Bigotry in the office – How do you respond?

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In today’s world of social media and a growth in intolerance towards those who hold a different opinion from oneself, bigotry has surfaced into our daily lives, even in the office.  No one wants to think of themselves as a bigot, or racist, or a bully.   However there are those whose social media posts are appalling; rants and ravings of their own beliefs and agendas. Even at work prejudiced people sometimes inadvertently make comments that insult ethnic co-workers, female staff, people who are LGBTQ, or even the disabled.  It’s usually subtle, but can add a new challenge to doing our job.  How do you respond to these comments in the work place while maintaining a professional composure expected of a consultant?

Let’s first try to understand the mindset of the bigot.  We all know that HR policies strictly prohibit racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. Human rights laws are in place to ensure equal treatment. Regardless, biases stem from the community, home, and/or upbringing. Usually ingrained early by their parents, friends, or colleagues.  While the workplace deters behavior associated with bigotry, employees rarely face enough deterrents to change their behavior. And since it’s such an uncomfortable subject, most are not even aware of their actions as they are never called out on it. A bigot feels superior to others and negatively judges based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or even country of origin. Understanding this idea of superiority can help you find firm ground to stand on when dealing with bigotry, especially when it’s subtle enough to go unnoticed by others.

I have a few recommendations, but let me preface that none are a solution to the bigger issue, but may assist for the short term of your engagement at the client. First, try to avoid the offender as much as possible. That may not be feasible at work, so you do need to let the person know the impact their behavior is having on you on your ability to do your job. Ask them for a moment of their time for a discreet discussion. Give examples of what they’ve been doing on how it is impacting you. Ask if they realize how uncomfortable it’s making you. If other co-workers have raised concerns include them in the conversation. Awareness is sometimes all it takes to stop the action, but it won’t stop the offender’s thoughts or beliefs. That’s OK, they can go home and post whatever they want on Facebook, but they need to keep it professional in the office…and they need to know that.

Make sure you document the discussion for future reference and be prepared to escalate if initial efforts fail. Begin with your boss at your firm and see if perhaps the two of you can brainstorm on other approaches. Making them aware of the issue is imperative if the behavior is directly impacting your performance. Next would be the client manager which could lead to involvement of HR. Don’t put your contract at risk.  Dealing with these situations is a part of what we do, unfortunately. Expressing your concerns and requesting action take place in order to ensure a safe and productive work environment should be expected. I can’t promise how every manager will receive or react to you, but saying nothing…means nothing will change.

I hate to say this, but the current division of our country and this type of mindset is everywhere. As a consultant we need to be prepared to have engagements in any town, city, or state. Sure, there are areas that may have a greater presence of narrow minded ignorant bigots, but doesn’t mean any of us have to tolerate it. Let’s tackle this together.

 

How have you handles situations in the past?  Share your comments below.

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