An inclusive workplace values and encourages differences. If you are a part of a diverse workplace, you’ll notice that you’re surrounded by people of different backgrounds, ideas, and abilities. Being a part of a diverse workforce is exciting because it gives you the opportunity to question your perspectives and appreciate different opinions.
A common symptom of a non-inclusive workplace is discrimination. Discrimination based on a person's race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or ability is illegal. Regardless of the type, discrimination is isolating and damaging to the individuals involved and can create a toxic workplace. Discrimination can be an isolated incident involving specific individuals, or it can be a systemic problem throughout an organization. If you’re the target of the discrimination or see that it’s happening to someone else, there are some key strategies to help you deal with it:
Seek out your go-to person for advice. Whether that’s a friend, spouse, or therapist you should give them the facts and get their opinion. You want to ask whether they share your belief that the conduct was discriminatory. Try to be unemotional when you’re relaying the facts to them and remember that your manager or colleague being short with you is not discrimination. Once you have an unbiased opinion of the situation you’ll have a clearer idea of how you should proceed.
If you’ve discussed the situation with your trusted friend or family member and they agree the behavior was discriminatory, it’s time to talk to a lawyer. It’s important to move fast because the statute of limitations on Equal Employment Opportunity issues can be extremely short. Don’t forget to document everything that you might need to use as evidence in your discrimination claim.
If you don’t want to pursue legal action or quit your job, try having a direct conversation with the person. Sometimes people can be clueless and have no idea that what they’re doing or saying is offensive. Be honest, assertive, and non-confrontational. Stick to the facts and try not to make judgemental statements. Your role is to explain that their behavior is offensive, not to try and change their prejudices. It can also be helpful to provide them with a suggestion of how they can change their behavior or language in the future.
Sometimes the best answer can be to leave and find work somewhere else. Particularly if discrimination is a pervasive issue that the company appears to accept. You deserve to have a workplace where you’re valued and accepted.
Regardless of whether you decide to consult a lawyer, address the offender directly, or seek a more inclusive workplace elsewhere, weigh the options, speak with a trusted confidant, and do what’s right for you.