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Subtle Ways Racism Can Enter Your Work Environment

By July 30, 2021July 12th, 2022Leadership, Small Business

Racial discrimination in the workplace is not only horribly unfortunate, but illegal. 

One study found that 69% of Black, 53% of Asian and 45% of white employees have suffered a racist incident at work. No matter what kind of company you run, these statistics are shocking. While some acts of racism are blatant, others are much more subtle. In either circumstance, it can take a substantial mental toll on employees and cause distress. Racism amongst employees, employers, and clients is unacceptable. 

The first step to ridding your business of racial discrimination is to recognize it when it happens. Interactions, policies, or behaviors that seem harmless on the surface add to the problem. Here are four subtle ways racism is entering your work environment.

Harmful Assumptions

Jumping to conclusions based on race is destructive and demeaning. Employers and employees may find themselves making assumptions based on stereotypes when speaking with new clients, explaining a new concept, or providing feedback. Though an individual may ascribe to attributes of a particular race-based stereotype, it is still a stereotype. It is never appropriate to assume characteristics, skill-level, or details about one’s personal life based on race. 

Ignorant Language

Racial slurs, nicknames, and jokes can easily turn a friendly conversation into discrimination. Employees come from various backgrounds, cultures, and environments. If a particular use of a word or phrase is offensive to someone of another background, the individual may not realize the gravity of the word or phrase. Firmly and quickly correcting derogatory language will help every member of your team feel comfortable at work.


Gaslighting has become a trigger word within the last year and a half. The official definition, according to Psychology Today, is a tactic in which a person makes a victim question their reality in order to gain more power. Typical techniques include denying something when there’s proof, projecting onto others, and telling blatant lies. Racial gaslighting occurs when the victim is led to doubt their own sense of reality regarding racism and racist remarks and actions.

When someone brings up a concern about racial discrimination, is is crucial that their voice is heard and not downplayed. No one should feel they have to compromise their racial or cultural identity at work to please them or make them feel comfortable. . 

Unfair promotions

Racism can be present when distributing bonuses, promotions, and hiring. Racial bias is damaging at personal, career, and organizational levels and can deeply impact the financial situation of your employees. 

Just because a person is highly specialized and plenty qualified does not mean they are not affected by systemic racism. It is critical to be conscious that you are not taking race into account when making decisions about employees (whether positive or negative).

Employees who have witnessed or experienced an act of racism must feel comfortable enough to discuss, validate and process it. This requires a no-judgement space and readily available resources. 

Whether through a human resources representative, a manager, or simply another colleague, giving your employees a safe place to turn is crucial. Avoiding racism is not enough, employers must be proactive about promoting inclusion, diversity, and accessibility. 

Race can be an uncomfortable subject and one many avoid. If racial discrimination has taken place however, the worst response is to do nothing. The only way to combat racism is to make it known. 

Check out the resources offered by the Center for Racial Injustice here.

For more information on Race/Color Discrimination, you can visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission here.