Although workplace discrimination is uncomfortable to talk about, it’s necessary. Ignoring the past only makes repeating it more likely. Discrimination laws help level the playing field for minorities in the workplace. Iconic Americans including Sandra Day O’Connor and Colin Powell would not have gotten a fair shake in the good ol’ boy days. The collective glass ceiling has been shattered. Keeping it that way means ensuring that workplace discrimination laws are followed.
Empower managers to lead the way. Managers help guide daily operations and set examples for behavior. Take their knowledge beyond Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Laws are not static. For example, Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act was passed in 2008 to prevent employer discrimination based on the genetic tests of applicants or their families, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Discuss techniques for avoiding hiring bias and the consequences for engaging in it.
Build a strong workplace culture that values cohesion regardless of differences. Hire managers with strong ethics who will address discrimination issues promptly. Expose workers to a variety of cultures during special events such as food tastings and holiday observances. Incorporating team building activities into the work week can help workers see each other in a positive light.
Set clear expectations of workplace behavior. Implement zero-tolerance policies regarding potentially offensive material at work. Make examples of violators, regardless of rank. Your workplace isn’t the set of a Comedy Central roast or “Def Comedy Jam.” Keep things politically correct -- even at the water cooler.
Conduct annual staff training. Drive home what discrimination is, why laws exist to prevent it and that it won’t be tolerated. Stress that sexually or racially charged emails are inappropriate -- even when passed between friends. Incorporate games into training to keep attention and motivation high. Giving a test after training can help ensure maximum effort.
Urge workers to speak up whenever they observe inappropriate behavior. This includes reporting bullying or harassment from a supervisor or veteran employee. Relay that no one should feel fear of reprisal -- except those guilty of offensive behaviors. Give periodic anonymous surveys to gauge the work climate. Assigning watchdogs to monitor employee interaction can limit negative behaviors.
Investigate allegations of discrimination in a timely manner. Failing to do so sends the wrong message to both victims and violators. Workers may be less likely to report offenses when their complaints are ignored. Perpetrators may be emboldened by the lack of follow-through.
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