Have you ever faced workplace discrimination based on your race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation? It can be as subtle and difficult to prove as your resume getting lost in the ether because your name sounds too ethnic. Or it can be as overt and malignant as coworkers laughing behind your back because of your disability or sexual orientation (which would cross the line into harassment). Such events can be deeply wounding and even traumatic.
The Mental and Emotional Toll of Discrimination
The 2015 Stress in America report found that nearly 7 in 10 adults in the US report having experienced some form of discrimination, with 61% experiencing day-to-day discrimination, such as being treated with less courtesy or respect, receiving poorer service than others, and being threatened or harassed.
Discrimination exerts a huge toll on the health and outlook of victims. Increased stress, anxiety, and reports of PTSD are common. According to GoodTherapy.org, people who are discriminated against can suffer significant negative consequences in well-being, self-esteem, self-worth, and social relations. While all discrimination is harmful, Stress in America found that for all groups surveyed, the most commonly reported experiences of major discrimination relate to the workplace. Indeed, the fact that people’s livelihoods are involved makes workplace discrimination even more deleterious than social discrimination.
Why Diversity in the Workplace is Good for Business
While erasing workplace bias is the right thing to do, it also makes sense economically. A report called Why Diversity Matters by McKinsey & Company has shown that the top quartile companies for gender and ethnic diversity are respectively 15% and 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. A correlation therefore exists between companies’ gender and ethnic diversity and the profits they rake in. Diversity is good for the bottom line and Americanprogress.org lists 10 reasons why. Amongst them is increased creativity, which occurs when diverse people with divergent viewpoints collaborate on solving problems. Also, a workplace demographic that mirrors the demographic in the marketplace means workers better understand a business’s customers.
Hidden Biases and How to Attain Real Diversity
Workplace biases can be extremely insidious and occur despite people’s best intentions. An example is the recruitment process, where biases can be hidden beneath terms like “cultural fit” or the “beer test”, commonly used by recruiters whereby they ask themselves if they see themselves having a beer with the potential candidate. Such a test depends heavily on how diverse the recruiter’s social network is and lends itself to potential discrimination. A better method that is now used by companies like Shopify and Hubba is the “cultural addition” test which asks whether the potential recruit would make a good addition to the team from the perspective of increasing diversity.
But real diversity occurs not because a company recruits some diverse candidates, but rather because its leadership team is truly devoted to inclusion. Research by McKinsey points to four factors that will contribute to this:
- The CEO truly believes in inclusion and is committed to practicing the required strategies.
- Diversity and inclusion are seen as essential for business success and are thus measured.
- The company invests in diversity initiatives.
- The diversity initiatives are adapted to different cultures and locales.
A bias-free workplace doesn’t happen by itself. Effort must be channeled towards this goal from both employees and management. However, more and more companies are becoming aware of the benefits of diversity, and that’s a step in the right direction.
Nezha Boutamine | Staff Writer