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How to deal with workplace discrimination

Posted on 10th August 2016

Following the media furore surrounding comments made by Saatchi & Saatchi’s Executive Chairman, Kevin Roberts, it’s important for HR to deal with potentially brand-damaging situations early on.

Homa Wilson, Senior Associate at law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, advises HR what to do, should a company be made liable for discriminatory comments said by employees.

“Kevin Roberts has resigned, following his comments about women not having ambition to succeed in senior positions. Whilst Saatchi’s parent company, Publicis, has been quick to distance itself from Roberts, the damage has already been done to the Saatchi brand.

“When such comments are made by a senior member, it casts doubt on the organisations commitment to equality. By association, this suggests that this is a company that doesn’t value women.

“Companies need to take heed as they can be liable for discriminatory comments.”

Her tips can be seen below:

Act fast

“This may mean suspension or taking steps to avoid the offending employee having contact with the person who has complained. It’s not always wise to wait for a formal complaint to be made, as inaction on a company makes it vulnerable to a claim for discrimination.”

Ensure the person who made the complaint is kept updated

“Staff should feel their complaints are being taken seriously and treated sensitively”

Take appropriate action

“This may mean warning or even dismissal.

“To avoid becoming embroiled in such a fiasco, it requires thinking creatively about women in the workplace right from recruitment through to retention. If there is a lack of women applying for senior roles, the company should consider why, and address where and how vacancies are being advertised.

“Often companies point to equality polices as ‘proof’ that they value diversity, but this isn’t enough. They should be conducting regular and meaningful training, particularly to those in decision making positions. It’s only once companies are able to identify gender bias that they can attempt to deal with it.”

This article first appeared in HR Grapevine.