Being singled out at work for reasons not related to your skill or ability hampers your productivity, mental well-being and ability to be an effective employee. Discrimination based on age, race, religion, gender, sexuality and/or marital status is outlawed, yet such cases are not uncommon and continue to occur in workplaces throughout the world. Speaking up and taking action against people who engage in unacceptable discrimination is essential, as no one deserves to suffer in silence. If you have been on the receiving end of – or have witnessed – discriminatory behaviour in your workplace, here’s what you should do:
DocumentationYou do not want to end up as the person who cried “wolf”. After all, the onus lies on the accuser to back their claims with evidence. If this has not been done so far, it is time to start keeping track of every interaction with the persons who have acted in a discriminatory manner. Phone calls, emails, text messages, personal messages: each and every piece of interaction that implicates the person in question must be recorded in order to lend some credibility to your claims.
Strength in numbersExperiencing discrimination, especially from colleagues or superiors can be very isolating. You might be tempted to think that you’re alone in this ordeal, but that is not the case. Talk to a trusted friend or colleague about your experiences, but do be selective in telling people as the last thing you need is office gossip. By talking, it’s possible that you’ll learn others have heard similar stories from other people or have faced discriminatory incidents themselves. If there is a sizeable number of people who share your pain and the evidence is damning enough, form a collective and take action, as there is strength in numbers.
Do not be aggressiveRevenge fantasies can be satisfying, especially when you’re feeling particularly powerless. ButHowever, actions such as walking up to the aforementioned party and giving them a piece of your mind, or composing a particularly blistering email or memo and CC-ing the entire office will not bode well. These passionate, public acts usually achieve very little, except for implicating yourself as unprofessional and resulting in your possible dismissal. Support is crucial in times of difficulty, and antagonising neutral parties would only anger them.
Seek helpWhile this may be a trying time, remember that you are not alone. If the perpetrator is a colleague or counterpart from another department, it would be wise to bring your troubles to the attention of an immediate superior, as they can directly address the situation. However, if they fail to act with urgency, consider other alternatives. Bring the evidence to Human Resources, as they are usually qualified to handle these situations and can advise on how to proceed. In case the interaction with HR does not go as planned, document that interaction for reference before engaging in next steps.
Study the lawBefore going public with your allegations, it is wise to anticipate possible backlash. Before jumping headfirst into the fire, do some research. Check if the company has laws in place to protect whistleblowers, read up about defamation laws and possible legal steps the perpetrators can take, so you are adequately prepared to fight back and engage the services of an employment lawyer to determine future courses of action. There are statutory government bodies and employee collectives who enforce fair employment guidelines for employers to adhere to, so turning to a local representative from these organisations is another option.
Though preparing for how to handle discrimination is not necessarily the way most of us what to spend our time, knowing what to do if the situation arises for either you or your colleagues will be extremely beneficial knowledge to have, and will make it that much easier to seek justice.