Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Take care of your people and protect your business
What Is Culture Discrimination?
Discrimination is the unjust or prejudiced treatment of different categories of people or things. Culture discrimination is an unjust treatment based on someone’s cultural background. Culture is different from ethnicity and race. Culture is based on the social behaviors associated with a group of people, whereas ethnicity refers to a common region, ancestry, etc. Race is the culmination of both culture and ethnicity.
It is illegal to discriminate against candidates or employees based on cultural differences. This protection is provided under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
How Does Culture Discrimination Affect the Workplace?
Now that we have defined cultural discrimination, let’s review how it can impact culture and public view in the workplace.
- Limits talent pool. With the internet, words travel across the globe very quickly. When employees report cultural discrimination, they prevent future employees from that culture from applying. Other employees may not want to work where discrimination is going on.
- Prevents collaboration. Discrimination often drives people toward those who are similar to them, be it in job type, race, culture, age, etc. When employees only interact with those who are similar, it prevents improvement and innovation.
- Destroys a sense of belonging. A huge driver of employee engagement is a sense of belonging at the company. Even if your culture is not the one being discriminated against, these attitudes plant doubts in your mind about when you may have to stand up for your culture.
- Generates misconceptions. Culture discrimination often presents harmful misconceptions about culture to other employees. These misbeliefs can lead to stereotyping which can then be taken with the employee to their next workplace, starting the discrimination cycle over again.
“There are so many things that can happen. . . . There are lawsuits, high turnover, low employee engagement and satisfaction, lower productivity and profits, pushback from society, etc. The list goes on and on.” – Wendy Kelly
How To Prevent Culture Discrimination in the Workplace
Cultural discrimination can be prevented through collaboration between an organization and its employees. Let’s review different steps for each party to prevent this from happening at your workplace.
Responsibility 1: Educate Yourself. If your job gives you the chance to work with a different culture, take some time to learn about it. Do this by striking up a conversation with your new co-worker or team member. Learn about their values and how they view the world based on their culture. This greater understanding helps ensure future decisions are based on work performance rather than cultural differences.
Responsibility 2: See Something, Say Something. Cultural discrimination happens when people or groups do not call it out when they see it. You may feel shy or awkward, but telling individuals they are being disrespectful or starting to discriminate goes a long way. Taking this step shows the person being discriminated against they aren’t alone and that discriminatory attitudes aren’t part of the company culture.
Responsibility 3: Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes. Imagine how you would feel if you came to work with misperceptions about yourself and your work ethic. Wouldn’t you want to set the record straight and help people understand? Everybody wants to feel safe and that they belong at their workplace. Putting yourself in their shoes can open your eyes to the long-term impact that cultural discrimination creates.
Responsibility 1: Update the Employee Handbook. Take time to review your employee handbook to see if there is a non-discrimination policy already in place. If it needs to be modified, that is okay. Having this policy in place and up to date acts as a baseline for preventing cultural discrimination.
Responsibility 2: Review Non-Discrimination Policies. All employees need to be reminded of what they agreed to when they accepted their work offer. This reminder can be an email sent annually or biannually. If a recent discrimination case has come up, it could be addressed again.
Other opportunities include having your executives or senior leadership discuss discrimination in a team meeting. Employees should review the discrimination policy when they accept a leadership position.
Responsibility 3: Take Culture Discrimination Cases Seriously. If an employee brings forward allegations of discrimination, take this very seriously and have a conversation with them. Document and investigate the claim. The results of this investigation can show you how the company and its employees can improve.
Examples of Culture Discrimination
We’ve reviewed cultural discrimination, its impact on the workplace, and steps to prevent it. Now let’s review a few examples to see how it might look in your workplace. These hypothetical examples aren’t comprehensive, so continue educating yourself.
Fired for an Accent
Riya has worked six months for a company’s tech call center. She loves her job and is trying to make the process better. She sometimes has to repeat herself to customers because they have a hard time understanding her accent but her client reviews always come back positive.
Her manager asks her to stop by the office after her shift and she is informed that she is being let go. When she asks why, the manager mentions something about clients and team members having a hard time understanding her.
As accents are not a basis for termination and Riya’s client reviews always came back positive, Riya is experiencing cultural discrimination.
A company’s mobile Texas branch is being joined by five team members from their China branch for a year. The goal is to create better collaboration and see how they can improve their product. During the first joint meeting, the Chinese employees ask where they should sit and an American teammate says to sit anywhere.
After the year is completed, both teams submit feedback on the interchange during the year. Both parties report minimal gains. The Chinese team members felt humiliated by their American co-workers because they didn’t respect seniority or hierarchy which is an important characteristic of Chinese culture. The Americans reported that their Chinese team members were too rigid and not open to exploring new ideas.
Both teams experienced cultural misunderstandings which prevented them from obtaining their goal. Misunderstanding can take on different forms so it is useful to review the situation if someone feels discriminated against.
Cultures differ in how groups reach a decision. Some decisions are reached by everyone reaching a consensus and laying the foundation before it is presented to the next level of management. Once passed on, the next management level discusses and passes it on to their supervisors.
Other decisions are made by the top leadership and passed down to the frontline employee. Once a decision is made, it is considered final and the next issue is brought up.
The difference in decision-making highlights the importance of educating yourself and your organization on how business is conducted in a specific region, country or culture. Early preparation can lead to better results and strengthen cultural relationships.
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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Culture Discrimination
Brent Watson enjoys problem solving, analyzing data, team building, and becoming an HR Guru. His work experience comes from the employee experience, recruiting, and training arenas. After attending a local HR conference, Brent knew that he had found his people and the problems he wanted to solve for in the business world.