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Addressing Workplace Bias and Discrimination: Strategies for HR Professionals

With 1 in 5 people experiencing discrimination in their roles to date and a current workforce consisting of five generations, it’s now even more vital than in years’ past that employees feel both psychologically and physically safe in their workplace.

Joining forces, leadership teams, stakeholders and HR professionals, are making it a priority to address and ideally rule out workplace bias and discrimination in the years to come.

Here, we discuss the strategies that both HR professionals and organisations can get behind, in their ongoing mission to tackle bias and discrimination in the workplace.

What Is Workplace Bias and Discrimination?

To be bias in the workplace is to portray a conscious or subconscious favouritism or prejudice towards specific groups of people. These behaviours often depend on factors such as race/heritage, age, gender, socio-economic status or background, as well as individuals’ beliefs and values. Once bias is formed, people are perceived and treated based on that bias and this often leads to discrimination and inequality.

Bias in the workplace has risen, with recent research confirming that 60% of individuals believe their workplace to be showing subtle and indirect signs of bias and discriminative behaviours.

Signs to look out for include:

Derogatory comments or jokes: offensive or dismissive jokes about your race, religion, background and upbringing are never acceptable, specifically when followed by the comment, ‘it’s only a joke’.

Exclusion: if you are consistently left out of social events, business meetings or any kind of communications that could be important to your job, signs of exclusion are differently occurring!

Favouritism: on the flip side, if someone is being favoured over you, even though you hold similar skills, are at a same level etc., they are being favourited over you.

Denied Opportunities: are there any training, mentorship, or shadowing opportunities that are being offered to an employee at the same level to you, but not offered to you?

Changes in job description with justification: if your responsibilities change drastically or are reduced without notice to acts that are either below your paygrade or entirely different to those of your job description, discrimination and bias could be occurring.

This is not only harrowing, but something that runs the risk of heavily impacting employee wellbeing, an employer’s brand and overall morale and productivity. Because of this, companies are prioritising the recreation and implementation of their modern diversity, inclusion and equality policies, which are now typically seen as a non-negotiable by potential employees, recruiters and business leaders.

However, what else can be done to address workplace bias and discrimination?

1) Establish Inclusive Policies

Workplace policies outline essential principles that both managers and employees are required to follow. They are created to ensure a consistent and fair approach to business etiquette, efforts and to set boundaries as to what is expected from leaders and employees alike.

This is where inclusive policies can really make a difference to the way a business behaves, as a way of ensuring practices are fair for all employees, regardless of their race, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation.

Inclusive policies to consider include:

Accessibility and accommodation policies

Supporting those with any kind of disability, the accommodations and accessibility policy ensures that both workplace services and premises are fit and suitable to be used by everyone, independently and with respect towards said persons dignity.

Some examples could include:

  • Automatic doors and service animals permitted on premises
  • One-way systems and ramps
  • Varied communication like recorded auto, braille and extra-large font

Wellbeing policies

As a way of taking your care of your workforce from the inside out, wellbeing policies focus on all aspects of human health including mental, physical and emotional.

With only one in three organisations stating that they felt prepared to handle any wellbeing concerns sent their way by employees, this confirms a universal need that more robust and thorough wellbeing policies in the workplace are vital.

Taking a more holistic approach to wellbeing, these policies outline better mental health support for employees, through inhouse or outsourced therapists. Additionally, methods to tackle workplace stress and burnout at the source are key, such as clear progression plans and fair paygrades to support employees with the increased cost of living. Wellbeing policies also include rules around flexible working practices, crafted around deliverables instead of hours worked.

All in all, wellbeing policies are about employees being treated like people first and as employees second.

Non-discrimination policies

As a way of solidifying a company’s commitment to treating all employees fairly, an anti-discrimination policy should include a statement that prohibits both discrimination and harassment in the workplace as well as clear examples of different behaviours that could occur.

In addition to this, procedures and protocol for reporting all incidents and the clear actions of consequences should also be included in non-discrimination policies.

2) Provide Bias/Unconscious Bias Training

It’s naïve to assume that all individuals can both identify bias/unconscious bias behaviours and know exactly what to do should they see it occur.

While it’s a moral obligation to treat everyone fairly and with respect, bias  (specifically unconscious bias) still occurs frequently in the workplace, with 39% of individuals saying they experience such behaviours at least once a month.

By undergoing training, businesses can:

  • Identify and disrupt all kinds of bias in the workplace
  • Teach individuals to understand and in turn, dissect where their prejudice behaviour lays
  • Increase the tools, approaches and procedures in place to reduce bias from occurring regularly
  • Raise awareness of bias, from definition to real-life incidents

3) Implement Diverse Recruitment Strategies

Addressing workplace bias and discrimination includes changes to not only how your current workforce operate but also how you hire new talent for the business.

Diverse recruitment means not only finding the most inclusive way to hire and onboard but making sure a wide range of individuals from all relevant skill sets, backgrounds and ethnicity also see your job ads.

Try implementing and improving on the following points:

  • When creating job descriptions, focus on inclusive language, staying away from gendered and cultural references where possible. Examples include ‘salesperson’ instead of ‘salesman’ and ‘chair of the board’ instead of ‘chairman’ or ‘chairwoman’.

  • Additionally, posting your job ads on different platforms and locations will not only increase the likelihood of your ad being seen but it will also attract a larger talent pool – making it more likely that you’ll successfully be able to fill open roles!

  • Attend job fairs and recruitment conferences that focus on underrepresented groups, such as LGBTQ in nursing, people of colour working for the police and teachers with physical disabilities.

  • Conducting blind interviews as a way of removing names, genders, ages and ethnicity and focusing on skills and experience can make for a fairer and unbiased way of screening potential hires.

  • Making sure that your interview panel is diverse through including an individual from a different department, ensuring a mix of females and males as well as different levels of seniority.

4) Regularly Collect and Analyse Employee Data

Analysing your current workforce regularly and collecting information specifically around demographics will allow businesses to consistently make improvements on how inclusive their workforce really is. Demographics commonly held by employers include:

  • Top level information such as age, race, gender and sexual orientation
  • Background information such as education, marital or parental status, religious or faith
  • Current workplace factors such as seniority level, hours worked, years of service
  • Personable indicators such as work habits, communication, managerial style

Collecting the above, or a variety of allows for companies to deep dive into their diversity and inclusion methods. From ensuring that leadership teams include a mixture of background, experience and gender from the personality traits of an individual that has stayed loyal to your company over the years, this data becomes indispensable and extremely helpful when making strategic DE&I business decisions.

Ensuring factors such as pay and promotion rates are recorded and standardised across a workplace, as well as objective criteria and goal setting will assist businesses in only reducing bias/unconscious bias and discrimination but catching it quickly if it does occur.

Addressing Workplace Bias and Discrimination

To truly reverse and unlearn bias and discrimination in the workplace, we need to better understand it in its entirety, which can only be done by employers and employees working together.

By surveying employees confidentially and holding workforces accountable, small changes will soon equal big wins, which will not only create a more well-rounded, happier place of work, but will solidify its future success, brand and reputation.


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