Schedule demo
Diversity and Inclusion, Employee experience

Workplace discrimination: What are the types and do some groups have it worse?

45% of employees have either witnessed or experienced ageism at their workplace.

A mere 5.8% of women hold CEO positions in S&P 500 companies, even when they account for over 44% of the workforce.

53% of LGBTQIA+ people report hearing offensive jokes at work.

At least one-third of advertised vacancies are closed to applicants from ethnic minority groups.

These numbers make it amply clear that discrimination is still rampant at workplaces. But it doesn’t just end there.

The other thing these numbers give out is that certain groups are more prone to being discriminated against at workplaces and in the job market, while others have it easy. So, even though workplaces are getting more inclusive, we still have a long way to go.

So, if workplaces understood discrimination and all its nuances, would they be more equipped to work towards changing these numbers for the better? Most definitely. And that’s exactly what this blog intends to help with. Read on.

What exactly is workplace discrimination?

What is workplace discrimination

While the term gets thrown around a lot in DE&I discussions and every organization pledges to keep their employees safe from any kind of workplace discrimination, the meaning of the term isn’t very difficult to understand.

Workplace discrimination takes into account any incident wherein an employer treats an employee unfairly purely based on their gender, sexual orientation, race, caste, ethnicity, age, religion, or disability. Discrimination could be in favor of or against the said employee and is prohibited under state and federal laws.

Workplace discrimination takes into its ambit any work-related issues such as hiring, termination, promotions, rewards and recognition, salary or wages, availability of benefits, and even general workplace behaviour. Even when a workplace policy applies to all employees, it might need to be removed if found to be discriminatory.

Is there more than one type of workplace discrimination? Yes. Here’s how many.

Types of workplace discrimination

Workplace discrimination can be roughly divided into four broad categories: direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimization. While they’re all equally harmful, here’s what each means.

Direct discrimination

This sort of workplace discrimination refers to open acts of discrimination or unfair treatment by an employer based on certain protected characteristics of an employee. Discrimination on the basis of someone else’s protected characteristics, also known as associative discrimination or discrimination by association, or based on protected characteristics an employee/candidate is assumed to have, also known as discrimination by perception, is also covered under direct discrimination.

A typical example of direct discrimination would be a job interview wherein a female candidate is asked questions about their marital and maternity status while the male candidates aren’t. More often than not such questions are not generic and can influence an organization’s decision to hire or not hire an individual.

When an employee is kept out of workplace outings or social gatherings after their partner has had a sex reassignment surgery, what they are facing is an example of discrimination by association. Such discrimination can eventually lead to demotivation and a toxic working environment for the employee who is being discriminated against.

Discrimination by perception occurs when a potential employer overlooks a candidate named Waheeda for the position of store manager of a liquor store on the assumption that she would not want to work with or around liquor. The fact that Waheeda might not be a Muslim or might not mind this position despite being one does not strike the potential employer only goes on to show how much damage assumptions can cause.

Indirect discrimination

Such discrimination occurs when a company policy or provision puts certain groups or individuals with protected characteristics at a disadvantage. Indirect discrimination is not always visible but can often be more harmful than direct discrimination. 

Discrimination of this sort can be pardoned if the employer has a valid business reason, also known as objective justification, to put such a policy in place or if it comes under the ambit of positive discrimination.

A classic example of indirect discrimination would be making it mandatory for employees to dress a certain way, thereby making certain groups feel disadvantaged. Avoiding or wearing certain pieces of clothing might not be possible for people of all religions and this is something an organization needs to take into consideration when putting a very strict dress code in place.


Discrimination of this type occurs when an employee or candidate faces unwanted and offensive behaviour. For such behaviour to be classified as discriminatory it has to be motivated by the victim’s protected characteristic or the assumption of one and lead to a toxic work environment. Harassment can include name-calling, the usage of racist slurs, physical gestures, graffiti, facial expressions, offensive emails, sexual advances, threats, or any other form of physical or verbal abuse.

A common example of such discrimination would be a manager who constantly pokes fun at an employee’s accent and lack of command over the English language. Dealing with such a situation on a daily basis can make an employee lose confidence and affect their mental health.


A form of retaliation, such discrimination usually occurs after an employee registers their grievance or complaint about unfair treatment. In some cases, an employer anticipates that an employee will file a complaint or grievance and starts to victimize the latter as a way of scaring the victim and ensuring they do not register the complaint. Victimization can also occur when an employee helps a co-worker file a complaint about workplace discrimination.

A situation wherein an employee’s promotion or appraisal is held back after they complain about workplace discrimination is a classic example of victimization. Aside from promoting an unhealthy work culture, such behaviour can also lead to massive legal issues for an organization.

Do some groups get the shortest end of the stick? Yes. These.

Groups facing more workplace discrimination

We can all agree that certain groups are a lot more vulnerable when it comes to workplace discrimination and can often get overlooked by the fairest of workplaces. Being aware of these groups ensures that HR, leadership, and even employees can be sensitized to their issues and be more aware of any discriminatory acts against them. Read on to know the groups.

Differently-abled people

Over 60% of people with impairments are eligible to join the workforce. However, they face an unemployment rate that is 80-100% higher than those without impairments. These impairments could be physical, mental, sensory, or intellectual.

The most common reason why organizations are skeptical of hiring differently-abled people is the fear that they might not be as productive. This skepticism is so deeply engrained that those with impairments also face discrimination at the hiring stage, and as per a survey conducted in France only 2% of CVs that mention an impairment are considered for a job opening. More often than not, this leads to a scenario wherein differently-abled people are only hired by agencies and for temporary jobs in an attempt to reduce perceived risk to the business owners.

Black people

While people of color also face massive discrimination at work, the numbers seem a lot higher among the Blacks. One in every four Black workers says they have faced discrimination at work and younger Black adults report facing frequent microaggressions at their workplace.

While a vast majority of Black workers face racial discrimination at work, things don’t end there. Among the microaggressions faced by young Black employees, being treated like they’re dishonest, not as smart as the others, and being treated with less courtesy or respect seem to top the list. It is also not uncommon for Black workers to be called names, insulted, threatened, or even harassed, more often than others. So, even though physical violence might not be commonly reported by Black workers, subtle acts of bullying and aggression ensure they are entirely dissuaded from even attempting to join the workforce.

Migrants and ethnic minorities

A mere 38% of countries all over the world guarantee at least some form of protection from workplace discrimination based on migrant status and/or foreign national origin. Migrant workers and ethnic minorities are also in a more vulnerable position during an economic crisis or downturn.

Discrimination against these two groups often starts at the pre-hiring or candidate screening stage itself, with several of them being denied the right to even present their credentials to a potential employer. Considering three in every five migrant workers move away from their place of origin in search of employment or to escape life-threatening situations, they have no option but to settle for temporary employment and contractual jobs with negligible remunerations.

LGBTQIA+ people

A no-brainer, DE&I initiatives still haven’t done enough to protect this group. More than 1 in every 4 employees still hasn’t come out at their workplace. Coming out is especially difficult for employees at junior levels with only one-third of employees below the senior manager level being out of the closet at work.

Coming out isn’t the only concern that LGBTQIA+ employees have when it comes to workplace discrimination. Being overlooked for career advancement opportunities even when they are more than eligible is also not uncommon. 40% of LGBTQIA+ employees feel they need to provide extra evidence of their competence and trans and nonbinary folks are more likely to be in entry-level jobs than cisgender people.


Probably the most predictable and commonly appearing entry in this list, women continue to be discriminated against at workplaces. Women employed in male-dominated organizations report a higher rate of gender discrimination. Also, 49% of women working in male-dominated organizations say sexual harassment is an issue, as opposed to 32% of women employed in female-dominated workplaces.

From being hesitant to hire women in leadership positions out of fear that they will abandon the post to look after their family and children, to paying them lesser than the male employees, gender discrimination at workplaces can take several forms. Furthermore, not all forms of gender discrimination are overt and the covert ones can often be a lot more harmful.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, the groups mentioned above are among the most commonly discriminated against. Being aware of these groups can help organizations ensure they build an effective DE&I strategy and train employees to be on the lookout for covert discrimination.

Leave a Reply

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Consent to display content from Youtube
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google
Consent to display content from Spotify
Sound Cloud
Consent to display content from Sound
Schedule demo