The poison of prejudice and discrimination in the work place
When working with clients and organisations, coaches are privileged to gain a window into an organisation’s culture and behaviour. Staff may not be treated well and sadly it is often not what should be expected of the workplace in 2019.
Client's spend time with their coach learning to trust and they begin to unwind their stories. The common parlance and the easy stuff is usually about the boss, the colleagues, the work they do, the pressure they are under, the market, redundancy programmes, wages, promotion, opportunities (or lack of), the hours, 'is the job the right fit?', or 'am I even in the right business for me?'.
However, and not uncommonly, clients begin to disclose the difficult stuff, the stuff that is not wanted to be acknowledged nor discussed. Clients are overlooked, ignored, or not listened to. Clients who are subtly or not so subtly bullied. Clients may disclose their shame; shame about mental health, depression, and anxiety. Fear of the bosses. Fear of losing a job.
The shadows of racism and sexism linger at all levels. Organisations may be ethnically diverse but sexist ‘male, pale and stale’ senior members of staff may not be so inclusive. And despite the #MeToo movement, the world is taking a long time to change. Despite policies, law, and codes of conduct, the world is only slowly changing when it comes to core beliefs, biases, prejudices and behaviours.
Bullying may be overt but pride can prevent people from divulging, admitting and accepting that they have been victims of bullying, and hidden bullying can be easier to try and ignore. For some, it can be a very difficult process to make this ‘admission’. However, naming what it actually is, is a breakthrough moment. With sensitive support and handling, admitting and acceptance are the keys to freedom from bullying and the first step to empowerment and change.
Once the level of trust is in place and coachees can name and see how they have been victims of discrimination and/or bullying and coercion, the implications and impacts need to be acknowledged. This difficult stage of reaction often leads to feelings of anger which is the natural response. Time is needed here for coachees to process the anger.
As coachees move through their reactions, there is now a real opportunity for completely different behaviour in the workplace. It is that of being valued and included, not discriminated against, excluded and devalued because of prejudice, but this does not happen overnight. There are questions of how to develop trust in the organisation, or indeed stay in the organisation. There will be lingering anger and resentment. Is it possible to get ‘back in the saddle’? These are all significant questions which take time to reconcile and make sense of.
This period of rebuilding with a new approach takes confidence. Is it about assertiveness and self-confidence? Is the Human Resources department going to be informed? Does the client want to raise a formal complaint? Once the victim has named the prejudice there may be no option for them but to leave.
There are ways to counteract and regain self-worth. Acknowledgement is the first step to empowerment.
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