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All I want is a little respect! How to deal with discrimination at interview and in work

July 20, 2012

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen a few graduates presenting with essentially the same dilemma, “I have a CV which has enabled me to progress to interview but once at interview, the dynamics have changed, or I feel singled out in the workplace, is it because of my age/physical disability/ hijab?…”

The truth is I can’t say for certain that this is down to stereotyping or discrimination, I just don’t know. I’d like to think that employers nowadays are much more informed given the Equality Act 2010, and savvy enough to want a diverse workforce. This not only benefits employers by way of pulling together different strengths, experiences and perspectives but also reflects the diversity of their community and indeed client base.

The Equality and Human Right Commission (EHRC) states that it is not a requirement for an employer to meet someone or interview them before offering a job. However ifyou [the employer] decide to interview job applicants, whether…face to face or over the phone, or to give them a test, then you must not unlawfully discriminate against a job applicant in the way you carry out the meeting, interview or test”.

It’s perhaps a little harder to ‘prove’ that discrimination has taken place at interview. If you feel that you’ve been treated less favourably, then it might be worth making notes straight after the interview about what you were asked, any comments you felt were inappropriate and to ask for feedback. It might also be worth raising this with the personnel department.

I must stress here that I am by no means a legal expert and am drawing on my equality and employment law knowledge from my time at Citizens Advice. Therefore for impartial advice on your legal rights, please contact the EHRC, Citizens Advice or your local law centre.

I’m now going to move on to discuss discrimination in the workplace, and your options. I would like to firstly cover what we mean by discrimination. Essentially it’s treating someone less favourably because of their:

Gender, Disability, Age, Race, Sexual orientation, marriage or civil partnership, Pregnancy, Ethnic background, Nationality or Religious beliefs.

*NB: These categories are not exhaustive but are specifically protected by the Equality Act 2010. Full details here.

Discrimination itself can take shape in many forms such as:

Direct – e.g. adverts specifically asking for young people or targeting females or males only. There are legal exemptions to this, where it is an ‘occupational requirement’ of the role e.g. a female support worker working in a refuge for female-only domestic violence victims.

Indirect – an advert or work rule that seems to single out or put a specific group of people at a disadvantage.

Harassment – this might be for example offensive sexist, racist or homophobic nicknames or comments, or harassment or inappropriate behaviour even at social events such as the Christmas party.

Victimisation – a concerted effort to treat someone differently following a complaint they have made, this might be blocking progression or professional development e.g. not allowing people to go on training courses or for promotion.

A 2010 survey How fair is Britain? The First Triennial Review’, commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), found that 1 in 3 people who faced discrimination, did not take any further action. Also disabled people, migrant workers and LGBT staff were more likely to report incidents of discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

Some other key findings:

  • People with a disability or long-term illness are over twice as likely to report bullying or harassment in the workplace as non-disabled people.
  • 45% of disabled people in their 20’s are not in education, employment or training (NEET)
  • Muslim people have the lowest rate of employment of any religious group. Only 47% of Muslim men and 24% of Muslim women are employed and figures suggest that 42% of young Muslim people are NEET, compared to middle aged Muslim men.
  • 40% of female jobs are in the public sector compared to 15% of male jobs.
  • LGB people are twice as likely to be report discrimination and nearly twice as likely to report unfair treatment as heterosexuals.
  • Transgender people highlight transitioning at work as one of the most significant triggers for discrimination.

You might say that this doesn’t necessarily mean the number of incidents is up, surely it’s an indication that reporting of such matters has improved, which shows that employers do take these incidents seriously.

This might be the case or indeed any number of other factors could come into play, such as life chances, networks, social capital, level of education, career aspirations, cultural, religious or gender differences. Perhaps on some level we still consider certain groups as ‘not one of us’ and therefore not a good ‘fit’ for our organisation.  Whatever your view, what it does suggest is that although we have come a long way, there’s still a way to go.

Seven steps to take if you feel you have been discriminated against:

  1. What would you like to happen? Do you just want to make the individual aware and for the treatment to stop, do you want to move out of the department, do you want to continue to work for the company etc. Think about what you would like to happen to resolve this.
  2. Do you feel comfortable enough to speak to the individual/s making the comments? Is it possible they are unaware of how their behaviour might be offensive?
  3. Try to keep a diary or record of incidents, when and where they took place, what was said, details of witnesses, dates you reported the behaviour etc. Especially if the treatment continues.
  4. If anything was sent via email, save these documents as well.
  5. Know your rights, reread your contract terms and conditions or your office policies on discrimination or your rights under the Equality Act.
  6. Speak to your Line Manager or someone in HR about how to resolve this or what the company grievance process is.
  7. Consider mediation either informally with your Manager and someone from HR or contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).
  8. If you feel the situation is still unresolved, seek legal advice, especially if you are considering lodging a claim with an employment tribunal. Any claim must be lodged within 3 months of the incident.

A final point here, being treated unfavourably, can make you feel very isolated, but strength can also come in shining a spotlight on this behaviour. Once you do and employers are aware, they can address the issue, it’s in their interests to, not least because of your legal rights and their legal obligations to have dignity at work.

Ultimately no employer wants an unpleasant work environment, it’s counter-productive. I think it’s fair to say that everyone in the workplace would like to be judged on their contributions, on the things we say and do, not on ‘what’ we are, and that’s as it should be.

Read more for useful information, advice and guidance organisations.

Useful Links:

You don’t have to put up with it! PDF Guide by

Identifying discrimination in employment – PDF

Stonewall – The Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Charity

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

Citizens Advice

Law Centres

Legal Services Commission  – Can help you find legal advice and support organizations

Direct.Gov pages on discrimination

The Law Society

Age UK

Disability Law Service


RADAR – umbrella organization, campaigning for equal rights for disabled people

Terence Higgins Trust – Leading HIV and sexual health charity

Gingerbread – supporting single parent families

Rights of Women

The Gender Trust – support transsexual, gender dysphoric and transgender people or those who are affected by gender identity issues. The helpline and provides training and information for employers and organisations.

Interfaith Network

The Lesbian and Gay Foundation

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Elizabeth (Careers Service) permalink
    July 23, 2012 11:54 am

    Reblogged this on Manchester Postgraduate Careers Blog and commented:
    This is really good detailed post on dealing with discrimination at work from Tahira Majothi over at the University of Salford Careers Service.

    I’d also add that if you are concerned about whether you will be discriminated against at interview stage, for example for wearing a symbol of your religion, you can also ask yourself: “Would I want to work for someone who would discriminate against someone for wearing a hijab / cross etc?” Frankly, I don’t think they deserve you if they act like that (but you can still challenge them!)

    • tahiram permalink*
      July 23, 2012 4:02 pm

      Hi Elizabeth, thank you so much for reblogging this. I totally agree with your comment, I hope readers have some useful tips to take away from this.

      As one of my colleagues said to me “We spend most of our time in work, if we are lucky, it’s a place you should feel safe and comfortable”.

      Best wishes


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