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Have you experienced subtle discrimination at work?

The discrimination we see on TV and in movies can be easy to spot. Even by the time real stories hit the news cycle, bias can seem obvious. As the stories about people turned down for promotions or denied a new job unfold, it seems hard to miss.

Your situation, more likely, is more subtle. Perhaps you were not looking for a promotion or a new job, just a change in your work schedule. You may not have asked for anything at all but you noticed a difference in work assignments between you and your colleagues.

As people have become more aware of the trouble that can come from overt discrimination, bosses and managers have taken on more subtle ways to favor one type of employee over another.

What subtle discrimination looks like

As the name suggests, subtle discrimination can be a lot more difficult to pinpoint. You probably are not dealing with the situation where someone says, “women aren’t suited for this kind of work.” Rather, this type of discrimination hides behind comments like “I don’t want to overwhelm you” and “this is a lot to take on.”

These are the comments that could be a genuine concern for your well-being as an employee, but could also be veiled attempts to discriminate. No matter how veiled the comment was, there can still be the feeling that there was discriminatory intent behind it.

What subtle discrimination feels like

Overt discrimination can be more straightforward to process. There is a particular action and a definite feeling that the other person did something wrong.

Subtle discrimination, on the other hand, can be more challenging to process. When the motivation behind the action is unclear, it can leave you wondering if you did something wrong or if it was an act of discrimination.

Subtle discrimination can also leave you wondering what would happen if you were to raise a question about the incident. Even in situations where there has been overt discrimination, managers and bosses have told their employees that they misunderstood. The fear of a manager dismissing your concern only adds to the frustration making the work environment more unbearable.

If something doesn't feel quite right, ask the hard questions of yourself and maybe your manager. A legal professional may also help you identify subtle acts of discrimination.

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