In a perfect world everyone in the workplace would be hired and judged based on their skill and merit - not on their gender, age, sexual preference, religious beliefs, or any other category that sets them apart from others. In reality, this may be far from the case.
What many people don't realize is that workplace discrimination can take many forms. Sometimes it involves blatant words and acts that are obviously discriminatory. But, other times it is more subtle.
Surveying your workplace environment
Workplace discrimination can often be identified if you examine certain office trends. Look at the people who are most often hired - and promoted - versus those who are left performing the same job duties without upward advancement for long periods of time.
- Do those people fit a certain mold?
- Are they one specific race, gender, or religion?
- Are there a disproportionate number of freshly graduated 20-somethings?
- Do they seem to be able to move up the ladder whether or not they perform their job duties consistently, or are frequently absent from work?
If it seems that this is the case, take a look at those who may not fit the mold, including you. Are you performing your job duties satisfactorily? Are others who are a bit older, or have a different belief system, or perhaps have family obligations, being disregarded in meetings?
If so, there may be discrimination going on. Whether intentional or not, it is illegal.
Changes in company culture and turnover rates
Proving discrimination in the workplace is rarely easy. Few managers and supervisors are going to come out and say you are too old to take on a task, or that you can't do something because you are a woman, or that you don't fit a certain mold.
Instead, acts of discrimination are more subtle. Such as all older people being laid off or moved off high-value accounts, or women or people of certain races being passed up for promotions. Many employees don't recognize these acts as discriminatory, or choose to simply tread water within the company and keep the peace until they find a new job.
Being given tasks that are too easy or too hard
In today's workplace, it is normal for job descriptions to be somewhat fluid as companies grow and change. If you find that, as an older employee or one that doesn't fit into the new social dynamic of the office, you are suddenly presented with tedious tasks no one wants to do, or are asked to meet "numbers" far beyond any previous expectations, it could be an attempt to further alienate you and get you to quit your job voluntarily. These may also be attempts by your employer to find a "legitimate" reason to terminate you.
If this is happening to you, make note of how your ideas are received, or not, and if your suggestions are being acted upon. If possible, look for an ally who is younger or who fits in better and see if your idea is magically better received when it is presented in a different package.
Make note, also, if your favorite clients and work projects you have been in charge of for years are being given to others on your team in order to "take the pressure off." You may be being asked to "train" the person who will ultimately take over your job.
If any of these things are happening, or you notice others making jokes or judgments of others who are like you (older, of the same faith, race, etc.) but they insist that they are not talking about you - it's a good sign that they probably are.
In our experience, most employers try to comply with the law to the best of their ability. But despite the existence of the Equal Opportunity Employment Act, there are many workplaces that are anything but equal, and simply getting a new job won't guarantee that the same mistreatment won't start over again. For many, your best bet is to assert yourself and call out the discrimination with the help of an attorney. Bringing the issue to light will often not only help you, but others as well.