Systemic Discrimination

What is Systemic Discrimination in the workplace?

The meaning of Systemic discrimination in a workplace culture is a type of discrimination that is a regular aspect of interactions and procedures or occurs over time. When discrimination at workplace is seen because of a business practice or policy, it is called as “systemic” discrimination since the discrimination is not limited to a single incident or occurrence, but rather an entire organization. Thus, it is also so known as institutionalized discrimination.  

It can also be defined by its impact, in which the amount of prejudice has a significant influence on the organization's ability to fulfil its duty or meet the requirements of applicable legislation.

What does it mean when something is systemic?

As explained above, systemic problem is one that arises from issues that are ingrained in the overall system rather than from a single, isolated component. In contrast, a pilot error, a user error, or a mistake is a mistake. A modification in that system's structure, organization, or policies could help to solve the systemic problem.

The term "systemic" refers to something that affects the entire organization, or at least many areas or departments of management. In contrast to topical or local, it is globally spread across the organization. Systemic discrimination, therefore, is a method of administering discrimination that affects the entire organization.

Types of Systemic Discrimination:

Examples of systemic discrimination include a discriminative approach towards Hiring/Promotion/Assignment/Referral, Company Policies/Rules, or ADA/ GINA.

1. Hiring/ Promotion/ Assignment/ Referral

Systemic discrimination in the hiring process could include, for example, regularly paying women less than men.

  • Background checks (criminal and credit)
  • Favoritism or relying solely on word-of-mouth recruitment
  • Promotional policies based on a tap-on-the-shoulder approach
  • Applicants are being directed to certain occupations or assignments based on their ethnicity or gender.
  • Segregated vocations or industries in the past
  • Preferences in job adverts ("young," "energetic," "fresh graduate," "men only," "women exclusively")
  • Customer inclination
  • Personality tests, as well as other tests on customer service, physical ability
  • There will be no rehiring of retired personnel, and only current employees will be hired.

2. Company Policies/Rules  

  • Mandatory religious practices by employers who do not qualify as religious organizations
  • Paternal leave policies that do not give the same benefits for men and women
  • Mandatory maternity leave
  • Fetal protection policies
  • English only rules
  • Age-based limits on benefits or contributions to pension or other benefits
  • Lay-off/Reduction in Force/Discharge policies
  • Mandatory retirement
  • Layoffs, reorganizations, and RIFs- disparate treatment and disparate impact based on a protected characteristic
  • Waivers that may prevent employees from filing complaints or assisting the EEOC
  • Waivers that do not comply with the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act


  • “No fault” attendance policies
  • Medical leave is not accommodated.
  • Only work-related injuries are subject to light duty standards, which include 100 percent healed return-to-work restrictions.
  • Medical examinations conducted before to employment

How can employers identify and address Systemic Discrimination?

The Ontario Human Rights Commission recognized and described three considerations to help organizations identify systemic discrimination in the workplace and take measures to tackle it.

1. Making use of numerical data and statistics

Numerical Data can reveal whether or not racialized or discriminated people are treated equally by or within a company. These statistics may indicate the presence of systematic prejudice because there are too few racialized victims in leadership positions.

Note: Systemic discrimination in the workplace is unlikely to be proven just on the basis of numerical evidence. It does, however, serves as a warning sign that something needs to be changed. An organization may or may not be able to refute the facts or demonstrate that there is a discriminatory explanation for the numbers.

2. Analyzing policies, practices, and decision-making processes

Racialized people can face difficulties and be excluded as a result of formal and informal policies, practices, and decision-making processes. The employment of informal or highly discretionary procedures is especially troublesome since it allows for more subjective considerations, varying standards, and prejudices to enter the picture. It's also crucial to avoid designing rules, practices, and decision-making processes in a way that ignores individual diversity or assumes the prevailing culture to be the norm.

3. Restructuring organizational culture

Organizations can have internal cultures that marganalize or exclude racialized people if they are not inclusive. For example, an organization that favors a communication style based on how people from the dominant culture communicate may undervalue a racialized person's communication style, which is as effective. Similarly, racialized people may be excluded from social interactions and networks that are critical to success.

Organizations must guarantee that they are not involved in systematic prejudice unintentionally. This necessitates awareness and a willingness to examine numerical facts, rules, practices, decision-making processes, and corporate culture. From a human rights standpoint, it is unacceptable for an organization to choose to remain ignorant of systematic prejudice or to fail to act when an issue is brought to its attention.

Due to the difficulty in creating a link between an individual's experience and a discriminatory system, an organization must produce information to show that the discriminatory process did not contribute to the individual's experience if evidence of systemic discrimination is found.

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