Turning a Blind Eye
"There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true," Margaret Heffernan says in her book, "Willful Blindness."
It is often easier to ignore the truth than to look it squarely in the eyes. To stare reality in the face requires work. You can't see it and then conveniently "un-know" what you know. Your conscience wants you to correct the wrongs, apologize where necessary, and fight for the underdog.
Here's the problem: we often fail when it comes to fighting for the underdog. Discrimination in the workplace is, thankfully, decreasing. Yet it can still often be easier to look away and pretend not to notice when someone has been unfairly treated.
Looking away means you don't have to call out colleagues and friends about their behavior toward others. You won't become unpopular or be known as a troublemaker. It also means you don't have to acknowledge differences in others that make you uncomfortable, because sameness is just so much easier to deal with, right? Looking away shields you from having to examine stereotypes created by society, or your perceptions and assumptions.
Cosy World of Self-Righteousness
You can even justify your behavior by using phrases such as, "But everybody thinks that way," or "Everybody knows about it, why pick on me?" If you're feeling the heat, you can even blame an anonymous "them" and say something like, "They told me not to get involved."
You can choose to remain in your cosy little world of sameness and self-righteousness. While you look through the tiny windows of your world, you can keep judging the world of others – a world where you have an unclear and biased view.
Keep in mind, though, that looking away has a hefty price tag. Looking elsewhere means that an incident happened that you might have stopped, if you had dared to speak up. It means that someone who doesn't have a voice experienced unjust treatment.
If we refuse to face the truth, and we're unwilling to confront the wrong behavior toward minority groups, discrimination will happen on the watch of good people. Will you be one of them?
During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last week we spoke about "Minorities Matter." Here are all the questions we asked during the chat, and some responses:
Q1 What/Who do we mean by minorities? And why does this matter?
@Yolande_MT Minorities are people that aren't part of the social power structures and that are often discriminated against.
@temekoruns A minority represents the underrepresented across a certain spectrum of characteristics.
Q2 How fairly does your workplace treat minorities? Give examples.
We're happy that most of our participants seem to work in places that treat their employees fairly.
@MurrayAshley We are required by law to treat all fairly and without any form of discrimination.
@SaifuRizvi They give equal opportunity to all. They only accommodate people on the basis of merit. They don't care about people's gender, cast, creed and religion.
Q3 What kinds of discrimination have you experienced or witnessed?
@yehiadief Cleaning that's assigned to female staff members!
@Midgie_MT I have witnessed discrimination of members from the LGBT community for reasons that "they did not fit in."
Q4 What is unconscious bias and how does it affect minorities at work?
@ShereesePubHlth I often tell my clients (and my friends); we all have bias & we all judge. It's what makes us human. But when you allow your biases to affect the pursuit of happiness of others, you need to examine your behavior.
@DreaVilleneuve Unconscious bias is our way of categorizing people based on what we think we know. It can lead to assumptions based on stereotyping, despite not believing in stereotypes.
How to Deal with Discrimination
Q5 If you experience or witness discrimination, how do you deal with it there and then?
A common theme that emerged here, is that you have a duty to take a stand and say something.
@BrainBlenderTec I point it out as often it's not realized, which is what allows it to continue. How can you change what you don't acknowledge?
@KasturiB25 Sometimes you are a minority because you speak up!!
Q6 How do you deal with discrimination in a wider/systemic way?
@OkemaForever In any situation you cannot change people's attitude, you can only do right and carry on.
@LorenMargolis Leaders are visible and set a spoken and unspoken example. As leaders, we have a responsibility in the workplace to set inclusive policies, model the celebration of differences. Also, to be clear about expectations, what’s illegal and not acceptable in company culture.
Q7 What's the business case for embracing minorities at work? Why does engaging minorities at work matter?
@maat333 It's not about the embrace of minorities, but the embrace of everyone as equals and according to their skills, and then we will see, sooner than we expect, that the concepts of minority and discrimination will disappear in relation to the social welfare status.
@harrisonia People are different but we don't have to treat them differently. Engage w/ others having differences at work to break down walls and learn about just how many common things are shared.
How to Engage
Q8 How well do you engage at work with people who are different from you?
@MicheleDD_MT I'm fortunate to have worked in an organization that embraced diversity. We examined & exposed privilege. If you don’t talk about privilege, you won’t get at discrimination.
@GattinaRosa Probably not as well as I should! My team is not the most diverse and we need to work closely together. I think I should seek out more opportunities to talk to people who are more different to me, even if it’s in a non work capacity!
Q9 What behaviors are necessary to have bold, inclusive conversations in the workplace?
@JKatzaman You shouldn't need bold inclusive workplace conversations if you've made a point from the start to include everyone in co-worker conversations. If it comes natural, you shouldn't have to think about it.
@harrisonia We must also WANT to have a fair and equitable workplace: where everyone understands the rules, consequences, and opportunities to advance.
Q10 What can YOU do to make sure that everybody is treated fairly?
@GattinaRosa Become aware of your own personal biases and proactively work to stop them. Seek out people with different views and share your ideas and experiences.
@Midgie_MT Make a point of asking minorities for their input/ideas, including them in groups, and dealing with anyone who complains.
Next time, on #MTtalk...
Our lives are busy. We work hard to make ends meet. Electronic communication advances mean that work has invaded our home lives. We try to keep up on social media, stay fit, and spend time with friends. Here's the million-dollar question: do you spend enough time with your family? And what do you think interferes most with your family time? Please vote in our poll over here to let us know.
In our next #MTtalk on Friday, December 8, our topic is "Things That Interfere With My Family Time." To share your thoughts and ideas, please join us at 1 p.m. EDT / 6 p.m. GMT / 8 p.m. CAT / 11:30 p.m. IST.
To participate in our chat about things that interfere with your family time, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on “All Tweets” and you’ll be able to follow the live chat feed. To join the conversation, simply include #MTtalk in your tweet and it will show up in the chat feed.
In the meantime, here are some resources that will help you to learn more about diversity and acceptance in the workplace:
Mind Tools Club members can also access the full versions of the following articles: