How To Prevent Workplace Discrimination
Discrimination is part of today’s reality. It can happen anytime, anywhere, and at any level. The workplace is no exception. However, the more it appears to be a common occurrence, the more employers need to learn how to prevent discrimination in their organisation.
Workplace discrimination means displaying unfair treatment and being selective to specific groups of candidates and employees. It can stem from unfounded views that one is preferable to the other because of physical appearance, beliefs, or mind and body condition.
Scrutinising candidates’ qualifications is part of the hiring process to ensure you find the right fit for the role. But is your criteria based on what they can essentially contribute and how they can fulfil the job?
What is considered workplace discrimination?
According to a study defining discrimination in the Malaysian legal context, workplace discrimination can be direct and indirect. Direct discrimination happens when one person is treated worse than another due to gender, marital status, or race. Meanwhile, indirect discrimination is when company rules and policies broadly apply to everyone, but can still negatively affect others who do not share common characteristics (e.g. height requirements).
Another research paper found that discrimination significantly correlates to factors such as age, gender, race, and religion. Awareness of notions and behaviours within these factors can be instrumental in detecting and avoiding the presence of discrimination.
Ageism happens when there is a distinction between hiring candidates, delegating tasks, and promoting employees based on how old or young they are. Both older and younger people can be susceptible to this treatment.
There are assumptions that older people are more closed-minded, unwilling to learn (especially with technology), less enthusiastic, and will not stay for long in work because of their age, habits, and experience. Lack of experience and commitment are presumptions with younger or fresh graduates. Seniority can also be a basis for superiority. Younger candidates tend to get lower salaries and less benefits.
Sex and gender discrimination
Sexism and gender discrimination manifest with the beliefs of assigning roles based on sex and gender resulting in unequal treatment and harassment. Anybody can experience it, but such prejudices and actions more evidently affect women.
In Malaysia, there has been strong support and advocacy in women’s participation in the workforce. However, while a considerable percentage have entered the workforce, there are still areas where gender inequality persists.
This form of discrimination ensues when there is inequality between hiring men and women because of the assumption that one group is more capable than the other. Women are more commonly hired for lower-rank positions and offered promotions than men. Discrepancies in salaries, prolonged probation, demotion, and termination are also present.
Race and colour
Racism includes prejudices and negative views towards people because of their colour, ethnicity, or origin. You commonly see it through name-calling, bullying, and verbal abuse.
Racial discrimination in the workplace happens when employers refuse to hire candidates because of their nationality or surnames.
Employees with a similar background or dominant group identities tend to experience fairer treatment. In contrast, those from a different race are treated as outsiders and work in a more hostile environment.
Racism results in fewer job opportunities for those considered as inferior groups. Such discrimination can also go as far as receiving complaints because of a person's race.
Assuming race and religion are the same can be a form of discrimination. Examples are the beliefs that all Malaysians practise Islam, or every Indian’s religion is Hindu. It also shows stereotyping or labelling that associates specific characteristics to every person belonging to a group.
Candidates’ and employees’ religious beliefs, practices, and attires are the basis for judgments, harassment, and refusal of salary increase and promotion.
Discrimination towards people with disabilities occurs when employers reject applicants because of their physical and mental condition. It can be indirect, such as implementing requirements that are not relevant to the job and are disadvantageous to affected individuals.
While companies can justify their decisions, any act that withholds reasonable adjustments can be discriminatory. An example would be the unavailability of parking spaces to employees with mobility impairment despite managers having their own and enough resources for others.
Another is the unfair treatment related to disability or illness, such as refusal to give a bonus to an employee who is sick and on leave to undergo treatment.
Malaysian Labour Law
Every Malaysian citizen has the right to employment. Article 8 Section 1 of Malaysia's Constitution of 1957 with Amendments through 2007 states that all persons are equal and are entitled to equal protection of the law. Section 2 also specified that no groups should be discriminated against based on gender, religion, race, or place of birth in any law or any employment under the public authority.
However, Section 5 (A) states that the Article does not prohibit institutions managed by groups practising any religion to regulate employment to people practising that religion.
The Malaysian Employment Act of 1995 also protects local employees and migrant workers. Foreign workers shall also be granted the same rights as local employees.
Why does workplace discrimination occur?
There are plenty of reasons why discrimination exists. According to a study on gender discrimination in the Malaysian Civil Service, people and organisations can often be confused and may not understand what gender discrimination is, so it becomes difficult to identify its existence.
Expectations are also a significant factor. Generally, there is no harm in setting expectations; but when a socio-psychological phenomenon called self-fulfilling prophecy takes over, stereotypes emerge. A self-fulfilling prophecy is where expectations change people’s behaviours in a way to prove it true.
An employer who expects younger employees to be less committed in their job will likely treat them with dislike. As a result, employees might feel demotivated to give their best. The employer will interpret this as a validation of their expectation.
Impact of workplace discrimination
Discrimination can greatly impact the business and every individual within its working environment. It can escalate to more severe consequences that could damage a company’s reputation as well.
Lack of diversity
When you set groundless preferences in recruitment and hiring, you might fail to experience the benefits of workplace diversity. In this case, you will run into significant limitations on the variety of perspectives and experiences you can acquire to produce innovative ideas. Diversity and inclusivity also matter to employees and in building a globally competitive business.
Employee health issues
Employees can suffer from physical, mental, and emotional problems when they are in an unhealthy environment and working with people who mistreat them. They can experience a higher level of fear, stress, anxiety, depression, and other self-issues. (Read more: How to Minimise Work Stress in Your Office)
Decrease in productivity
Work efficiency will take the hardest hit when your employees are not in good shape. They are distracted, demotivated, and discouraged to give their best because of their appearance's negative preconceptions or feel inferior because of their lack of skills and experience. Job satisfaction will also decrease as people become unhappy and less passionate about what they do.
Higher employee turnover rate
You are likely to lose talents if your employees are not well-compensated and treated unfairly. As more employees resign, your organisation generates more resources as you will need to keep recruiting, hiring, and training new hires. Finding new talent might also be challenging, especially if your company is perceived negatively by customers and former employees due to discrimination.
Failure to prevent and effectively respond to workplace discrimination could result in legal issues. There are equality and anti-discrimination acts that prevent discrimination against people with disabilities. There are also criminal laws to protect women from gender-based violence. Legal issues could also damage the organisation’s reputation and ruin the entire business.
How to Prevent Workplace Discrimination
Implementing preventive measures is crucial in ensuring the absence of discrimination and promoting a fair and healthy workplace.
Be familiar with the laws Be well-informed about the different existing anti-discriminatory laws. Explore both local and international laws, as these will help you build an understanding of what discrimination is. Be well-guided in the set of rules you are expected to uphold for the benefit of your business and employees.
Develop and implement anti-discrimination policies With the law as your reference, create a set of policies applicable to your organisation. The policy should clearly state that your organisation does not tolerate and condone discriminatory acts. Include the definition of discrimination, its forms, and the behaviours that constitute it. Incorporate how employees can report discriminatory behaviour and add how disciplinary measures will proceed.
Conduct regular anti-discrimination training programs Regular training helps keep employees oriented with anti-discriminatory policies. They become aware of real-life examples and are reminded of their role in preventing such acts. Organise seminars and training for managers that highlight recognising and responding to discrimination, harassment, or abuse. Supervisors should be mindful of their role in protecting their employees.
Establish proper investigative procedures A proper and effective investigative process can reinforce prevention. It demonstrates your principle and efforts of seeking the truth and resolving complaints. The investigative procedures should indicate immediate investigation, designated trained personnel to handle the case, and procedures for gathering and assessing evidence. Remember to include the confidentiality clause and guaranteed victim protection against retaliation. (Read more: How Should HR Handle Workplace Harassment?)
Create bias-free job ads Your job ads reflect your identity and values. From your company information to your job requirements, your ads should promote a neutral language. Be concise and use gender-neutral terms that connect to all jobseekers. Avoid jargon or clearly define technical words to be more inclusive. Focus on skills and proficiency. Learn how to remove biases in your job ads here.
Reflect on company practices As discrimination can be indirect, take time to analyse your organisational policies and practices. Ask yourself: Do they display neutrality? Do they put certain employees at a disadvantage? Evaluate your job requirements and rules and regulations. Make sure they do not contradict the principles within your anti-discriminatory policy. Be ready to justify business decisions for transparency and clarification. (Read more: SMEs Should Avoid These 4 Common HR Mistakes)
A workplace should always be a safe place. People should be accepted for who they are. Make sure your employees never feel judged because of a condition. Cultivate a culture of equality and wellness in your organisation. By raising awareness, acquiring a better understanding, and taking proactive steps, employers can learn how to prevent discrimination in the workplace.