You wouldn’t dream about discriminating against a co-worker (or anybody else) – but what do you do when you witness workplace discrimination happen right in front of your eyes?
Maybe you’ve seen your supervisor mock another employee’s gender expression, or maybe you’ve seen someone harassed about their religious beliefs at work and you simply don’t know how to respond. It’s tough to simply stand by when something that’s clearly discriminatory is happening, but figuring out how to move from “bystander” to “ally” isn’t always easy.
Steps you can take when you see discrimination
Every situation is different, so exactly how you choose to navigate the issue has to align with both the circumstances and your comfort level. Here are some options:
- Intercede directly: When you’re in the moment, you can do a lot to broadcast the idea that you’re an ally simply by calling out discriminatory behavior for what it is. For example, if someone cracks a joke about an older employee “getting senile,” you can simply tell the speaker, “That’s inappropriate.”
- Offer support: Your voice has more power than you probably realize. If you see discrimination or harassment, let the targeted co-worker know that they are not alone. Express your willingness to back them up if they make a report.
- Document: Whether you jot it down in your private journal or you open a file on your computer, keep notes about discriminatory behavior you’ve observed or heard first-hand. Record who was present, what was done or said and when it happened. Your notes could become important if the behavior escalates or if there’s any retaliation to a complaint.
- Make a report: You don’t have to be the target of workplace discrimination to make a report to your human resources department or boss. Discrimination in the workplace is your concern, even if it is not directly affecting you.
Allyship is sometimes hard for people to understand. It’s not enough to simply not participate in workplace discrimination. To be a real ally, you have to take some kind of action. It’s impossible not to recognize that you may face retaliation for your actions, even though it’s illegal for an employer to take retribution when you speak up about workplace discrimination or participate in an investigation. If that happens, it’s wisest to explore all your legal options.