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Addressing the dangers of workplace discrimination

Taboo topics. They’re hard to talk about. Thankfully the #metoo movement has seen a wave of millions come forward to join the conversation. Mistreatment is slowly being destigmatised in society.

We’re waiting to see the flow-on effects filter through to the workplace, particularly with discrimination, bullying, harassment and general mistreatment.

Sadly unconscious bias is still an overarching norm in the workplace. I’ve experienced it in my career, and perhaps whilst the intentions may not have been entirely malicious, the effects can be damaging.

Discrimination

I’ve been on the receiving end of comments about my religion (Judaism), interpretations of my religious or lack of religious practices ‘you shouldn’t be eating that, you’re a bad Jew!’, derogatory statements about people in my community, and subject to people’s anti-Israel political opinions – none of which I want to engage in within the workplace. Yes, that’s my background, but I’m certainly not an authority on the religion or a political expert.

The perpetrators have been my managers, CEOs and even clients of mine when I worked in leading PR agencies.

It might be ignorance or curiosity driving comments like these, but in a country as diverse as Australia and a community as close-knit as Melbourne, surely it’s time for people to let these things go and be professional, as well as good humans.

Workplaces have a responsibility to prioritise diversity and inclusion, and normalise a diverse workforce where people feel safe, no matter their background or life choices.

Bullying

I wouldn’t be alone in admitting that I’ve been bullied by a superior or business leader. It’s hard to know who to turn to if your company doesn’t have an HR division. If the employee handbook recommends you approach the person you are feeling victimised by to discuss it with them, and that person happens to be the Managing Director, the ambitious and career driven can be left with nowhere to turn.

Bullying can be direct but also underhanded. Sometimes there’s a power play at hand, a nasty email or instant messenger exchange, or something much more subtle, like side remarks which might go unnoticed to others, bitching or exclusion.

People don’t often realise the serious psychological and physiological side-effects and consequences of bullying. After an incident or period of mistreatment – either in person or online – people experience stress or anxiety which can lead to low self-esteem, self-doubt and even depression. We’ve even seen tragic cases which have led to suicide in both adults and children.

No-one deserves to feel this way, not in a professional, academic or personal setting. It’s a basic right to feel safe when you walk into work, school or home each day, around colleagues, bosses, clients or other stakeholders.

Workplaces have a responsibility to build a supportive framework and environment for staff, with more than just the employee handbook for people to turn to. A supportive HR or leadership function is essential.

Speak up

It takes courage to speak up. It’s important to act if you notice someone is being mistreated, or if you’re being mistreated, reach out. It’s not worth sacrificing your wellbeing or suffering in a job when you could be thriving in an environment that’s more suited to you.

Managers have the responsibility to stand up for their staff and what’s right, rather than stand by and watch a bad situation unfold. A level of training should be introduced for managers and leadership on how to best deal with bullying in the workplace and how to protect staff.

Support networks are really important. If you are going through a hard time, talk to HR or your manager, or outside of work you can speak with your family, a mentor, friends or even a doctor or counsellor.

 

Helpful resources:

National Centre Against Bullying

Safe Work Australia

 

Image by Louis Smit.