Today, we’re talking about discrimination. The past couple of weeks have been hard to witness with so much going on the world, but Black Lives Matter is such an important movement that needs to take place right now. I posted on Instagram last week that I would be putting a pause on all content – podcast episodes, blog posts and Instagram stories/posts to take the time to listen, learn and make room for the important conversations that needed to occur. However, I will not be going into too much in this article, because I think there is so much to discuss and I will reflect on the entire process in my personal growth update at the end of June. I’ve definitely learned a lot the past week, but I don’t think this is a conversation topic that only lasts a week where
Today I really wanted to focus on the conversation and moving forward and how to deal with discrimination in the workplace. This article is really a mix of my own personal experience and the things I’ve researched. I was really surprised to find the limited tangible resources when it came to dealing with discrimination in the workplace, because having experienced, witnessed, and turning a blind eye to discrimination before. I don’t believe every situation can be resolved by talking to your supervisor.
However, before we begin, I wanted to kind of state the obvious in saying that a lot of this is based on my personal experience, but I truthfully haven’t felt a ton of discrimination in the workplace. I definitely felt it in areas like school, but my experience doesn’t live up to many others out there.
I am a woman of colour, however, I also acknowledge that I live in Canada, which by no means is perfect, is very accepting. I’ve lived, studied and worked in British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario and have definitely faced racism, not to the levels currently in the world. I also have thought about how I am a woman of colour, but I’ve never felt like a targeted minority in discrimination. My family is from Vietnam, but I was born in Canada. I’ve had numerous people comment before that when they don’t know my last name and just meet me, they are surprised I don’t have any sort of accent. I also have a Western name when I apply to jobs. Kimberly is easy to pronounce and I don’t have another name. My name in Vietnamese is Kim which means “needle.” How beautiful, right? Haha Lastly, when people ask my religion, my family is Buddhist, which again, not all Buddhist people are perfect, but it’s a pretty uncontroversial religion that I’ve never personally felt discriminated against. I know that’s not the same way with every religion. And finally, I spent a great part of my career in government, which again is not perfect in hiring, it is held to a very great level of standard when it comes to discrimination (I’ve been on the hiring side and there are many measures in place to not discriminate). That being said, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, it’s just not as easy to get away within a private company. I’ve also spent the majority of my career in travel, which was very accepting of different cultures and ethnicity.
So my experience can only be told in these terms, but I still wanted to share this today in hopes that it will be helpful not only if you are being discriminated against, but how what you can do to help. In a perfect world, this advice wouldn’t need to be necessary. But unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. So today, I will be sharing 10 ways to deal with discrimination in the workplace at all different levels.
1. Give Interview Feedback
While I was researching resources for this article, I was really surprised to find the only advice I could find regarding how to deal with discrimination at a job interview is just to email the job interviewers or company afterwards, because let’s be honest, that’s probably not going to do much. I do agree, that if you go into a job interview and feel discriminated against, yes please email the company afterwards. If you were asked any discriminatory questions during your interview, of course, email the hiring manager and interviewers to talk about the questions. However, if you do not receive an adequate response, I would encourage you to notify a higher-level manager (such as the owner of the company) or leave a review on a site on Glassdoor.com regarding their hiring practices.
In reality, it might not do very much because you can’t really change a company when you’re not a part of it. And that’s such a frustrating part of job interviews, there is not much you can do if you’re not even allowed to enter the door, but there is something you can do for others. I always encourage people to check out Glassdoor when looking for interview/career insights with a particular company and it’s important for companies who do have discriminatory practices be held responsible for their actions. It may only feel like a drop in the ocean, you may be thinking, what is one review really going to do? But the chances are, you are not the only one that has ever been discriminated by that company and many voices are stronger than one. And again, it can feel defeating because what is that really going to do? However, I would argue that consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of their purchases and companies they support. Leaving a review of your experience on sites like Glassdoor may not seem like a lot, but it makes a difference for many people in the long run who also experience discrimination and who are looking to work with the company.
2. Research Company Race and Discrimination Policies Before Accepting An Offer
After you receive an offer, it’s important to talk more about the details of the offer – the salary, the benefits, the perks, etc. I am a huge proponent of interviewing companies just like they interview you. One of the biggest narratives I hear from millennials is that many people hate their 9-5, and that’s actually devastating to know that so many people hate their job.
And one of the things that can contribute to people hating their job is a toxic culture. If a company doesn’t have any policies on racial or discrimination practices and procedures, it’s probably not the best place to be. And that kind of toxic culture seeps into the people.
So when you are looking for an offer, research not only the policies but the company itself. What does their board of directors look like? Who are the high-level managers or directors? Because these are the people they are looking to promote and the voices this company is directed by. It can be tempting to take a super great offer but do not be afraid to walk away when it doesn’t feel right.
3. Separate Acts of Racism from the Term “Racist”
I have no doubt there are racist people in this world. There are lots of people that choose to be hateful and don’t want to learn or change. However, as I’ve learned about myself and others, many people do not know that their remarks are racist or hurtful because they have been taught that this is an acceptable way to act or it’s an acceptable thing to say. And sometimes, it’s really hard. I get it. When someone says something racist, it’s very, very hard to not get defensive. But as I’ve learned about racism, it is systemic and there is a quote from Nelson Mandela that states:
Because I’d rather have the person change than be right. So if I person is unintentionally being hurtful (a lot of people just think it’s funny or not a big deal), I remind myself not to label them as a racist person and remind myself to focus on working on changing the situation, instead of throwing my hands up in the air to say “this person is racist, and can never be anything else.” Personal growth is about believing that other you and other people can change too. I have definitely made mistakes in the past and have definitely learned so much from them. Sometimes I fear that cancel culture also cancels people’s ability to demonstrate growth. I’m such a big believer in personal growth and that people can change, if they want to, and I’d rather work towards a community that changes than one that dismisses people with no opportunities to learn and change.
4. Ask why a racist or discriminatory comment is funny or acceptable.
Usually, racist or discriminatory comments can be seen as “acceptable,” if it’s said in the form of a joke or it’s been deemed acceptable by the community they are around. And that’s a huge reason why discrimination exists because it’s acceptable. However, I think that one of the best ways to counteract this is to ask why a discriminatory comment/action is funny or acceptable? You’ll find that when you ask people to reason their comments and biases, it becomes less logical.
Don’t be afraid of the awkwardness or the lingering silence, lean into it. These conversations are uncomfortable (my best friend is the queen of leaning into the awkwardness and I really admire that), but that’s why it’s so important. I am still learning to grow into it. Be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
5. Let the person know that the remark wasn’t acceptable.
I know it can be hard to say something. I am the queen of non-confrontation, but instead of viewing it as a confrontation, try viewing it as a learning opportunity. I know, the whole premise of having victims of discrimination teach perpetrators is not right. In a perfect world, people who practice discrimination are the ones that need to educate themselves, but unfortunately, this isn’t going to go away by itself. So let a person know that.
So much of discrimination is systemic and unconscious. And if you feel uncomfortable, say it. I’m not saying you need to get into a long-winded discussion every time of why the comments weren’t acceptable, but saying that it wasn’t is a start as it allows the other person to reflect. The reason why racist or discriminatory comments are seen as acceptable is because society allows it. If many people say it’s unacceptable, that’s when it really becomes unacceptable.
6. Document it and keep a record of the discrimination
If you receive or hear racists or inappropriate comments on a very regular basis, and it hasn’t been resolved on a direct basis, write it down. When we talk about racism, I feel like there’s a lot of onus on the victim to be the one constantly calling it out or teaching the perpetrator why a comment is wrong. And really, if you’ve experienced a lot of discrimination, especially on a regular or daily basis, you probably don’t have the energy or capacity to constantly call it out. That’s exhausting. However, when you do bring it to the attention of a manager or HR, make sure you have the notes on what was said, when it was said, and document the discrimination. This contributes to solving the problem when you can pinpoint where the problem is. I’ve also found documenting things easier on myself as a person because I’m able to let go of the anger or frustration without having to immediately act upon it. Again, if you’re constantly facing discrimination, it can be tiring to try to tackle it every single day and by writing it down, it helps release some of the frustration because you are slowly working towards the change instead of having to bottle it up and repress it.
Documenting acts of racism or discrimination is also important if you ever decide to take legal action or leave a company. This record will be so helpful because instead of saying “I faced discrimination at this company “you can say “X comment was made at X meeting at X date.” I know it can be hard to constantly face discrimination which is why I don’t believe you have to speak up every single day, but don’t let it go. This is important.
7. Speak up and ask how you can help.
Now if you are someone on the sidelines, it can feel like your role is very minor, but it isn’t. If you see something discriminatory against another person, speak up and let the other person know that this is not acceptable behaviour. Do not underestimate the power of numbers. Again, you don’t have to be solely responsible for educating the perpetrator, but let them know this isn’t acceptable. Next, ask the victim “are you okay” or “how can I help?” You would be amazed at how powerful these words are in a moment of discrimination.
I’ve been in situations where no one cared, and when someone said something, and it made all the difference in the world to go to bed that night and knowing someone cares, even if this horrible event happened that day. In all transparency, it was sexual harassment in my case, but it’s still very powerful.
Asking someone “are you okay?” can be so powerful. So ask the person what you can do to help. They might be feeling angry, embarrassed, frustrated, or defeated, and it’s reaching out is more important in this moment than you think.
8. Speak To A Superior, in private, or in numbers.
Speaking with a superior is very important to deal with discrimination. Ultimately, if it is coming from a co-worker or even a manager, you may not be in the place to enforce the change. If you are facing discrimination and not comfortable speaking with a superior by yourself, ask someone to come with you who has also witnessed the acts of discrimination. And if you were a bystander during discrimination, offer to speak to a superior with the person as a witness. There is strength in numbers and also it allows accountability and prevents you from being gaslighted in a meeting. So much of discrimination is hidden under the table because the people who commit acts of discrimination are allowed to get away with it. Speaking out as one person can be difficult. Speak out together.
9. Hold People and Companies Accountable
At the beginning of this article, I talked about how I try to separate the acts of racism or discrimination apart from calling someone a racist. I do give people the benefit of the doubt because I’d rather be wrong and see someone change than be right just for the sake of it.
But people and companies need to be held accountable for their actions. So just as you record and document acts of racism or discrimination, I would encourage you to bring it up in subsequent meetings and share your experience on Glassdoor or social media if nothing changes so these people and companies can be held accountable.
The past couple of weeks, I’ve seen so many companies and people been outed for their discriminatory practices and at the risk of sounding petty, I am here for it. I feel so badly for people who felt like they had to hide or couldn’t speak out against discrimination because they were being silenced. This past week has been a wake-up call for me and many others. I would have never supported a company or person if I really knew what was going on behind the scenes and being actively aware is something I’m still educating myself on.
Yes, give people the benefit of the doubt, but if things don’t change, go to a higher manager or leave and share your experience.
10. Lead The Way + Commit To Change
As much as I want to sit here and say “if you do all of these steps, discrimination will go away” that’s not the truth. Many people in power have gotten there by shutting down the voices of others and don’t want things to change because this system favours them.
That’s why it’s not enough to just try to change things on the outside, it’s also important to step into leadership roles and create the change that needs to occur. I’ve always been hesitant about being a leader in my career because I felt a lot of imposter syndrome and always thought I needed more experience. But as I’ve learned throughout my career, the people who are got to the top didn’t just get there with education and experience, they might have also gotten there by silencing voices and through discriminatory practices that have held the status quo. That’s why I would encourage to be a leader – go for the promotion, apply to jobs your not qualified for, and create the change that is needed in this world by not supporting these companies and taking leadership roles. This is something I experienced personally.
I witnessed a discriminatory act a few years ago when I was working for Elections Canada. Yes, as wonderful as Canada is, we also have discrimination. At that time, I was a worker of the election, but after seeing how discriminatory the supervisors were, I decided to become one to make sure it doesn’t happen to others. I go into much greater detail in the podcast episode so I highly encourage you to listen to it if you’re interested!
The reality is that if you follow all these steps, discrimination won’t go away. It’s systemic and unfortunately, it will be a long, uphill, battle to reach a greater level of respect in the workplace. But it’s a movement worth the fight.
Thanks for reading! For more insights, I encourage you to listen to the episode – but talk to you soon!