 feet and up) will earn approx 5,000$ more than shorter coworkers, and that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies on average have more height on their colleagues.

So is this a coincidence or a form of discrimination at work based on looks? Do taller and skinnier people make more money? Some say they do! And whether you believe this or not is not the point. The real question is: have you ever considered someone’s looks before competencies, or worse, overlooked someone for a position because of their physical appearances? When did appearance become a deciding factor for success? Or is this too absurd to imagine?

The scary truth is that this “lookism” discrimination at work does exist. And as professional and respected employers, you need to set good examples and ensure you are remaining fair, open-minded and preserving the safety of your workforce, not only from physical harm, but from harassment and the preconceived notions from others.

Employee evaluations and/or hiring should be based on skills, training, cultural fit, character traits and true potential. Nothing else!

5) Laws are still not enough to fight Discrimination at Work

Despite there being programs and Acts that aim at eliminating gender-based wage discrimination and promoting equal pay for women, is this principle actually being implemented in organizations that are supposed to adhere by it?

Are organizations taking the necessary steps such as analyzing documents, evaluating jobs, identifying wage gaps, and actually implementing pay equity, or do they still view this as a “concept” and not a “right”.

6) Disability at work

Have you ever taken the time to look around and see if your location was easily accessible to, let’s say, someone in a wheelchair? What about getting to your workstation every morning? Do the office partitions leave little room for traffic? Do you have an elevator to reach essential rooms in the building?

If you don’t, this may be considered unintentional discrimination at work. The building may be very old and not built with a person with a disability in mind, or perhaps the designer decided on very small hallways and doorways. You may be discriminating against someone for overlooking a qualified candidate because of a disability and/or for not making reasonable adjustments.

If budget is your issue, someone with difficulty being mobile can perhaps work from home, or get an office on the ground floor. If a visually-impaired employee had to be accompanied by a guide dog, you cannot refuse this animal’s presence or deny him access to certain areas. Look beyond the disability and remember that these are qualified, hard-working individuals that should be given the same respect and opportunities.

Since discrimination at work comes in all shapes and sizes, and can sometimes even be unintentional, it is more important than ever to incorporate tools to detect the true potential of workers! Know that appearances can affect one’s judgment and that laws against discrimination at work are not enough: there needs to be action and implementation. Remember to always evaluate someone on their skills, natural talent, knowledge and experiences. The rest will just cloud your judgment.

Is there anything else you can do in your organization to wipe out discrimination at work? How about eliminating any subjective thinking and incorporating an objective assessment of your human capital!

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