Workplace Discrimination

    Paula Fulghum

    Discrimination is ever relevant in many workplace environments. When someone makes a generalization about a person based on a category that someone belongs to it can be considered an act of discrimination. Discrimination can be based on many categorizations. Someone can discriminate by age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or marital or parental status. We probably have all felt that we were discriminated against at some point. “My manager puts me down because I am a woman, my colleagues treat me like an outsider because I’m African American, or they’re not hiring me because they believe I’m young and reckless.” It can be easy for companies to make hasty generalizations based on past experience or stereotypes, but this can be very dangerous. By making a generalization because someone is a “wild teenager”, an “emotional woman”, or “a tired mother” could be a huge mistake that could put your company in a lawsuit or missing out on a great employee. All of these discriminatory factors are things we have to face both as employers and as employees.

    As an employee or prospective job seeker, you must come to terms with some barriers you may face because of social categories. For instance, I am a young female and these are both factors that could work at my disadvantage in some environments. I could be seen as inexperienced because I’m young. I could be seen as a potential drop-out from the job market because I’m a woman. Some employers may not want to invest as heavily in women because they make the generalization that many women will take a significant time off from work to have a family. By recognizing things like this, I can work to my advantage to avoid such topics or break the stereotypes to begin with. I can go into a job interview, knowing that my age may make me look inexperienced, and be sure that I have a convincing argument of why I am a better choice than older employees. I need to be prepared to show that the quality of my experience makes me far more valuable than someone who has had a larger quantity of experience.

    On the hiring side, it is easy to make quick generalizations sometimes without realizing it. We live in a society that is wrought with classifications and categorizations based on the media, social institutions, and everyday interactions. From the time we are born, we are taught that girls and boys are different and we interact in different ways with people of the opposite sex than the same sex. Let’s face it, most male colleagues would not talk the same way he does to a female that he does to a fellow male. In addition to our interactions we’re exposed to media that portray and reproduce a wide array of stereotypes. So it becomes difficult to recognize, let alone ignore, stereotypes in our interactions and in our hiring practices. Even if we have a candidate come in we may notice negative tendencies in a person with certain characteristics that we wouldn’t in another because we’ve been primed in our everyday life to expect such. For example, when interviewing a young person I may notice that they seem unprepared and nervous but not notice the same in an older candidate simply because I am primed to think that a young person is going to be less experienced in interviews. So although it is difficult, it’s important to recognize it when you are making hasty generalizations.

    In general, whether you are hiring someone, firing someone, acting as a candidate for a job, or a long time employee it is important to notice discrimination. Don’t notice tiny things so much that you blow issues way out of proportion, but know when issues may come up and be prepared for how to confront them. If you ever feel that something has occurred directly as a result of discrimination, be sure to bring it up to a confidential human resources representative, a supervisor, or other member of a company. When we let discrimination go unnoticed and unattended to it only strengthens the cycle of discriminatory practices. Some issues may be minor and have no negative effects, but when an issue truly bothers you or seems truly discriminatory it is important to not let it go unnoticed.

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