How to Address Discriminatory or Inappropriate Comments at Work

Author: Casey Gale       

Business event strategists hold meetings with vendors, venues, CVBs, and more on a regular basis. Because of the sheer volume of interactions planners have with others every day, the chance of encountering some sort of workplace bias, discrimination, or microaggression is high. According to Rania H. Anderson, international speaker, executive business coach, and author of WE: Men, Women, and the Decisive Formula for Winning at Work, everyone has a responsibility to call out these damaging behaviors.

“Some airports and public places have posted signs that say, ‘If you see something, say something.’ That’s the same advice to follow if you witness bias or discrimination,” Anderson said. “You are not a bystander. You are a witness. Don’t ignore a biased comment, demeaning language, or inappropriate humor used in person or sent digitally.”

Here are Anderson’s tips on how to address a biased, discriminatory, or inappropriate comment from a fellow colleague:

  • Do not laugh, as it could normalize the behavior.
  • “Take a cue from young people,” Anderson suggested, “who are fond of simply saying ‘not cool.’”
  • Ask “Are you saying…?” to the offender and repeat their words back to them. This will give them the opportunity to understand how their remark came across to others.
  • “Appeal to their self-perception,” Anderson wrote. “Say, ‘I’ve always thought you were a fair person.’”
  • Stop the conversation to ask that the offender not speak that way in front of you, or explain that your organization does not accept that kind of behavior.
  • Express concern for the person who was inappropriately treated.

“I won’t minimize the difficulty of taking some of these actions or saying some of these things,” Anderson wrote. But “every elimination of a microaggression or a macroaggression helps.”