Research on Discrimination as a Current Human Relations Challenge

Ronald Hall

November 2, 2014

MGMT 204-V03 – Human Relations in Business -26054-201520


Scholarly Article Summary #1

“Subtle Yet Significant: The existence and Impact of Everyday Racial Discrimination in the Workplace”, Elizabeth A. Deitch, Adam Barsky, Rebecca M. Butz, Suzanne Chan, Arthur P. Brief and Jill C. Bradley

Diversity has peaked interest in prejudice and discrimination in the workplace.  Many studies have been done from the employer perspective but not from the employee perspective.  The term ‘everyday discrimination’ is used to describe racism faced by African Americans at work.

Discrimination had been traditionally focused on denial of employment or housing, what would be considered major events.  As attitudes changed, so did discrimination.  Some people may not view themselves as being prejudiced but would take to more passive expressions such as non verbal cues, or refusing to help African Americans, thus a change from larger ‘events’ to every day subtleties.  There can be uncertainties as to the motivation of observed events, as well as a lack of noticeability  due to the regular frequency of events.  ‘Every Day’ incidents tended to cause low self esteem, as well as impact depression, stress and anger.

What was found through several studies was that African Americans did indeed report everyday discrimination but didn’t refer to the treatment in those terms.  It is suggested that discrimination be defined to include characteristics of everyday discrimination.


Scholarly Article Summary #2

“See No Evil: Color Blindness and Perceptions of Subtle Racial Discrimination in the Worklace.”,  Lynn R. Offermann, Tessa E. Basford, Raluca Graebner, Salman Jaffer, Sumona Basu De Graaf, and Samuel E. Kaminsky

Subtle discrimination is replacing more major events. This kind of prejudice may even be unconsciously perpetrated. It affects both those who are being discriminated against – the victims, as well as those who witness and know about it.  It’s important that organizations be aware of this change in behavior as far as discrimination is concerned.

Microaggresions can defined as short, possibly even unintentional negative behavior towards a person of the target group. They can include being insensitive or rude towards a person of color. The concept of color blindness also comes into play, that s to say that there are individuals who don’t believe race matters, causing issues at the other end of the spectrum. This causes a lack of awareness of what racial discrimination does indeed exist.  It can become a form of denial as well  but research can show that color blind individuals may have more racial bias than non-color blind individuals.

Through studies it was found that those in minority groups did view the workplace differently. It was also considered that organizations need to do more going forward to question attitudes of color blindness.  Colorblindness was considered to be a barrier to fairness and the core irony was that those who are color blind don’t see the issues diversity presents.


Scholarly Article Summary #3

“Remedies for Discrimination: Race, Sex and Affirmative Acton”, Susan D. Clayton, Ph.D.

Summary: Affirmative Action is a business’s actions towards bringing equality to its workforce to certain groups who have a past of discrimination and disadvantage in terms of race. It’s mandatory for those doing business with the federal government.  Businesses have a wide latitude as to how they carry this out.

There is a idea that affirmative action is simply redistribution, that actions by an employer to combat discrimination with one group takes away from another.  It can also lead to the group that benefits to feel victimized. Another effect is that the group not favored resent the group that is, i.e. White employees resent African American employees.

Sexual discrimination is also a key issue. As practiced, in some situations  women were barred from certain jobs for what was considered their own protection.  In addition there are some roles that men and women have outside the workplace and  transferring aspects  of these roles to the workplace can be detrimental.

Application of Affirmative Action is speculated to not be enough. It’s speculated that there may be some other hurdles such as relational contact, skills, training, and education taht need to be overcome as far as racial application goes.

Attitudes towards Affirmative Action also have to be considered.  It was studied and speculated that negative attitudes didn’t necessarily result from organizational make up as much as recruitment efforts and efforts to target specific groups.


Scholarly Article Summary #4

“Selective Incivility: Immigrant Groups Experience Subtle Workplace Discrimination at Different Rates”, Krings, F., Johnston, C., Binggeli, S., & Maggiori, C

Immigrants are a major part of the workforce increase in America. Today’s  immigrants are educated and work in better jobs, but with this change has come subtle discrimination.

A study in Switzerland showed subtle incivility was the form of discrimination experienced by immigrants. This kind of behavior includes rudeness and lack of courteousness. Even though these behaviors may seem small, they have an impact on the experience at the workplace.

The hypothesis set forth went to compare workplace incivility between local workers and immigrants with immigrants having more issues reported. What was found was that discrimination in the form of incivility can target immigrants who are good at what they do but have less likability. It also furthers the awareness of this type of discrimination as opposed to major events like ‘hiring’.


How Discrimination Impacts Human Relations in the Workplace

Discrimination and prejudice impact human relations in the work place on individual behavior, group level behavior, and organization level behavior.  Dealing with ‘discrimination’ and its impact in the work place begins in the 1960’s with the executive order of President John F.  Kennedy formalizing ‘Affirmative Action’ to begin to deal with bias, and continues to the present day with a closer look at the change in ‘discrimination’  from ‘bigger events’ to ‘everyday’  or ‘subtle’ occurrences.

Affirmative Action was the beginning of trying to deal with discrimination and its impact in the workplace.  But what ended up happening was negative and positive. Affirmative action created some resentment among those not in the protected class, that favor was being granted to less qualified candidates – and in that, resentment followed (Clayton, S. D. ,1992).  But that negative effect paved the way for a movement and attitude to ‘value diversity’ which has had a much more positive outcome. . Discrimination can be like a bridge that a car drives over.  Eventually the toll of everyday or subtle discrimination becomes evident. It’s to the structure of a bridge. It’s designed to withstand a certain amount of weathering, weight of normal use as cars and trucks cross, and other wear and tear but eventually you begin to see the effects of accumulated stress, weathering, and use. Eventually either one big event causes the bridge to collapse or it comes under repair after  the effects become observable

Discrimination in its new form: everyday or subtle occurrences, has a deep impact on human relations. From an individual standpoint, it can be very emotionally damaging. Initially this kind of discrimination could easily be mistaken for disrespect, but as it continues on a more consistent basis, this kind of discrimination can take a toll on the individual and the tasks they are to perform.  Individuals may even wonder about their own perceptions or there may be social acceptance of this behavior at the work place. All of this can cause a degree of uncertainty among the victim. (Offermann, L. R., Basford, T. E., Graebner, R., Jaffer, S., De Graaf, S. B., & Kaminsky, S. E., 2014).  The level and quality of work may go down, and in turn some of the emotional and stress related effects may carry over into the home. Businesses employ ‘the whole person’, not just a ‘widget maker’, so subtle or every day discrimination can affect every aspect of their lives. In the individual aspect, the wear and tear on ‘the bridge’ may not be as noticeable from the outside’. Maybe someone was ignored at the coffee machine, maybe someone wasn’t greeted on the way in at the main desk in the morning.

From a group interactions perspective, this is where the effects of discrimination may peak. Group interactions as simples as greetings in the morning at the coffee machine to group projects and collaborations may suffer based on the attitudes and prejudices of others. Some individuals may not feel valued or may even feel degraded at the work place, without a quantifiable reason as to why. On a group level,  the effects of discrimination begin to show when group projects may not go very smoothly, when there is a fight over using the fax machine, or when two or more in a group lead one group member to feel unwelcome.  Group interactions on business projects can also bring out incivility. Studies have suggested that immigrants who are perceived as competent , competitive, yet lack warmth become targets for discrimination (Krings, F., Johnston, C., Binggeli, S., & Maggiori, C., 2014).  The actions taken to lead to this point may very well fall into discrimination.  ‘The bridge’ starts to show wear, a few cracks, and perhaps some instability by now.

On an organization level, discrimination can be very toxic.  Even though these incidents may seem small or minor, the outcome isn’t. (Elizabeth A. Deitch, Adam Barsky, Rebecca M. Butz, Suzanne Chan, Arthur P. Brief, and Jill C. Bradley, November 2003).  This is the level where an entire organization can be affected.  Although larger scale incidents in hiring, promotions, and compensation are where headlines are made such as  discrimination against women at Wal-Mart (Martin, 2013) or the Coca-Cola lawsuit regarding racial discrimination in 1999 (Business & Human Rights Resource Centre), it’s the much smaller ‘everyday’ discriminations that can poison a corporate culture and organizational behavior.   It can lead to demoralization as well as affect productivity on a corporate level.  This is where the ‘bridge’ collapses, under the weight and wear and tear of discrimination. It takes an amount of time to rebuild the trust of employees, the reputation of the company, and the image of the business.

‘Everyday’ discrimination is also harder to fight. Some people may not be aware they are participating in these actions and may not believe they are racist. Organizations however can make efforts towards reduction, if  they cannot completely eliminate this type of discrimination.  People at the head of organizations must adapt to this change in discriminatory behavior and human resources employees must be more observant. In the end dealing with the smaller incidents may show that an organization as it’s individuals and groups actually value diversity and create that culture (Elizabeth A. Deitch, Adam Barsky, Rebecca M. Butz, Suzanne Chan, Arthur P. Brief, and Jill C. Bradley, November 2003).

Discrimination has had an effect on human relations for decades. From the advent of ‘Affirmative Action’ to the emergence of ‘subtle’ or ‘everyday’ discrimination,  how people interact with each other has been affected by prejudices, or the lack of belief of prejudices. While ‘Affirmative Action’ has given way to a call to ‘value diversity’, there is still a distance to go before ‘subtle discrimination’  becomes ‘every person respect’. Studies continue to be conducted into these new forms of discrimination but in the end it begins on the individual level and good human relations on the individual level spreads to the group and then to the organizational level. Change can start with just one person showing every person regardless of race or gender the same respect, and that one person can set the human relations tone for the entire business. In the end, the move to ‘value diversity’ wasn’t the end of the discrimination, but the beginning of good human relations.



Offermann, L. R., Basford, T. E., Graebner, R., Jaffer, S., De Graaf, S. B., & Kaminsky, S. E.      (2014). See No Evil: Color Blindness and Perceptions of Subtle Racial Discrimination in         the Workplace. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 20(4), 499-507.    doi:10.1037/a0037237

Clayton, S. D. (1992). Remedies for Discrimination: Race, Sex and Affirmative Action.   Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 10(2), 245-257.

Elizabeth A. Deitch, Adam Barsky, Rebecca M. Butz, Suzanne Chan, Arthur P. Brief, and Jill C.             Bradley Human Relations, November 2003; vol. 56, 11: pp. 1299-1324.

Krings, F., Johnston, C., Binggeli, S., & Maggiori, C. (2014). Selective Incivility: Immigrant       Groups Experience Subtle Workplace Discrimination at Different Rates. Cultural   Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 20(4), 491-498. doi:10.1037/a0035436

Propublica. (2013). The Impact and Echoes of the Wal-Mart Discrimination Case. Retrieved        from  discrimination-case

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. Coca-Cola lawsuit (re racial discrimination in           USA). Retrieved from:      discrimination-in-usa#c9305