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Discrimination in the Workplace

By: Suranthi Fernando

Picture this scene: two employees, one male, and one female, have been called into their manager’s office to discuss a possible promotion. The male employee has been consistent in his work for a significantly long time, but the female employee has recently broken the standing office record in terms of performance. They are both hoping to receive a well-deserved reward. The manager tells them to sit down, congratulates the male employee on his promotion, and proceeds to explain his decision to the female employee. His reasoning is simple – the female employee is 3 months pregnant, and while he is happy to hear her good news, this means she will eventually go on maternity leave and be out of the office for an extended period of time.

The female employee is disappointed, asking why this was the reason for being passed over for promotion, instead of possible flaws in her office-related performance. The manager shrugs and firmly states, “Sorry love. That’s just how it is, you chose to work in a male-dominated environment, and I’m just doing what’s best for the company in the long run.”

In the past, it was not unusual to hear similar stories of employees receiving unequal treatment in the workplace due to reasons beyond their control. However, that should have been exactly what it was, a thing of the past. Yet, workplace discrimination can be found even in this day and time, despite it being frowned upon by many. But what constitutes discrimination in the workplace? Simply put, any treatment that is deemed unfavorable to an employee or individual due to a factor such as age, gender, physical disability, religion or even skin color.

Such situations could be as subtle as a difference in salary for equally qualified employees holding the same job position, who are doing the same tasks. Or it could be a very strong implication, such as a purposeful imbalance in the allocation of tasks to employees, i.e. where most men are given business tasks such as client meetings or in certain industries, warehouse inspections and ground work, while women tend to be tasked with writing reports or even running coffee and photocopier duties in the office, because management assumed that women are incapable of garnering respect or being assertive, or that they might (MIGHT) complain about having to work in a hot humid environment. It could also be in the form of being verbally condescending to an individual who might require a cane or a wheelchair for mobility, leaving them out of office events or not checking beforehand if certain venues are properly equipped to accommodate such mobility equipment, but also expecting them to cheerfully come to work and mingle with co-workers.

Sometimes, discrimination could begin before an individual even starts working for the company. Imagine a young college graduate confidently walking into an office holding a resume, hoping to have a successful interview that would land their dream job. The interviewing manager walks in, sits down, ruffles through the graduate’s portfolio and suddenly pauses. He looks up sharply and asks:

“Ah. Now, where did you say you were from again? Are you not a citizen of this country?”

The graduate, slightly confused, replies, “No Sir, I was not born here, but I have been residing and studying here for the past 25 years. I practically grew up here.”

“I see. Well, I’m sorry. We were only looking for citizens for this position, as clearly stated in the job posting online. Thank you for coming in anyway, we will keep your resume in our system for future suitable positions.”

He walks out, leaving the graduate speechless and distraught from the abrupt end of the interview. As seen in this example, one might see it in the form of a job advertisement stating a company’s preference for ONLY certain categories of individuals, or an interview that goes downhill due to a few misspoken words, leaving the interviewee feeling shaken and occasionally incredulous.Even in this modern day and age, there are still times when older employees are “baby-talked” to because a colleague firmly believed that old age automatically makes one senile. There are also cases where women are spoken to in a condescending manner simply due to someone else assuming that they are a weaker sex both physically and mentally (some may call this mansplaining).

While some may believe this to be a logical way to speak and that they are not at all in the wrong (beware of those who back themselves with “I read this in a research study report”), it is essential to remember that the recipients of such words are also thinking, feeling human beings. It may be easy to throw around terms such as ‘being politically correct’ and ‘abolish racism, sexism and ageism’, but we should also know why it is so important to actually practice being politically correct.

While gender is indeed recognized as a spectrum, it is still a deeply embedded part of one’s identity, and therefore should not be used against them in an environment where they should be encouraged to grow professionally and personally. Age is inevitable, and so is the way the human physique changes over time. However, this does not mean that the human brain will also automatically degenerate to mush once they hit a certain age. There are many senior citizens who, through years of experience and gained wisdom, could bring much more to the table than a college graduate with barely any work or real-world experiences or knowledge. As for individuals who have certain physical disabilities, ask any of them and they will most certainly tell you that they did not choose to be the way they are. In all of the above examples, we should recognize that it is just how the way things are, and this should be respected.

While most organizations do indeed take strict disciplinary actions to reduce workplace discrimination, and firmly state that they do not discriminate while considering individuals for employment, there are still companies that have such cases, intentionally or unintentionally. If everyone makes a conscious effort to see their colleagues as equal counterparts and human beings instead of dividing people by their genders, age groups, physical abilities and beyond, the workplace would definitely be a much more cohesive and comfortable place for all to thrive.

Suranthi is a college student studying International Trade and Psychology at Uni@Buffalo (SUNY) in Singapore. She enjoys reading, writing, photography, listening to music and watching movies during her free time. Upon graduation Suranthi hopes to pursue a career in either one of her majors or both majors combined, but also to be a published book author on the side.

Instagram: @essa11eff

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