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We ask a local HR professional how to know when you are experiencing racism or prejudice in the workplace and what you can do about it.
Prejudice in the workplace doesn’t always come in the form of obvious slurs or outward aggression. According to Jeff Agranoff, chief human resources officer and HR consulting principal at White Plains’ Grassi Advisors & Accountants, racism in the workplace can sometimes present itself in much more subtle ways. “Unfortunately, a lot of people tend to give preferential treatment,” says Agranoff. “Whether its racism, prejudice, or [a leader] just happens to like somebody better, the key is looking for inconsistency among treatment. That is one of the telltale signs of racism or prejudice.”
There are several other ways that two employees at the same company can face quite dissimilar work environments. Agranoff explains that these can include differing pay scales, hours, schedules, compensation, overall treatment, discussions, and the amount of time a supervisor spends with an employee. “I know that it’s always challenging, but a supervisor or member of the management team really should try to give equal time, supervision, and mentorship, wherever possible, to their employees, especially those performing the same task,” says Agranoff.
However, this doesn’t mean that more blatant racism or prejudice doesn’t occur as well. “A more extreme example is people making comments about other people’s culture in a derogatory manner,” adds Agranoff, who has consulted in his position at Grassi for several different industries in Westchester and beyond. “Unfortunately, it happens much more than I would like to say.”
So, what can you do about it? Turns out, quite a bit. The first task is to know when it’s time to speak up if you think you are experiencing workplace prejudice. “I don’t think it’s ever too early,” explains Agranoff. “Maybe you don’t go directly to human resources or a member of the executive team of your company right away. Maybe you go more to a direct supervisor, if that supervisor is not the issue, or even a peer, just to run the situation past them. There is nothing wrong with speaking up, but I think if you see a couple of repeat incidents, you definitely have to bring it up to the appropriate channels. In most cases, that is either through the HR function at your company or a member of senior management.”
“There is nothing wrong with speaking up, but I think if you see a couple of repeat incidents, you definitely have to bring it up to the appropriate channels.”
– Jeff Agranoff
After you say something, make sure that there is some form of follow-up. “It is important to solve that issue and make sure the appropriate members of the leadership team understand, identify, and fix the problem. Not reporting the information and leaving these situations unresolved only creates more problems down the line,” notes Agranoff. “Continue to watch to make sure that you are being given an opportunity to succeed that is equal to your peers in the same position and be careful to watch and ensure there is no retribution or retaliation toward you if that information gets reported.”
Finally, if management refuses to take proper steps or there is some form of retaliation, you may want to take legal action. “Of course, people want to use legal recourse as a last resort, but it is important to reserve that right,” explains Agranoff. “Our recommendation is if an employee feels they have tried multiple times to have a situation resolved and haven’t been able to, they should speak to HR leadership or the executive leadership of that company and be clear that they have a legal right to be given this opportunity and fair treatment. Obviously, if they brush it off or don’t respond to it appropriately, then people potentially should look to pursue legal action to defend their rights.”