Everyone is faced with some form of discrimination daily. Our subconscious makes decisions about every image that comes before our eyes. We will always instinctively choose the familiar.
This is known technically as ‘unconscious bias’ and refers to the social stereotypes about certain groups of people that we form outside of our own conscious awareness. Everyone, no matter how open minded they believe they are, holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from our tendency to organise our social world by categorising what we see in order for us to feel safe.
Unconscious bias can, inevitably, lead to discrimination, including in the workplace. Discrimination, whether it relates to sex, race, religion, pregnancy or disability occurs, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) when ‘a person, or a group of people, is treated less favourably than another person or group because of their background or certain personal characteristics’. In the workplace, discrimination can take many forms: not selecting a particular candidate for a position because they are female or taking work away from an employee because they requested carer’s leave to look after a sick child.
The AHRC says that discrimination can happen at different points in the employment relationship, including:
- when recruiting and selecting staff
- in the terms, conditions and benefits offered as part of employment
- who is considered or selected for training and the sort of training offered
- who is considered or selected for transfer or promotion
- who is considered and selected for redundancy or dismissal
While workplace discrimination can be overt, more often it is unintentional, particularly when you consider the unconscious bias that impacts on every decision you make every day. However, just because an employer didn’t ‘mean’ to be discriminatory, doesn’t excuse the behaviour.
As an employer, it is important to know what actions can and cannot be considered discriminatory. It is also important to educate your staff. Putting in place a policy outlining what is and is not ok is the best way to ensure the well-being of all staff. Additionally, employers have a statutory obligation under the Work Health Safety Act 2012 (SA) to ensure the health and safety of all staff, customers and clients. Being really clear about what is and is not acceptable conduct in the workplace is the best way of ensuring all employees are treated fairly.
The onus is on you as an employer to protect your employees and your business from perpetuating workplace discrimination. It can be a steep learning curve, particularly when it comes to educating yourself and your workforce on the insidiousness of unconscious bias.
If you are concerned about the possibility of breaching the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA), get in touch with our experienced and professional team at insyncHR. We can offer information, assistance and support on how to best protect your workplace from negative discriminatory behaviour.