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The problem with subtle forms of discrimination at work

In today's world of high political awareness and activism, more and more people are standing up against discrimination and promoting fair treatment to everyone in every way at every place. Most companies have jumped on board, training managers and employees to avoid discrimination lawsuits and create a more welcoming work environment.

Furthermore, laws are in place that protect citizens against discrimination. Yet even with these changes and securities, discrimination still happens. Overt forms are decreasing, but you may still face challenges in experiencing and fighting unfair treatment due to subtler forms of discrimination

What is subtle discrimination?

Most people will not do something blatantly illegal, such as say a derogatory term to your face or touch you inappropriately. These behaviors are easier to identify, prove and discipline. However, less aggressive and less noticeable actions can be ambiguous, causing you to be unsure if they are discriminatory and unwilling to take any action.

In most cases, offenders may consider themselves unbiased and not even be aware they are acting on subconscious or socially ingrained prejudices. Their behaviors often spread to other colleagues. If you become used to adapting to such environments and attitudes, you may not even realize it is happening, or you may think it is not worth pursuing change.

What are some examples of subtle discrimination?

Because this type of discrimination is easy to miss or interpret, it can be hard to know what to look for. The following are a few examples:

  • Excluding you from work parties and other activities
  • Avoiding eye contact with you
  • Refusing to give you the respect that others receive, especially in leadership roles
  • Getting lesser projects and tasks to complete than others in your position, despite high work performance
  • Requiring you to follow additional policies (such as "taming" ethnic hair)
  • Keeping you away from customer interaction

These alone do not mean discrimination is occurring, as there may be reasonable explanations for such actions. However, if you notice several of these, or they happen frequently or repeatedly, then you may have a discrimination case against your employer.

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