Workplace Discrimination in Diplomacy

Georgina Beyer

Georgina Beyer

When discussing discrimination in the workplace, it is easy to think of those classic definitions drawn from history books or films. Undermining a woman’s ability by judging her first on her appearance. Choosing to give a promotion to a white man over a black one. Using derogatory terms for anyone with a sexual orientation other than “straight”. Exploiting a position of power over a zealous intern. All are classic examples of workplace discrimination. Such instances of outright prejudice do still exist, yet in this day and age we must also recognise and combat subtler forms of discrimination that unfortunately permeate even in diplomatic workforces.

There have been many attempts at tackling direct discrimination with the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 and the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 but individuals are still castigated for being a certain way. What is more concerning is the fact that many people are not aware of subtle prejudices that take place, particularly when only certain ‘types’ of people are mistreated.

A prime example of discrimination can be found where deeply embedded cultures make discrimination invisible, such as senior political offices held by white males, followed by an inherent need for women or younger people of colour to join.

This trend has been translated in political office with British politician Shirley Williams dryly commenting that women politicians fall into four categories of stereotype - The Dragon, the Sexpot, the Carer and the Chum. This epitomises the idea that within the workplace, such categorisations are widespread even if it may not be intentional. The victims, on the other end, are unlikely to raise the issue for fear of being labelled a troublemaker, being told it was self-inflicted, and embarrassment or simply won’t be believed. The effect of this is the perception that only certain kinds of people are able to uphold such positions and this is clearly reflected when viewing the statistics of diversity.

Georgina Beyer (pictured above), the New Zealander who became the first openly transsexual member of parliament famously said, “it is important to allow people who want to be positive contributors of our society regardless of sex, race, creed and gender to reach their human potential.” If we, as a global community, want to be represented fully, it is vital that any form of discrimination is tackled from the roots.

In order for perceptions to change, those in leadership positions must make it a priority to:

  • create an atmosphere of ease

  • acceptance

  • equal opportunity.

Many corporations do so through diversity training or sensitivity seminars, which attempt to bridge gaps between employees. By taking measures to address any tensions through these events or by using other means through open dialogue, a leader can ensure a more positive ambiance, one which reflects equality and acceptance.