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Discrimination – How Does It Mostly Manifest Itself in the Workplace?

Discrimination – How Does It Mostly Manifest Itself in the Workplace?

Every workplace consists of people who hail from different physical, cultural, religious or social backgrounds. Sometimes, these differences may give rise to discrimination, regardless of the fact that Governments, Equal Employment Opportunity bodies and other Regulatory Agencies, all over the world, enact guidelines to try to curb and lessen this problem. Discrimination therefore continues to occur in the workplace in many different forms based on characteristics, such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. Let’s therefore look at how discrimination tends to occur in each of these five categories. 

Age Discrimination

Age discrimination occurs when a candidate for a job or an employee receives unfavorable treatment due to his or her age. Such a person could be the target of offensive remarks about his or her age (whether he/she is young or old). It also arises when the workplace’s policies or practices impact negatively on employees, deliberately excluding younger or older employees from participating. In most western societies individuals applying for jobs do not have to disclose age or date-of-birth information, but many employers will still look for it and may derive it from other information such as when a person finished school or college, for example.

Gender Discrimination

Gender discrimination occurs when a man or a woman experiences bias or exclusion due to his or her gender. This kind of discrimination tends to take two forms. The first is in the job market where employees overtly or covertly discriminate by seeking one gender as a preference over another. The second is in the workplace where sexual harassment or bullying takes place. In the western world, the law is relatively weak in this category and it is therefore left very much more to individual organizations to have clear anti-gender discrimination policies and to act upon them. 

Racial/Ethnic Discrimination

An employee who receives unfavorable treatment because of his or her race is a victim of racial discrimination. It also occurs when certain employees experience unequal treatment due to their possession of specific characteristics associated with their racial background, country of origin or ethnicity. Employees who are married to certain races may also witness racial discrimination based on these marital ties. This is the same case for people who belong to certain race-based groups. Racial discrimination in the workplace usually occurs as a result of harsh and derogatory statements, exclusion from jobs and promotions and even unequal terms and conditions of employment. 

Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination is the unequal treatment of employees based on their religious beliefs or faith. This form of unfavorable treatment most commonly manifests itself through harassment, segregation, exclusion from work or groups and even unequal pay. As part of religious/faith discrimination, a victim does not get the chance to follow his or her religious beliefs in the workplace, due to lack of a flexible work schedule, job reassignments or insufficient space/premises being made available. This is directly contrary to many laws in the western world which prohibits workplace discrimination on grounds of a person’s  color, religion/faith, race or country of origin.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Sex discrimination arises from unwarranted treatment of a person due to his or her sexual orientation (and in particular when the person is involved in same sex relationships). In this category, discrimination most commonly occurs when people are excluded from employment, specific groups or are bullied or taunted by harsh words in public. As with gender discrimination the law is relatively weak in this area compared to others and it is therefore left, once again, to individual organizations to have clear anti-sexual-orientation discrimination policies and to act upon them.

In all five of the above categories, even relatively “enlightened” organizations with clear and well-written anti-discrimination policies may turn a “blind-eye” to policy infractions, especially when they are deemed to be minor (stereotypical group office talk or jokes about certain groups for example). It may therefore be that discriminatory behavior is still a significant problem holding the organization back from exploiting its full potential to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce in every meaning of the term.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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