Dealing With Discrimination

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How to Handle the Situation With Grace When You’re Judged Unfairly
I had just finished up a meeting with a client and their own clients were arriving in the board room space for a meeting which was to immediately follow ours. As I gathered my things to leave, one of their clients, a male on an all-male team (meeting, incidentally, with my all-male team of clients), joked with me, “What, you can’t play with the big boys?”

That joke echoed a perception I have bumped up against throughout my career — that as a woman, and a young one at that, I somehow not on the same playing field as my male counterparts.

As professionals working in our chosen fields, our work and professionalism should be judged on just that — the quality of our work, and our level of professionalism. But sometimes, even if we deliver a high calibre of both, others don’t do the same. Discrimination based on age, gender, culture or race are all examples of common ways that colleagues sometimes discount your abilities within your position of expertise. It’s unacceptable, but it happens, and it can create an awkward situation in which you need to stand up for yourself but still maintain your pride and professionalism. As an entrepreneur, freelancer or service provider, how can you confront discrimination while maintaining your brand image?

In the situation I’ve recounted, I was caught off-guard but immediately knew that I wanted to maintain my core values of professionalism and pride, while also letting this client know that I knew where I stood — and it wasn’t below him.

Try to remember and follow these steps if you are ever faced with discrimination on the job:

Step #1: Retain your composure

If possible, don’t let them get to you. Take a deep breath, and turn away for a moment if you need to, but if anger or emotion has got the best of you, walking away is better than responding in most cases. If you can remain calm and composed, proceed to step 2…

Step #2: Remember who you are

If you pride yourself on your calm professionalism, channel that now, but if humour and wit play heavily into your work persona, it’s fine to be a bit tongue-in-cheek. If your brand image is brash and unapologetic then you’re the envy of us all now, because you could potentially say exactly what’s on your mind! You know the values that represent your brand, and you within that brand — stick to them now to avoid regret later.

Step #3: Remember that it doesn’t matter who they are…

You may be tempted to write off the offender as someone who doesn’t matter to your brand, but we all know that word of mouth travels far. While you don’t want to let someone think their discriminatory comment was acceptable, you also want to temper your reaction in order to still come out of the interaction clean. You never know where your next client might come from — it could be this person, their brother, or someone else they know. By the same token, remember that other clients or potential clients may be watching and might appreciate and respect you standing up for yourself and your values.

Step #4: …Unless what they said warrants a stronger response

Trust your gut. In some situations, the best course of action is to simply walk away. But the fact is, some views should not be held, let alone expressed, and we all know that there are lines that simply cannot be crossed. Sometimes you simply need to take appropriate action, whether it is reporting an abusive comment, speaking out against hate speech, or educating someone on an outdated and harmful point of view. In the end, you must be the judge and decide what course of action you feel comfortable with. Some extreme cases aren’t worth salvaging a relationship over.

So how did I respond that day?

I turned to him and said (with confidence, of course), “When you’re ready to market your business with a big girl, give me a call.”

If YOU are ready to market with the big girls, I invite you to give me a call as well.

Have you experienced discrimination in your career? How did you handle it in order to come out feeling good about the situation?

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