Dealing with Prejudice at Work

Dealing with Prejudice at Work

Prejudice is a hostile attitude toward a person for having objectionable qualities ascribed to a group in which that person belongs.

Most prejudices stem from fear, a perceived threat, belief that “the other” is not worthy of consideration, or ignorance.

Don’t confuse prejudice with bias.  We all have biases—about people, things and places—depending on the life experiences we’ve had.

Having biases helps you to make sense of something new.

It provides a comparison, and our biases shift as we broaden our experiences and interact with different people in various situations.

It’s part of how you learn and grow.

Prejudice may not be intentional 100% of the time, but it is always hurtful.  Prejudice impacts a person’s behavior and actions.

You can’t think one way and behave in a contrary manner without questioning your beliefs, and most prejudiced people don’t question their beliefs.

When negative attitudes translate into behavior, the result is discrimination, aggression and social inequity—deliberately denying another person respect, consideration and fair treatment.

What can you do when you are the target of prejudice at work?

First, know that it is illegal to threaten or harm another for any reason.

Your organization should have policies in place that govern guidelines for acceptable behavioral practices.

Those policies clearly delineate discrimination as intolerable in the workplace.  Check with your HR department to find out what your company’s policy is.

You’ve heard the phrase “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Well, words do hurt.

Malicious language is a weapon used by bigots and bullies.  You should always report verbal threats or malignant speech from a co-worker to your supervisor or HR executives.

You want the inappropriate behavior to be curbed as early as possible and not let it escalate to something more.

Practice compassion—empathy in action.

If a co-worker believes that Black people are angry all the time or Hispanics are lazy or White people only care about themselves or women are lesser beings to men, don’t take it personally.

Prove them wrong by being your usual friendly, diligent, hard-working self.  Shine at work and you can dispel the stereotypes others might have.

People can overcome prejudice through positive interactions with the group they target.  At work, it’s more likely that the individual will have to work alongside others who are different.

If the work team establishes an open communication norm, the group will come to understand the individuals within the group and see firsthand that each person brings unique value to the group.

Do your part by being an excellent team member?  Be open, truthful, tactful and diligent in your work.

Report any serious case (e.g., physical attack, invasion of your privacy or defamation/destruction of your personal property) immediately. Your organization must address such behavior.

What can you do when someone accuses you of being prejudiced?

Take a hard look at your behavior, speech and actions.  What you might find humorous or non-threatening might just be offensive to another person.

Don’t share jokes aimed at specific cultures, genders, ethnicities, religions, etc.

If you are a part of the group being made fun of, there is some leeway, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid these kinds of jokes in the workplace.

Avoid making assumptions.  If you are curious about someone, try asking them about their practice, behavior or words.

There is generally a reason for it, and most people don’t mind sharing that with you when asked politely.

What if it’s the organization that is displaying prejudicial behavior?

There is the possibility that your organization has prejudicial practices, such as not hiring women for executive positions or assigning ethnic clients to ethnic employees.

This is illegal in the United States.

If you witness such practices, try talking with HR to find out if these practices are intentional or resultant from external, social or economic influences.

Perhaps the client requested an all-male team or perhaps your organization has been trying to attract more female executives but hasn’t had success.

Again, the point is to do some research and questioning internally.

If you meet with resistance or find that your suspicions are correct, you can report those illegal practices to the Department of Labor or the Better Business Bureau.

There are numerous organizations designed to police illegal prejudicial practices.