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Is your company’s attempt to eliminate discrimination backfiring?

Discrimination in the workplace is a big issue these days. There’s a lot of media attention and companies everywhere are eager to avoid being put in the spotlight. A lot of them are promoting initiatives designed to overcome discrimination in their past — but some of those efforts may end up creating new types of discrimination in the present.

For example, it’s unlikely that a company would start a “men only” program designed to help male professionals network — but it might not think twice about starting such a program for women. The goal, naturally, would be to help women overcome the problems they’ve faced breaking through male-dominated professions. Unfortunately, that kind of thing could end up negatively impacting a company’s male professionals in today’s world.

In addition, companies have to be careful how they design any programs designed to encourage under-represented groups of employees — like women or minorities. A company doesn’t want to end up treating those workers as if they need special treatment because they are unable to compete with others. That would actually make the discrimination worse — even if it seems like it favors the employee involved.

In other words, the goal for every company needs to be “level the playing field” for employees who have traditionally faced discrimination in their field. It should never be “tilt the field in favor of the discriminated-against group” because that simultaneously entrenches the ideas behind the discrimination and creates new discrimination.

It’s a tricky road for employers. It can be difficult for employees, too. An employee of color, for example, who benefits from an employer’s initiatives to hire or promote minority workers may end up feeling wildly uncomfortable if his or her white co-workers believe that the employee’s race was the only reason he or she got the job.

Ultimately, the best route for employers to take is to promote an all-inclusive diversity without a particular emphasis. Employees also need to speak up when an employer’s new idea or plan actually creates discrimination — because the odds are good that the employer is blind to the problem.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Companies Trying to Deal With Discrimination Face Backlash,” Kelsey Gee and Lauren Weber, May 06, 2018

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