Why Back Handed Compliments Can Be a Covert Form of Discrimination [Research Breakdown]

This is the second of a three part series exploring subtle forms of discrimination in the workplace. As mentioned in the previous episode, there’s a lot of evidence to show that discrimination of all kinds exists in organisations. But it’s often hard to identity or intervene because overt forms of discrimination are less frequently in society thanks to changing attitudes and improved legislation; however many covert forms of discrimination still remain.

Today, I’m going to be talking about a covert form of prejudice that is SO subtle that when you observe it actually looks like a compliment.

In todays show I discuss several things including:

  • The difference between prejudice and discrimination
  • How compliments can be used to mask prejudice
  • How ineffective employee resource groups can fuel harmful stereotypes and much much more

Here’s some of what I share in the show:

The difference between prejudice and discrimination

I describe the relationship between prejudice and discrimination:

“Prejudice, the clue is in the name. pre judge, in this context it refers to preconceived notions about people based on their social identity or membership of a particular group. It’s what someone thinks. Discrimination is prejudice in action. When people are treated unfairly because of the prejudice.”

Qualified Compliments

I explain how qualified compliments can be used to mask prejudice in the workplace

“As an individual, being told that you are smart, hardworking or talented will naturally feel like a compliment. Your opinion may change if the compliment is then qualified by a negative remark about a group that you belong to.”

Avoiding Employee Resource Groups

I explain how ineffective employee resource groups can deter potential members:

“This matters for your employee resource group because if you don’t have a compelling purpose guiding your resource group, and if you’re not seen to be pursuing it. Then there’s a good chance that potential members won’t want to get involved.”

Here are some selected links to for the resources and reports I discuss in the episode.

Show Notes

Covert Discrimination Part 1: Garlic Bread & The Normalising Gaze

Professor Koen Van Lear

Dr Maddy Janssens

Ethnic minority professionals’ experiences with subtle discrimination in the workplace

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The Elements of Inclusion #4

Leaders must collaborate innovatively to leverage cultural expertise and drive business performance.

  • Why inclusive outcomes are driven by innovation
  • How developing a business case for diversity and inclusion specific to your organisation is a competitive advantage
  • Why novelty is at the heart of your inclusion journey

The Elements of Inclusion #3

Leaders must establish systems to ensure that everyone shares the same advantages and benefits. These processes will create incentives for inclusive behaviours.

  • How to augment your team with the tools and insights they need to prevent structural disadvantage
  • Why reinforcing generative norms ensures everyone belongs in the organisation
  • How inclusive representations can be embedded to promote an inclusive culture

The Elements of Inclusion #2

Leaders must redefine career development relationships to support inclusive performance.
  • Why traditional mentor relationships must be revised for an inclusive workplace
  • How leaders must embrace networks of developmental relationships for individual growth
  • Why established workplace norms must evolve for inclusion in the modern workplace

The Elements of Inclusion #1

Leaders must properly socialise people and socialise inclusive ideas by providing an environment for the cultural learning needed for an active role in an inclusive organisation

  • How your socialisation processes must evolve to encourage the sustainable cultivation of inclusive competencies
  • Why Leaders must consistently negotiate the line between organisational commitment and personal authenticity to promote performance
  • How developing intersectional self awareness can help leaders to leverage individual employee experiences