The United Nations observes 1 March as Zero Discrimination Day. This annual celebration seeks to promote equality, inclusion and peace in an effort to bring an end to discrimination.
Discrimination is prevalent in society and often occurs in situations where people do not even recognise remarks or acts as being discriminatory. The various forms of discriminatory practices or remarks that exist in society, the workplace and institutions of higher learning include the following:
- Racial discrimination – This form of discrimination continues to exist in society. There has been great advances to redress this form of discrimintion for previously disadvantaged groups. Where this form of discrimination is found, one race usually enjoys preference over the other.
- Disability discrimination – Persons living with disabilities still tend to experience challenges in accessing employment in certain workplaces. Many buildings in corporate South Africa are not equipped to accommodate persons with disabilities, creating frustration for both potential employees and customers.
- Gender discrimination – Although this form of discrimination is prevalent in most workplaces, it is more prevalent in male-dominated industries such as mining and construction, where the tendency is to give preference to male applicants for certain positions. The drive for gender parity is a continuous goal for most sectors and organisations.
- Sexual orientation discrimination – In most organisations employees first gauge the openness to diversity before disclosing their sexual orientation, since doing so without understanding the corporate culture can be detrimental to their careers as it creates a barrier to upward career mobility. With this form of discrimination, people often feel that their sexual orientation is not accommodated, which spurs feelings of non-belonging.
- Age discrimination – Older employees might be discriminated against due to their age and the assumption that they will be reluctant or unable to adapt to change. In the higher education sector, students who are much younger or older than their fellow students may also experience age discrimination.
- Religious discrimination – Religious discrimination occurs in many organisations. In some organisations, marginalised individuals’ religious dietary requirements are not catered for during events, as a result of which they either do not attend social workplace gatherings, or attend but do not eat. Marginalised students at institutions of higher learning also feel isolated when their religious beliefs are not considered when the academic calendar is compiled and they are, for example, expected to write exams on the Sabbath or festive days such as Eid and Diwali.
- Language discrimination – Within the higher education sector, not understanding a particular language spoken by pockets of employees tends to exclude staff and students students. Staff members in some organisations can miss important communications due to language barriers. Using a particular language with which some students in the class are not familiar is discriminatory as it excludes those students and does not contribute to ensuring an inclusive classroom environment.
- Parental status discrimination – Women who have children and aspire to climb the corporate ladder are usually discriminated against. Generally, single women are more likely to be promoted than married women, who are stereotyped as being too focused on their homes and taking care of children, and are perceived as not being committed to their careers.
Discrimination exists everywhere and it is important for people to recognise and report any discriminatory practices in their organisations. As the world observes Zero Discrimination Day and advocates against discriminatory practices, laws and policies, we need to be constantly aware of, and act against all forms of discrimination to ensure that we become part of the solution and not the problem.
Professor Nasima Carrim is a Professor in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences' (EMS) Department of Human Resource Management and is Chair of the EMS Diveristy and Inclusion Committee.
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