Discrimination In The Workplace

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The problem of discrimination in the work place is extremely complex. There is no simple solution and no perfect solution for one of the most sensitive situations in the working world today. Even managers with the best of intentions and most pure of motives are likely to become involved in this controversy from time to time. The problem is multi-faceted. How can we recognize and address the more subtle forms of discrimination? How can we undo past wrongs without creating new wrongs? Does reverse discrimination generate a backlash, which then perpetuates traditional forms of discrimination?

Factors such as age, sex, race, religion, and national origin are among the non-merit factors that do influence decision-making. In some organizations, traditional forms of discrimination are still in existence, and in others, especially public organizations, reverse discrimination has become prevalent.

Can anything intelligent be said about this problem? No, probably not, but I’ll try anyway. Most positions on issues related to discrimination are largely self-serving. Minorities argue with passion and sincerity about the dreadful conditions under which they have suffered and how this justifies preferential treatment today. Non-minorities present many elaborate and thoroughly rational arguments to the effect that they should not be discriminated against today and that the only way to stop discrimination is to remove race, sex, religion, etc, as factors in the decision making process rather than institutionalizing discrimination by giving minorities special treatment based upon non-merit factors. Both sides have good arguments and both positions are basically self-serving. Neither set of arguments does much to advance the source of understanding.

The major kind of discrimination in the workplace over the past several years has probably been discrimination against young workers, specifically the baby-boomers. The baby-boomers were different. They had a whole new perspective. The older generation did not feel comfortable with them. They were not trusted. They were feared. And they were subjected to many kinds of subtle and blatant discrimination. (The Age Discrimination laws protect workers over 40 but not under 40.)

Many organizations have built-in procedures to delay advancement. Perhaps one needs ten years of service to become a Vice-President or perhaps one can only be promoted once every two years. These are institutionalized methods of discriminating against young workers. Over the past several years, many situations wherein the older white, black, oriental, and hispanic workers felt more comfortable with each other than they did with the younger members of their own races.

Again, the point is that people feel comfortable with other people who are similar to them. This is unlikely to change.

Posted in: Management Training

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