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Exclusion and language-based discrimination are prevalent but more subtle in remote working

Exclusion and language-based discrimination are prevalent but more subtle in remote working

In virtual spaces, people could “invisibilise” minority needs without physically witnessing the effects of discrimination, aiding in the prevalence of organisational discrimination, according to research.

We now work in an increasingly diverse workplace consisting of people who speak different languages and work remotely from everywhere. Ensuring everyone feels included and respected is, therefore, crucial.

However, new research by Aalto University School of Business has found that language-based discrimination is prevalent both in the office and remote working, but in different ways.

Language-based discrimination happens when people experience an unfair disadvantage because of their written and spoken language. For example, excluding employees from conversations as they don’t have the same first language.

Researchers Hilla Back and Rebecca Piekkari investigated migrant professionals’ experiences of language-based discrimination across physical and virtual spaces. The findings revealed that when people work from home, language discrimination was primarily organisational and more subtle than when people are office-based.

The researchers explained that in virtual spaces, it is easier to discriminate against other employees without getting caught. “In virtual spaces, they could ‘invisibilise’ minority needs without physically witnessing the effects of discrimination – also aiding in the prevalence of organisational discrimination in virtual spaces,” noted Back.

The study also revealed that remote working sped up the process of excluding migrant professionals because it was easier for employees to have separate meetings and parallel virtual channels for informal conversations.

“Consequently, migrant professionals became more invisible to their co-workers in virtual spaces, remaining in their English-speaking bubble, out of sight and out of mind,” added Back.

To address this issue, the researchers suggested that companies should implement an inclusive language policy, which is characterised by a shared language by managers and employees in formal and informal situations, enhanced tolerance of variation in proficiency levels, and a neutral vocabulary.

Other suggestions by the researchers include introducing social etiquette for remote working to ensure that all employees understand what is socially accepted behaviour.

ALSO READ: Words matter: How to use inclusive language in the workplace

Lead image / 123RF

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