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Discrimination Behind Closed Doors July 9, 2013

Posted by Sneha Khilay - Blue Tulip Training in Uncategorized.

HandsDuring a recent conversation, Sunil was indignant that he hadn’t been promoted.  He was convinced that, even though he felt entitled to the promotion, he did not get it because of his race.  Sunil, who is of Indian origin, lamented that the Equality legislation was in namesake only and that organisations still have to make long term, effective changes before equality is fully embedded.  Towards the end of our conversation, Sunil told me that he was inviting a few colleagues for drinks to his home the following Saturday. He added that Peter, another team colleague, had not been invited.  In response to my query, Sunil explained that, whilst he is happy to interact with Peter at work, he would feel uncomfortable about inviting him to his home.  Peter is gay.

I reflected on this conversation and recognised that some do succumb to the ‘pressure’ and expectation of being inclusive in their professional lives and indeed do interact with colleagues from different backgrounds in a respectful manner.  However, there seems to be a different impetus when managing differences in our personal lives.  What became evident from my conversation with Sunil was that not only was he concerned about how his friends and family would behave towards Peter, he was anxious about the reaction from his family; that he was socialising with someone who is gay.  Sunil explained that, given homosexuality is a taboo subject in his family; he would not want to experience his family’s anger and disapproval.

We select and sift through who we want interact and be friendly with, both at and outside work; our matching processes are inevitably based on similarities –  interests, values, personality etc.  It is apparent, based on conversations with friends and colleagues that in some instances, social (personal) interaction hadn’t taken place due to anxiety as to how to behave towards someone who is different and therefore unknown.  There are stories of women going through a divorce, who are not invited to events dominated by couples.  In one instance, a person who followed a vegan diet was not invited to a dinner party as the host did not know how to cater for her.

Whilst it can be argued that people are entitled to invite and engage with whoever they choose to in their personal lives, my concern is that not inviting someone only because of their difference inevitably becomes ‘discrimination behind closed doors’.  Elements within the definition of discrimination include whether there was an intention to exclude and what the impact was on the recipient.  Sunil clearly and intentionally excluded Peter from an invitation to his home, taking the view that, as Peter was unaware of the exclusion, he was not affected.  Sunil argued that he could not handle Peter’s difference in his personal life and, if Peter does not know that he was excluded, then it doesn’t matter.

Are we, behind closed doors, maintaining a form of segregation, an exclusivity of ‘let’s interact with people who look, talk, behave and think like us’?  Is this acceptable, especially as no legislation, policies or procedures govern the selection process, a process whereby people aren’t invited to an event purely because their perceived difference does not fit the host’s standards / norms of ‘acceptability’, whatever that may be.

For me, this means that even those of us who consider that we have been treated well at work may not really know what is said when we are out of the room.  Is there a subliminal message of ‘I cannot deal with your difference’ when not inviting someone to events?  And, even if the person concerned is unaware of their exclusion, this exclusion is quite possibly apparent to those who have been included.

Fundamentally, we live in a discriminatory world whether we like it or not. Of course this is not to say that there are no liberal-minded people to whom differences do not matter.  But between them and the Sunils of the world, there is a broad swathe of humankind who, if we are honest, discriminate behind closed doors.  Whether it is a coping mechanism or a cop out, nevertheless it is negative bias.

“I hate these affairs”, he’d told her once, tearing up an engraved invitation to an exclusive charity ball.  “They’re the worst kind of discrimination.  An invitation doesn’t really mean that you’re invited; it means that a whole lot of people aren’t”. 


Melinda Cross, One Hour of Magic



1. Anselm - July 10, 2013

Great article. It highlights the difficulty of attaining a discrimination environment because of the constant collision of values. Moving to understanding difference and acheiving the tolerance needed for diversity is still a journey.

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