This probably doesn’t come as a surprise. People have been biased against those in different age groups for centuries.
40% of US workers said they fear losing their jobs due to age discrimination, and nowhere is this more prominent thanin the technology sector, according to Sage’s research.,
Before you’re too quick to judge one generation over another, it’s important to note that ageism doesn’t just apply to those over 45, but also those in their early twenties.
While the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) that passed in 1967 has helped to prevent employers from discriminating against employees based on their age when hiring, firing, determining work assignments, and promotions.
There are still some instances where this form of discrimination is not clearly defined or noticeable.
Depending on your age, ageism might look different for you, but here are some examples:
Someone calling a team member who’s just out of college “a baby,” or assuming they’re not knowledgeable because they haven’t worked in the industry for long.
Younger team members thinking older teammates are stuck in their ways or that they won’t work as quickly as their younger colleagues.
Baby Boomers feeling that there’s a communication barrier between themselves and their coworkers
Sending a birthday card that jokes about someone getting older. Even if sent with affection, some employees may take it as a sign of bias.
You can tackle ageism by making sure all of your trainings for new hires and diversity, equity, & inclusion (DE&I) include ageism. Point out the signs of ageism so that team members can become familiar with it.
And don’t forget to have an open dialogue. Creating a safe space where employees can ask questions and voice concerns can initiate healthy discourse and ultimately establish an environment for combating ageism.
While someone’s height has no direct correlation with their performance in the workplace. It has long been associated with having power and authority.
Maybe that’s where the term looking up to our leaders came from.
Another great example around our presumptions towards someone’s height is a study conducted by two psychologistswho asked several hundred college students to rate the qualities of men of varying heights.
In this study, the group of students consisted of both men and women of varying heights. Overall, the group felt that men with heights between 5’2” and 5’5” weren’t as mature, positive, secure, masculine, successful, and capable, and were more timid and passive in comparison with taller men.
The perception that people’s height correlates to their overall success and authority has no valid standing, but it’s a prejudice that has plagued many cultures.
Unfortunately, it can still be present in your workplace. You might find there are more taller men and women in C-level positions, or they’re receiving more promotions over those individuals of average height.
You can tackle heightism by putting various blind interviews or even video interviews in place within your hiring process to eliminate the susceptibility of making judgments about a person simply because of their height.
While height isn’t typically something that’s tracked by HR, if your team feels like there’s an area of bias, consider having your HR team track the height of every team member as well as their position and how often they are promoted. This will give you some data to determine if your taller coworkers are actually favored at your company.
For many people, their hairstyle is a way to express themselves. It’s not uncommon to see someone with blue or pink hair, a shaved head, or a gender nonconforming hairstyle, especially when you work in a creative field.
While you’re sure to notice someone with non-traditional hair color, you might also be discriminated against simply for having blonde, brown, red, or even natural hair.
It’s not uncommon to see Black colleagues in dreads or braids. Unfortunately, many of them are sent home for not fitting into a company’s “corporate” image.
Unlike age, sex, race, and disabilities, there aren’t any federal laws preventing companies from discriminating against someone’s hair.
Hair is typically categorized in your employee handbook under grooming or appearance, leaving it up to your company’s discretion.
In 2019, California became the first state to pass a law prohibiting discrimination due to someone’s hairstyle. The CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) was enacted to ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles such as braids, dreadlocks, twists, and knots by extending statutory protection to hair texture.
While hair discrimination happens to a lot of Black men and women, it also happens to redheads and blondes. According to Sage, 60% of males and 47% of females with red hair say they have suffered discrimination due to their hair color.
To tackle bias against hair in the workplace, make sure you review your company's policies on grooming and appearance. Make sure you are paying close attention to the wording.
If the policy isn’t clear cut, you’re leaving it open for each employee to make their own interpretation of what you’re trying to say, leading no one to fully understand the purpose and outcome of the policy.
When adding something to your policy, make sure there is rationale behind it. For example, do you have a business case for saying employees can’t have dreadlocks or purple hair?
When creating or adjusting your policy, ask yourself this question, “Is an employee able to adequately perform their job with this hairstyle or hair color?” If you can answer yes, then it’s time to re-evaluate your policy.
What your team can do to tackle these areas of discrimination
While we all gather assumptions and create an image in our head of what someone would or should look like, it’s crucial to not quickly jump to conclusions.
It all starts with realizing we all have unconscious biases.
Your company should be creating a safe environment for your employees to be themselves. Often when an employee feels discriminated against or unable to bring their whole self to work every day, they likely won’t show you their full potential.
Not only will your employees be less engaged and productive, but they aren’t empowered to help make your company a great place to work.
Remember, this initiative isn’t just for HR; everyone on the team should take time to reflect on their biases and identify what constitutes discrimination in the workplace. You can do that by having recurring trainings that focus on identifying various biases and what everyone on the team can do to recognize their own.
To fully understand which biases you might have, consider taking Harvard’s Implicit Association Test. Once you know which perceptions are likely to be formed by unconscious bias you can be proactive in addressing them.
Overall, It also might be time for your company to modernize its corporate policies to ensure your language and what you’re saying doesn’t favor one gender or race or encourage discrimination.
Lastly, create a safe space that empowers your employees to feel comfortable speaking out and reporting any instances of discrimination. It can be as simple as someone feeling comfortable enough to point out something that could be perceived as biased to creating an internal process for receiving grievances.
Be sure to check out Sage’s infographic below to learn about the other areas of discrimination in the workplace and how you and your team can overcome them.
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