Have you ever faced people’s strange reactions to you because you are “different”?
A pregnant job applicant notices a hiring manager avoids eye contact with her during her interview and wonders whether it is because of her growing baby bump.
An overweight retail store associate is placed in the stockroom moving boxes and contemplates whether this is due to her physical appearance.
You may wonder whether these behaviors are discrimination or you are just being too sensitive.
This kind of ambiguity can be called as “subtle discrimination”.
In light of strong contemporary norms for egalitarianism, subtle discrimination pervades modern workplaces—particularly when perpetrators experience cognitive dissonance between this norm and their beliefs. Jones and Arena (2017: 51) argue that the definition of “subtle discrimination in the workplace” has three basic features:
1. Subtlety—the extent to which it is obviously tied to a target’s stigmatized characteristic
2. Formality—the extent to which it has direct job-related implications for the target
3. Intentionality of the perpetrator
Everyone plays a part in the process of subtle discrimination at work
(as targets, perpetrators, bystanders, and allies)
We all bear some responsibility for remediating it!
Nittrouer, Christine L., Natalya M. Alonso, and Alex P. Lindsey. 2017. “Subtle Discrimination in the Workplace: A Vicious Cycle.” Industrial and Organizational Psychology 10(1): 51–76.