27 September 2023 |

this shouldn’t be taboo

By Gabrielle "GB" Blackwell

Addressing the hard truths

Here’s the thing we have to remember about discrimination – it happens a lot more than you’d think it does. See the stats

  • 61% of employees in the US have experienced or witnessed workplace discrimination, including discrimination based on age, race, gender or sexual orientation
  • 43% of employees who’ve experienced discrimination say they’ve left a job in the past due to unaddressed discrimination
  • 32% didn’t report because they weren’t sure it was a big enough deal

Looking at these stats, it’s clear how it’s not a matter of IF discrimination could happen at your organization…it’s a matter of WHEN. 

And there’s A LOT managers can do to support employees when discrimination or harassment occurs. Let’s take a look into how…

When discrimination strikes

I’ve had multiple conversations with reps sharing how that “friendly” statement a coworker made borders on the line of harassment. I’ve also shared with a rep how their previous manager’s persistent comments about their physical appearance was flat out harassment. 

Every time I’ve put a name to the behavior, I’d get the same comment back – “I didn’t know that’s what it was. I just thought this was the norm in sales”. Ugh.

Now, imagine if no one told these reps they were targets for discrimination or harassment? 

  • Their performance would drop – oh btw, these were my top performers!
  • They’d likely consider leaving – my top performer did end up leaving!
  • Their health could decline, increasing absenteeism – this happened too!

All in all, discrimination is a lose-lose situation all the way around. So here are three quick tips managers can use to turnaround a losing situation: 

#1: Refrain from dismissing someone’s experience

One of the most discouraging and deflating things you can say to someone who is confiding in you about discriminatory treatment is “Ohhh, that’s not what they meant” or “they wouldn’t do that”. 

Remember, just because you’re not the target of discrimination – or haven’t been in a position to identify with being discriminated against – doesn’t mean that discrimination isn’t happening. 

When someone entrusts you with a very challenging experience, take the time to listen, empathize and validate their experience. 

#2: Cover all your bases

Whether you think it’s discrimination or not, I’d strongly recommend seeking counsel with your HR team. The benefit you’ll get is getting clarity on the severity of your rep’s claims as well guidance on what to do next.

This can be super helpful in ensuring your rep’s concerns are properly addressed and all avenues to resolution are explored.

Also, by flagging concerns with your HR team, you’ll put your company in a better position to properly resolve discrimination and/or harassment complaints before things get worse. If workplace bullies and aggressors see there’s no consequence to their actions, they’ll continue to aggress others. By raising a flag to their behavior, this can keep folks in check. 

#3: Educate your team

Unfortunately, I’ve supported multiple reps who have been targets of workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination. It’s an incredibly isolating experience for someone to be on the receiving end of maltreatment and there’s definitely a stigma – and fear of retaliation – about speaking up for yourself when maltreatment happens. 

One antidote to this is talking about discrimination and harassment with your team:

  • Make sure everyone knows what bullying, discrimination and harassment is and educate them on the behaviors which fall under these buckets of maltreatment at work
  • Inform them of the escalation paths available to them at your company and share when and how to use them
  • Ask your reps to look after each other – if they see something, say something because *remember* nearly one third of people won’t report it on their own

Moving forward

I hope that there’ll come a day when we won’t have to worry about the psychological safety of our reps. We’re not there yet as a profession, and we can help to rebuild that psychological safety by offering our reps the support they need to navigate otherwise traumatizing work experiences.

To continue the learning about discrimination and how to support reps who may be facing it, here are some additional resources:

Sharing is caring – What’s helped you most in navigating situations like discrimination or harassment at your workplace?