So Your Co-Worker Is A Bigot
How to handle racist, sexist and other prejudiced colleagues without getting into fights
Their social media posts are appalling; rants and ravings from a hater. Even at work prejudiced people sometimes forget themselves, making comments that insult ethnic co-workers, female staff, people who are LGBTQ, the differently abled…
Bigots. Their intolerance of diversity can turn one’s stomach. Yet here they are, maybe someone who sits nearby or is on a team with you. Do you let their noxious behaviour go unchallenged, or is it time to take constructive action?
Understanding the Bigot’s Mindset
Employer policies strictly prohibit racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. Human rights laws are in place to ensure equal treatment. So why would someone violate workplace rules and express their repellant views?
Mainly because their biases run deep – possibly ingrained early by their parents and peer group – but so far they haven’t faced enough deterrents to change their behaviour. They may not even be entirely aware of the impact they’re having.
In any case it makes a bigot feel (falsely) superior to negatively judge others based on over-simplified, often pointless criteria, such as skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, or country of origin.
Bullying vs. Harassment And Discrimination
It’s one thing for a colleague to make disparaging comments, another thing if they act or speak in ways that discriminate. Knowing the difference helps when deciding how to respond.
According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, “Bullying is usually seen as acts or verbal comments…intended to intimidate, offend, or humiliate a particular person or group of people. Harmful remarks and jokes fall under this umbrella, as do divisive or exclusionary actions”.
Harassment is when bullying is based on factors protected under Canada’s Human Rights Act. In addition to ones mentioned above, included are age, marital or family status, and gender identity. It’s a form of discrimination to treat affected individuals differently when it deprives them of dignity or equal opportunity.
Bullies should usually be dealt with internally by management or HR. When threats or violence are involved it may become a police matter too. Harassment follows a similar path. However there are also provincial Human Rights Tribunals that can intervene if employers don’t address issues adequately.
How NOT To Deal With A Bigot
Can’t you just walk up to a chauvinist or racist and yell at them to stop? You could, but it probably won’t do much good, and might get you pegged as a hothead. Same goes for arguing publicly or threatening them in some way.
Don’t stoop to their level either. Spreading offensive rumours or belittling them to their face won’t change their beliefs. Instead it could harm your reputation. You might also end up in a confrontation that spirals out of control.
Whether a bigot’s words and actions hurt you or someone else, merely being exposed can sicken you. Thus try to avoid the offender as much as possible.
That may not be feasible at work. Therefore a first step could be letting the transgressor know the impact their behaviour is having. Taking them aside for a discreet and constructive conversation might be all that’s needed.
Give a few concrete examples of what they’ve been doing. Ask if they realize how uncomfortable it’s making you. If other co-workers have raised concerns, and they permit you to use their names, insert them for support. Say that you would like to settle this amicably, though you are prepared to escalate if required. Meanwhile document the offensive activities and your responses. Consider using your mobile phone to record incidents as a last resort.
If initial efforts fail you can always escalate. Begin with your boss, then HR, then get (inexpensive) legal advice if no resolution is reached. Just because a colleague is narrow-minded about diversity doesn’t mean you and your associates should have to endure their ignorance.