Siegal & RichardsonLLP

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Subtle versus overt discrimination: Recognize it in the workplace

In the workplace, there can be subtle signs of discrimination that are mixed in with more obvious cases of discrimination. For example, you might hear your boss say they don't want to hire a woman because women are less responsible than men. This is clearly discriminatory, but it's not as obvious as your boss saying it to you directly.

These comments are still discrimination regardless of how they're stated. Imagine if you were someone applying for that job. If you're female and competing against men for the position, the likelihood is that you won't be able to get the position due to the manager's or boss's prejudices.

Women often face subtle discrimination in the workplace

Women often face this kind of subtle discrimination in the workplace. Some common discriminatory statements include:

  • "Younger women are irresponsible."
  • Older women are hard to get along with and bossy after hiring.
  • Heavier women are more efficient than women who are thin.

These are absurd statements, yet there are some employers who truly believe them. You might think you'd never work somewhere like that, but the reality is that you might already work somewhere that this kind of subtle discrimination takes place.

What makes subtle discrimination so different from overt discrimination?

Subtle discrimination can be something as simple as a passing comment that people don't take much notice of, and that's what makes it difficult to spot. Commentary, jokes and behaviors that make people feel unwanted or uncomfortable are typically considered subtle discrimination.

On the other hand, overt discrimination is much easier to spot. It is an act of directly treating someone unfairly based on written policies and procedures in a workplace. For example, a policy that states not to hire people over a certain age is discriminatory, as is wording a job posting to eliminate female applicants.

In either case of discrimination, workers have to speak up. While the particular discrimination may not affect you directly, it can create an intolerable work environment. Both men and women can be victims of these poor work policies and poor standards.

It's essential to stop those who make discriminatory statements when possible and to report those who continue to offend. It is possible to report employers who are discriminatory as well, and, in some cases, workers may benefit from filing lawsuits against them for unfair treatment and for having to deal with discrimination in their workplaces.

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