Workplace discrimination can take many forms and is not always obvious or overt. Some of the most insidious forms of discrimination are subtle and difficult to detect.
Cambridge University Press refers to the vicious cycle of subtle discrimination, wherein more powerful individuals inadvertently condition marginalized individuals not to contribute or participate. Examples to look for include microaggressions, implicit bias, tokenism and isolation.
These are small, everyday acts of discrimination that can include subtle forms of racism, sexism and other types of bias. For example, a coworker may make a sexist comment, or a manager may use stereotypes when describing an employee’s work performance. Microaggressions can be hard to detect because they are often unintentional and fly “under the radar.”
Implicit bias refers to unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that can influence decision-making and behavior. A manager may unconsciously favor a candidate who is similar to them over a more qualified candidate who is different. Implicit bias can also manifest in the hiring process, such as through bias in resume screening, interview questions and job evaluations.
This happens when an employer hires someone from a minority group, but only for the sake of creating a facade of diversity. Higher-ups may view this person as an “empty suit” who does not get the same opportunities, recognition and benefits as their colleagues.
Isolation takes many forms, such as excluding individuals from meetings, not extending invitations to company events and making important decisions without them. It is important to understand that not all discrimination is obvious and to know the signs of subtle discrimination, in order to take steps toward its elimination.