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Could promotion-related discrimination be in your workplace?

When it comes to promotion, employers usually say they want the best and brightest to manage and lead teams. They may also claim to want a diverse set of managers, as different life experiences mean more creativity and more out-of-the-box solutions.

In reality, many companies promote folks who look and act like the managers already present. In other words, straight, white males tend to receive promotions at the expense of women, minorities and those with nontraditional sexual orientations. The companies may not even realize what they are doing.

Could promotion-related discrimination be happening in your workplace? Here are some signs.

No set policy for promotions

A company is at risk for a lawsuit if it lacks a promotion policy or a well-documented one. Good practice calls for companies to have safeguards to protect adversely affected groups, selection factors that are neutral and documentation processes for who interviewed and why they got promotions or did not get them, among other things.

No guidelines for eligibility

Typical promotion eligibility guidelines call for employees to have been working for the company at least X years, not have any written warnings in the prior six months, not be on a performance improvement plan and to pass certain tests. If a promotion process is a free for all, that could be a recipe for discrimination.

By the way, if a company has a "must have been working here X number of years" rule, it is probably not in the company's best interest. Many great candidates have not been eligible for this reason that does not really relate to their capabilities.

More focus on certain employees

If the managers in your company seem to single out white men for promotions, for example, encouraging them to apply or mentoring them while not going out of their way for other employees, that could be a form of subtle discrimination. A similar idea applies if managers do not take some applications seriously or ask women, "Why are you applying? You should spend more time with the kids instead."

No transparent communication

A promotion process may be discriminatory or have the appearance of discrimination if only a select group of interested employees undergoes interviews for a position and rejected applicants do not receive information on why the company passed them over.

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