4 Skills to Address Unintentional Discrimination at Work

Ever experienced discrimination at work? You’re not alone. When we asked people to tell us of a time they felt excluded or disadvantaged because of their race, age, gender, national origin, or sexual orientation at work, we got over 500 stories.

People who experience discrimination see the workplace bias as pervasive, permanent, and unmanageable. And what’s even scarier is victims often describe these acts of discrimination as subtle — even unconscious. Implicit biases cause victims to question others’ intentions and their own perceptions. After an upsetting interaction, they think to themselves, “I’m upset, but I don’t know if I should be? Do I even have the right to be upset?”

At best, this shadowy bias is exhausting. At worst, it’s soul-destroying — to both the individual and the organisation. So, what can you do if you find yourself victim to either blatant or subtle discrimination?

Here are a few skills for confronting bias in a way that restores civility to the workplace.

1. Use CPR

When confronting bias, ask yourself if you should talk about the content (a one-time incident), the pattern (a series of incidents), or the relationship (the impact of a pattern on your ability to work with others).

If you confront the one-time incident of bias, you’re likely to be seen as overreacting. But, if you address the larger pattern or relationship concern, you can show how the micro-inequities add up to soul-crushing impact.

2. Start with Heart

Before you speak up, identify what you really want. Is it enough for the bad behaviour to stop? Do you want an apology? Punishment? Reparations?

Also, consider that you’re likely going into the conversation with a lifetime of grievances. How responsible is this person for that history? Likely, they play a smaller role that what you may attribute to their actions.

3. State my Path

After an uncomfortable incident, discover what really just happened. State the facts without apology or self-repression, but also without accusations and indictments. Instead, begin with the details. Then, tentatively suggest what those details mean to you.

4. Make It Safe

Is a person who exhibits unconscious bias automatically a bigot? If so, we’re all bigots. Recognise that we’re up against a human condition, not personal flaws. It’s challenging to describe someone’s biased behaviour without them feeling attacked. To achieve a better outcome, help others feel safe while addressing uncomfortable issues.

These crucial conversation skills will help you confront subtle forms of workplace bias to create a more inclusive, safe, and productive workplace.

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