Ben Bierman
Ben Bierman

OPINION: Preventing discrimination in the workplace

By Ben Bierman Time of article published Sep 22, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG  - Considering the alarmingly high incidence of gender-based violence and xenophobia in South Africa, it is important that businesses  have the right precautions and policies to prevent, as far as possible, discrimination. 

Discrimination is defined as treating a person or group less favourably because of circumstances or personal characteristics such as race, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, political belief or activity, union membership or activity, impairment or disability, or obligations as a parent or carer.

Discrimination has no place in business and needs to be handled decisively and with the necessary level of sensitivity.

Herewitht are simple tips to help prevent discrimination:


Encourage open communication between management, employees and even clients, so that everyone feels heard and included at all times. Facilitate effective mediation should any conflict arise.


Values of trust and respect need to be practiced in any business.Put clear policies in place and consider on-going methods of enforcement to ensure that everyone not only knows what behaviours will not be tolerated, but the consequences as well.


Facilitate healthy conversation around the concept of being “woke” - being conscious of, or awake to subtleties of discrimination that exist in everyday language and socially accepted habits. Look to dismantle micro aggressions such as referring to women as girls and throwaway comments that might look to exclude or belittle minority groups.


While you might assume people know when they are acting in a discriminatory manner, it is advisable to offer special training to identify what constitutes as “problematic” behaviour.


Set up processes for ongoing reminders and team check-ins. This might include a talking point on the monthly meeting agenda or tips in an internal newsletter.


Set the tone for acceptable behaviour within the company. Make sure you practise what you preach. Weed out any bad apples in your management team, and motivate anyone in a position of power to also lead by example.  


Make time for staff relationship-building exercises and informal company get-togethers to help prevent “othering” or making an enemy of anyone different from yourself.

Have proper channels of communication for complaints. Help Human Resources (HR) component to facilitate a safe space for open dialogue so employees feel comfortable flagging any behaviour that could be considered discriminatory – even if it points to a client or senior colleague.

Ben Bierman is a managing director at Business Partners Limited.


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