Lead toward Workplace Inclusion

Lead toward Workplace Inclusion

Written by Robert S. Robinson

In the workplace, employees are exposed unfairly to privilege in leadership, micro-inequities in employee treatment, institutionalized prejudice, and sometimes, overt discrimination. Heightened awareness by leaders can drive them to bring about a more inclusive workplace.

Inclusion and equality are extremely important to LGBTQ+ since they as a group do not have all the same protections under the law as do heterosexual, cisgender employees. Thus, LGBTQ+ employees may be impacted by those privileged employees and employers who may not know that LGBTQ+ are not provided equal treatment protections. Though privilege does not equate to bullying behavior and entitlement, this article will address these inequities and micro-inequities in Part 1 Privilege, and Part 2 Discrimination.

Part 1: Privilege

New employees may walk into an unfamiliar organizational culture and break implicit rules that are not written down but are enforced by leadership and followed by workers. Newcomers may break a rule without even knowing that the rule exists because the rules are only spoken and dictated by those in power. A most obvious example of privilege is when bosses don’t like the rules and change them to suit their own needs. Bosses state this emphatically as “it’s my way or the highway!” Not only do they have the privilege to change the rules, but they have the power to change them at will and whim. This can lead to a confused organizational culture, causing employees to feel vulnerable and unsafe.

Institutionalized norms are so ingrained that we may think that new members’ are freaks or outcasts because they don’t wear team colors or company emblems on Fridays. Yet, they may come from other cultural norms in which Fridays are a sacred day and to lighten the mood with costume for sports or spirit is sacrilege. In other cases, levity in the office violates professional decorum. In more decreed norms such as religion rites, these unspoken rules of conduct can cause a person to become ostracized. Once in a suburb of Atlanta, a Catholic boss dismissed her mostly Catholic team on Good Friday, but made her Protestant employee stay at work and answer the phones in order to pretend that the office was open. The boss had assumed that Protestants don’t hold Good Friday sacred. Not only was the boss’s intent assumptive, but the impact on the employee was offensive. The matter became one where a diversity and inclusion lesson ensued.

In another example, white is the color for a funeral and grief in China but the color for a funeral in Western culture is black. Red is a taboo at funerals in both cultures. Where do these rules come from? Who wrote these rules and why do they stand as monuments to times past?

“In 1973 Mary Rowe, while working for the President and Chancellor at MIT, coined the notion of micro-inequities, which she defined as “apparently small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator, which occur wherever people are perceived to be ‘different.’ Rowe noted that micro-inequities often had serious cumulative, harmful effects, resulting in hostile work environments and continued minority discrimination in public and private workplaces and organizations.

What makes micro-inequities particularly problematic is that they consist in micro-messages that are hard to recognize for victims, bystanders and perpetrators alike. When victims of micro-inequities do recognize the micro-messages, Rowe argues, it is exceedingly hard to explain to others why these small behaviors can be a huge problem.”

Source: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265450386_Micro-affirmations_Micro-inequities

Such cultural and personal micro biases are ingrained at such an early age that many are blind to these biases as they engage in day-to-day activities. At work, this can manifest as we have always done it that way.

By raising awareness of a person’s own biases, employees and managers can train themselves to take a moment of pause and look inward before making a flash judgement about a situation or person. This takes consistency of practice and continuation of reflection. It is an ongoing process of self-checks and heighted self-awareness.

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