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Diversity And Discrimination: Is Your Workplace Getting It Right?


From the largest corporations to small startups, diversity is a hot topic. Too often, though, employers are unprepared to support hires from all backgrounds, which is how we end up with superficially diverse workplaces that alienate women and minority employees.

Whether it’s subconscious bias or actively discriminatory policies, as an employer, you need to be prepared to create an inclusive workplace because embracing diversity doesn’t stop with hiring.

Preparing Your Workplace.

One of the most common ways that employers promote inclusion is through diversity seminars, but anyone who has sat through one of these events knows that they’re fundamentally designed to prevent legal conflicts stemming from outright discrimination and harassment. What they fail to do – and where you need to bridge the gap – is by promoting an authentic appreciation of cultural differences. Whether that looks like appropriately marking different religious and cultural holidays, sharing meals together, or just encouraging employees to get to know each other and share stories about their lives, a culture of empathy and mutual appreciation is key to inclusion.

Know The Shape Of Discrimination.

Another way that workplaces regularly trip up on the topic of diversity is by failing to recognize the many forms that discrimination can take. Right now, for example, workers over 65 are the fastest growing group in the workforce, but they’re also entitled to the fewest protections. This is in part because a 2009 Supreme Court decision made age discrimination cases harder to prove, but also because it’s easy to disguise age-based discrimination as hinging on a lack of skills.

There is a law that protects older workers – the Age Discrimination in Employment Act – but compared to many other federal anti-discrimination laws that shape the workplace, it’s relatively toothless. Just consider the recent uproar over sexual and verbal harassment in the workplace; gender is a clearly protected class and workers, particularly those in management positions, are increasingly aware that they must not consider gender in hiring and promotion decisions. Clearly recognized cases of discrimination aren’t the only ones employers need to be vigilant about preventing.

When Diversity Yields Discrimination.

Research has shown that, in many cases, increased awareness of diversity issues in the form of “gender intelligence” or through diversity training more generally can lead to overall improvements in the workplace. An emphasis on gender intelligence, the ways in which men and women demonstrate different strengths and abilities, for example, is linked to an increase in gender equity in the workplace. But what happens when a workplace establishes a positive track record on diverse hiring only to create a subtly hostile environment?

This topic has been the source of conversation and contention recently in California where a bill was recently introduced that would make it illegal to discriminate based on racially distinctive hairstyles. An issue impacting primarily Black women in the workplace, too many found themselves on the opposing end of racially discriminatory dress codes. This is the sort of outcome workplaces face when they hire a diverse group of workers but don’t actually understand their cultural differences – or think that their superficial embrace of diversity is sufficient to protect them from more serious discrimination claims.

Making Diversity A Reality.

In too many offices, discrimination and diversity exist side by side in an unsustainable battle. If diversity and inclusion are going to triumph, employers need to bring a reinvigorated emphasis on understanding and mutual respect to the workplace. Without a deeper understanding of cultural differences, diversity won’t ever be more than a gesture. You owe your employees more than an open door.