How to tackle discrimination in the workplace

A quick summary:

  • What is workplace discrimination?
  • Workplace discrimination examples
  • Other types of discrimination in the workplace
  • How to prevent discrimination in the workplace
  • Final thoughts on discrimination at work

Discrimination in any form or shape just doesn’t have a place in the workplace, or wider society for that matter. In fact, not only is it poor for leadership teams to allow discrimination to occur, but it can have negative consequences for businesses. 

From poor retention, and poor hiring efforts to a disengaged and unhappy workforce, discrimination in the workplace must be stopped now. That’s if you, as a leader, truly care about employee wellbeing and the emotional and social wellbeing of your company. 

In this article, we’re going to explore ways to tackle discrimination in the workplace. We’ll look at some workplace discrimination examples, and then ways leaders should respond if they notice discrimination happening. 

Similar read: How to tackle loneliness at work for employees

A work team stood together with the word team written on their shirts.
What is discrimination in the workplace?

What is workplace discrimination?

Let’s begin with a simple definition. What is workplace discrimination? Our team searched the internet looking for the best description of workplace discrimination. According to Nidirect.gov.uk, workplace discrimination “happens when an employer treats one employee less favourably than others.”

For instance, if an employee isn’t given the same learning and development opportunities due to their disability, or a female colleague is paid less for the same job as her male colleague, that is discrimination. Discrimination isn't too different to bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Not only does it impact the personal health, wellbeing and happiness of the victim of discrimination in the workplace, but it shines a negative light on the company itself. Ultimately, no company wants to be known for any workplace conflicts, racism, disability discrimination or sexism, but it’s through poor management that these can occur. 

Before we discuss ways to prevent discrimination in the workplace, let’s look at some examples. What exactly is discrimination, and what characteristics are commonly discriminated against by coworkers? 

Workplace discrimination examples

Below, we’re looking at a number of workplace discrimination examples, discussing how leaders can spot and quash them amongst employees. This list should give management teams a better understanding of discrimination in the workplace.

Note: With the introduction of the ‘Equality Act 2010’, this piece of legislation aims to protect individuals from discrimination. The following discriminations are included within this act, and we will include an extensive list of other types of discrimination in the workplace below.

Discrimination against disability

Discrimination against disability occurs when people are put at a disadvantage due to their disability. It is also discriminatory to treat someone differently because of their disability. In the workplace, people should be treated equally, with the same equal opportunities. 

Like all discrimination, it’s about educating your workforce. Sometimes, it’s this lack of understanding or ignorance that creates discrimination. We recommend leaders create conversations around disabilities, bring awareness to the subject and let people ask questions. 

It’s about normalising disabilities in the workplace. Neglecting a person, whether it’s not offering them opportunities to progress their career, or not hiring someone due to a disability is not only discriminatory but puts your organisation at a disadvantage. 

That’s because people don’t want to work for companies that don’t take diversity and inclusion seriously. In our must-have HR calculations resource, we included a ‘people group-specific diversity hire rate’ calculation — we recommend you try it out! 

Racism in the workplace

Racism has no place anywhere in society. However, it unfortunately still exists. As a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, and a very real problem worldwide, we believe it deserves attention in our blog on how leaders can tackle discrimination at work.

Racism in the workplace should be dealt with seriously. Anyone found to be making racial remarks should have their job terminated due to discrimination. Allowing racism to exist in any shape or form will have detrimental impacts on both company culture and how leadership teams are perceived — along with the upset of victims of racism in the workplace. 

To create an environment that accepts diversity, leaders should open up the conversation around diversity and inclusion. Whether it’s celebrating awareness days, weeks and months, or making the company’s policy around diversity and inclusion known to the workforce. 

Gender discrimination 

Discrimination against gender occurs when people are treated differently depending on their gender. We alluded to gender discrimination earlier on in this article, mentioning how a female employee may receive less pay for the same job as a male counterpart. 

This is a prime example of gender discrimination, and according to SMEloans.co.uk, over 8.2M employees feel they have been discriminated against due to their gender. What’s more, A SkyNews article published in October 2022 revealed that around 96% of CEOs in Britain’s largest public companies were male. 

This lack of diversity in C-level positions in the workplace could be due to fewer opportunities offered to women in the workplace. Leaders must better recognise just how talented their female employees are and offer training and development and the opportunity to progress their careers. 

Other types of discrimination in the workplace

In addition to the three above, the following list of characteristics are protected in the UK by the ‘Equality Act 2010’. For more information on each of these, we recommend the legislation.gov.uk page on this particular act. 

  • Ageism 
  • Religion or belief
  • Sexual orientation
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership

Now that we’ve explored the different types of discrimination in the workplace, let’s look at three ways to combat discrimination at work. 

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A group of employees putting their hands into the middle and smiling
How to prevent discrimination in the workplace

How to prevent discrimination in the workplace

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again; discrimination in the workplace, to any degree, is unacceptable. Now, we’re going to look at three ways you, as a leader, can quash discrimination. Whether stamping it out or putting in preventative measures.

Focus on culture

Let’s kick things off with company culture. Your culture is the environment, the atmosphere, and the way people work together. A great company culture is one that embraces diversity and inclusion. One that is built on communication, collaboration and support. 

Company culture is typically woven into a company through leadership teams. It must start at the top, and C-level employees must lead by example. If you want to stamp out or prevent discrimination in the workplace, start by working on a positive workplace culture.

Having a collective agreement with your workforce on right and wrong – what's appropriate and what’s inappropriate – is the best way to change behaviour, attitudes and build great workplace relationships.  

You only have to take a look at some of the most successful organisations in the world, and for many, they take culture and diversity seriously. They are led by a people-first ethos – how can you create a positive and welcoming workplace?

Focus on Education

Next up, education. It’s when people communicate that they understand one another. Humans are great educators, and by communicating effectively, openly and actively on topics like discrimination, diversity and inclusion, we can learn from our mistakes. 

Having a diverse and inclusive workforce who feel comfortable speaking up about their backgrounds and cultures is a great way to educate everyone. Additionally, leaders may want to consider lunch and learn or other forms of education around diversity and inclusion. 

Going back to company culture, establishing an environment of learning about cultures and backgrounds will help reinforce a positive culture. People want to work for companies that embrace diversity and inclusion.

Focus on action and be proactive

Last by not least, leaders can change how they approach discrimination in their leadership style. The title speaks for itself, but leaders and managers of teams alike must take action and be proactive against discrimination. 

While many of us may think we understand what’s right and wrong, leaders should truly acclimatise themselves with their company’s policies around diversity and inclusion and things like the ‘Equality Act 2010’. 

This particular point goes back to leading by example as a leader. It’s knowing when to take action against discrimination and being proactive in ensuring your team abides by diversity and inclusion policies. 

A leadership team that is proactive can prevent discrimination in the workplace. Being aware and conscious of leadership styles and how employees communicate with one another is key. 

Two female employees talking in a meeting setting
Final thoughts on discrimination in the workplace

Final thoughts on discrimination in the workplace

There you have it. There’s a lot to take from this post, and as we’ve learnt, discrimination at work is a very important and serious matter. There are many ways to quash discrimination in the workplace, and hopefully, our article has been a learning curve for many leaders. We’ve discussed not only the various forms of workplace discrimination but also how leaders can tackle it in their companies. 

As we’ve already discussed, discrimination in the workplace can be detrimental to everything from retention to employee wellbeing and even your organisation’s ability to hire talented people. Nobody wants to work for a company that doesn’t stamp out discrimination. How are you putting in measures and preventing any form of discrimination in your workplace?