Recognizing subtle forms of workplace discrimination

When many employees think of discrimination or harassment in the workplace, they think of blatant, obvious comments, actions or behaviors. However, workplace discrimination or harassment does not always take the form of an obviously inappropriate action.

According to a 2018 study, 64 percent of women across the country endured “microaggressions” in the workplace, or gender-based subtle discriminatory actions. Subtle forms of discrimination can be very damaging but more difficult to recognize. Additionally, it can be challenging to know what, if anything, to do about it.

Workplace discrimination or harassment can take many forms

Indiana and federal law protects employees from discrimination based on race, gender, religion, age, disability, national origin and more. Obvious violations of this could include a colleague using offensive racial slurs, a manager catcalling a female employee and more. Yet, subtle forms of discrimination can often go unnoticed, such as:

  • Questioning the judgment of a female employee
  • Asking inappropriate questions about family history in an interview
  • Failing to make eye contact with certain employees
  • Consistently bringing up stereotypes in conversations or communications
  • Regularly excluding certain employees from professional or social events
  • Intentionally not considering certain employees for a promotion

When you are on the receiving end of such subtle jabs, you may feel discomfort or annoyance. You also may wonder whether such indirect comments or actions are part of an unconscious bias against women, people of a different race and more.

What can you do?

As an employee, you may be hesitant to report even the most blatant forms of harassment or discrimination. Bringing up a complaint to your manager, human resources professional or more can be terrifying and you may fear the effects it could have on your future with the company.

However, addressing these subtle forms of discrimination can often be the only way to productively move forward. When you experience discriminatory actions, a good first step is to follow your company’s protocol in reporting such incidents. If possible, documenting the statements, actions, behaviors or more you experienced can help to support your complaint. Then, the company may choose to take action to confront the individual privately, host a workplace training on proper office conduct or more.

When your workplace fails to take action, you may want to consider taking your complaint further by filing a complaint with the Indiana Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or more.

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