24 Mar 2022


Ethical Leadership and Discrimination

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Since the dawn of time workplace discrimination has been a factor that many people or groups tolerated with no course of action to assist them. Although, the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination against race, color, religion, sex, and national origin; fifty-three year later, even with these laws in place workplace discrimination still exist for many. While the laws exist to protect employee's rights, new clauses have been added to assist with the ever changing times. In today’s corporate world, prejudice and discrimination are undesirable, intolerable and illegal. As a result, laws have been enacted to stop the “unfavorable or unfair treatment due to the race, religion, national origin, disabled or veteran status, or other legally protected characteristics.” (Purkayastha, 2012).The purpose of my paper will not only discuss the different types of discrimination and how ethical leaders address these issues within the workplace but the mental toll that subordinates face while working in these toxic conditions.

History of Discrimination

Before divulging into workplace discrimination, we must first dissect discrimination as a whole. Throughout the history, discrimination has been in existence as long as the human civilizations have been. Human behavior that has driven perception that far back is the sense of indifference as well as perceived superiority over others. The basis of discrimination has not changed all along; it includes race, religion, tribe, family, gender, economic status, place of origin among others. Discrimination existed since the beginning of civilizations such as the establishment of the ancient Greece civilization as well as ancient Rome. In these ancient civilizations, discrimination was predominantly on the issue of race, gender, status as well as ethnicity. Facets of discrimination in the workplace can be traced back to these civilizations. During that period, slavery denoted the labor conditions in the era. People who were deemed to be of inferior races were taken into slavery. Having all rights stripped down, they were owned by their masters and worked with no pay. The discriminatory working conditions also existed depending on which race, family or gender a person is. Some races that were deemed to be more superior were allowed to participate in more lucrative jobs as well as politics. Gender, in that case, was a huge discriminatory factor where women were discriminated upon by men. For instance, the level of discrimination against women in ancient Greece was so severe that slaves and foreigners enjoyed more rights as opposed to women(Lippert-Rasmussen, 2017). Jobs were allocated according to social standings; slaves would take all the hard labor with no pay while the rest of the lower status people would compete for work with minimal pay.

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Discrimination in the most recent history also involves issues of gender, race, ethnicity as well as religion. The most profound cases revolve around the discrimination against the black Africans across the world. Based on race, black people had throughout history been subject of unfair treatment and allocated the lowest pedestal of the status of races. These were the basis of slavery as well as colonialism of the African people by the whites. Although Africans suffered most at the lowest pedestal, other races were also discriminated upon with the whites being the masters who perpetuated the widespread discrimination. After the abolishment of slavery in the United States of America, discrimination was entered into legal documents with what was referred to as the black codes of the southern states. The laws were enacted by states to ensure that the freed slaves were still available for jobs. Racial equality has been a long fought battle for many. After the abolishment of slavery, there was still discrimination in American history created by segregation "Jim Crow" laws, which revived individual principals adapted in 1800-1866. These laws previously restricted civil rights and liberties for African Americans.

Work is the nerve center of human existence, and a means to survive as well as establish oneself. Since the abolishment of slavery, the workplace has become competitive. However, discrimination has fogged the place with various stereotypes being focused upon. It was not until recently those women have been able to compete for certain jobs, and the jobs they are in they are paid discriminatory. The issues of the race also a huge factor in employment as some races have been stereotyped to be more suitable for particular jobs. Although there are strict labor laws that are put in place to curb this vice, there are several forms of discriminations that have evolved to hide in plain sight. In the United States, the government has added knew clauses in the constitution to protect the rights of employees(Marchiondo, Ran,& Cortina, 2015). For instance, every workplace was required to adhere to the civil rights legislation that protected against racial discrimination.

The evolution and growth of feminism movements in the past century have championed on the rights of women. These movements have had a significant impact in alleviating discrimination against women in the workplace. Gender has always been a factor in employment, as the traditional stereotypes have broadly divided jobs that are predominantly male while others are deemed to be for women. The rise of women rights and feminism has struggled to champion against women in all sectors. Cultures that are controlled by men are the worst in perpetuating discrimination against women. For instance, in China, it was not until recently when women rights were enacted into law. One of the most profound examples is that violence against women was not considered a crime under the law until recently in 2013(Hagelskamp& Hughes, 2014). There are other cultures across the world there is a perpetuation of this vice against women.

Types of Workplace Discrimination

Racial Discrimination

Racial or ethnic discrimination in the workplace occurs when an individual is treated differently based on their actual or perceived race. Though race and color are related concepts, the two are not synonymous. Color refers to discrimination based on one's pigmentation, complexion, or skin shade or tone. Color discrimination occurs when someone is discriminated against based on the lightness, darkness, or another color characteristic. Color discrimination can occur between persons of different races or ethnicities, or between persons of the same race or ethnicity. Regulation that prevents race discrimination also prohibits discrimination based on stereotypes, assumptions about abilities, traits or the performance of individuals of certain racial groups.

Race discrimination can also occur if an individual is treated differently based on their association with members of another race. Such discrimination can occur directly, such as when an employer intentionally targets a member of a racial group or indirectly, for example when a seemingly neutral job policy tends to exclude minorities for the reason that is not job-related. Can often time show up in different forms; some forms of racial discrimination can be visible. However, it can also be subtle and harder to detect. 

Age Discrimination

Age discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) less favorably because of his or her age.Elderly and youthful employees sometimes experience age discrimination in the workplace. Ageism is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups by their age. Employers are not allowed to hire, fire, promote, or decide an employee's compensation based on their age. However, it can be difficult to determine whether an employer's actions were motivated by age discrimination, or by a genuine belief that another person can perform a particular job better. States have an extensive complaint and fact-finding procedures to help employees determine when they have been victims of age discrimination and to assert their rights. Read below to learn more about age discrimination and how the law protects you.

Disability Discrimination

Disability discrimination occurs when an employer or other entity covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, or the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, treats a qualified individual with a disability who is an employee or applicant unfavorably because he/she has a disability. 

Equal Pay/Compensation Discrimination

The Equal Pay Act requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal work. The jobs need not be identical, but they must be substantially equal. Job content (not job titles) determines whether jobs are substantially equal. All forms of pay are covered by this law, including salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing and bonus plans, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, cleaning or gasoline allowances, hotel accommodations, reimbursement for travel expenses, and benefits. If there is an inequality in wages between men and women, employers may not reduce the wages of either sex to equalize their pay.

Harassment Discrimination

Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.

Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. 

National Origin Discrimination

National origin discrimination involves treating people (applicants or employees) unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not).National origin discrimination also can involve treating people unfavorably because they are married to (or associated with) a person of a particular national origin.Discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are the same national origin.

Pregnancy Discrimination

Pregnancy discrimination involves treating a woman (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer or other covered entity must treat her in the same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee. For example, the employer may have to provide light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave to pregnant employees if it does so for other temporarily disabled employees.

Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.Religious discrimination can also involve treating someone differently because that person is married to (or associated with) an individual of a particular religion.

Sex-Based Discrimination

It is unlawful to harass a person because of that person's sex. Harassment can include "sexual harassment" or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person's sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.Although the law doesn't prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

Sexual Harassment Discrimination

It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision. 

How discrimination affects the workplace?

Discrimination in the workplace has extremely adverse effects for the victim as well as the offender. It causes a dangerous work environment and does not set the standard of trust amongst employees especially in the 21st century where companies have a multiracial environment. When one person of a particular group is discriminated against this will affect the whole team that works in this organization. This leads to a culture of mistrust, resentment, and the formation of cliques. "As workplaces become more diverse, they do not necessarily become less racially discriminatory. Diverse workplaces may be characterized by antagonism between people of different races." (Hernandez, T., 2010) various forms of discrimination take place in the workplace, and they significantly affect the quality as well as the amount of work done. 

In the attempt to understand how discrimination is perpetuated in the work environment, one must understand the different relationships that exist in the workplace. The first and the most important relationship is between the employee and the employer, and the other is among employees in the organization. Discrimination irrespective of the form takes place along these two relationships. The inequality that is perpetuated by the employer tends to favor individuals regarding payment, promotions as well as acquiring the job itself. For instance, a company who hold the stereotypes and superiority complexes will tend to hire individuals who fit his/her stereotype. Those of different characteristics are employed as a means of meeting the minimum requirements of complying with the labor laws and other legislations. This is perpetuated since the employer holds the high position and may do whatever fits to run the organization. 

Discrimination against and among fellow colleagues is also wide spread within the working environment. This is because individuals tend to form alliances in the workplace that fit their characteristics based on race, gender, ethnicity as well as nationality. This discrimination is based on the widespread stereotypes that exist among different people. For instance, in the height of racial segregation, people of color were discriminated against by fellow colleagues. Individuals from different races were not expected to interact directly, and the social interactions at the workplace were dependent on these characteristics. At the same time, discrimination based on gender was propelled by the same notion. Women were predominantly discriminated against, and interactions in the workplace were prescribed on how to behave by their male counterparts. In the present day and era, these forms of discrimination still exist; however, they have been evolved in much more complex organizational structures that cannot be directly identified(Jones, Peddie, Gilrane, King, & Gray, 2016).

Issues of discrimination affect the workplace complexly. For instance, discrimination will influence the kind of relationships that are created among the employees and with the employer. These effects will be felt on the comfortability of the working environment as well as outside the organization. Issues of discrimination and unfair treatment tend to be more volatile and are passed down the social media and mainstream media. Therefore, the organization may suffer reputational damage and subsequently the profits and image of the employer. With that, the workplace becomes more volatile and unstable due to retaliatory by the employee or the employer.

Psychological effect of subordinates when discriminated against

Psychological research shows that discrimination can exacerbate stress. Moreover, discrimination-related stress is linked to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, even in children.The American Psychological Association (APA) highlights the connection between discrimination and stress, along with the resulting impacts on relationships, employment and overall health. The mental health of a person is much more complex as well as fragile; therefore, a person may be prone to instability due to stresses that emanate from discrimination. A psychological perspective that supports this assumption is the sociological standpoint. These approach in psychology helps understand the issues within the social environment and how they shape human behavior as well as their mental health. According this theory, social constructs such as discrimination in the workplace may affect human behavior. Another theory that underpins this assumption is the behaviorist psychological perspective. Its emphasis is laid on the predominant notion of how the environment that an individual is exposed to controls the behavior of people. Further, the evolutionary approach also explains how an issue that happens to people, especially high-pressure issues such as discrimination affects the behavior and the psyche of a person(Geoffroy&Chamberland2015).

In the workplace, most organizational structures are laid out where there are a significant number of subordinate staffs. Acts of discrimination happen in either in one of the following ways; discrimination from the management of the organization which includes managers as well as supervisors, or discrimination received from subordinate colleagues.This discrimination has tremendous stress to the psyche of the person as well as the mental health of the worker. Discrimination from the organization's management is said to prevent promotions as well as better pay despite the quality of work of the person (Assari, Miller, Taylor, Mouzon, Keith & Chatters,2017). Similarly, the unfair treatment may also cause an individual to be passed over a deserving promotion. This also mirrors out on the disparity of payment from the employer, for instance, women who are discriminated against may receive lower payment despite holding equal positions with their male counterparts. The discrimination causes high stress as well as anxiety. On the other hand, discrimination that is perpetuated due to the difference between colleagues is much more dangerous to an individual. Studies have indicated that this level of discrimination is promoted a large number of mental disorders and radically changes human behavior when dealing with different people (Brouwers, Mathijssen, Van Bortel, Knifton, Wahlbeck, Van Audenhove& Tófoli,2016).

Real or perceived discrimination have the same consequences and effects on the subordinates’ staffs in the workplace. It creates a sense of insecurity and high levels of anxiety to the individual it is directed to. In the same manner, the person experiences issues of low self-esteem as well as low self-worth. These issues continue to cause depression and therein a deteriorated mental health. The result is that due to depression, the work quality of the individual is significantly lowered and the individual may end up losing the job due to poor performance. Cases have been recorded where resulting, and persistence discrimination has led to severe depression and cases of suicide. Due to persistent cases of discrimination, many of the minority individuals based on race, religion, gender, ethnicity, and nationality have evolved a modified mental status. This has been identified in research as the sense of perceived discrimination even when it does not exist (Schmitt, Branscombe, Postmes & Garcia, 2014). Individuals who have been discriminated against before suffering from this notion. This is because the individuals have conformed to a heightened level of alertness as well as anxiety. The behavior of the person is primarily affected, and any inconsistency in the workplace will be attributed to discrimination even when the process is relatively fair. 

Other forms of discrimination in the workplace have physical consequences on the subordinate staff members. For instance, issues of physical or mental harassment based on gender or sex have detrimental psychological and physical consequences. For instance, sexual harassment in the workplace causes numerous cases of suicide, physical abuse as well as injury, and in some case extreme mental illness that may lead to murder (Okechukwu, Souz, Davis & de Castro 2014). The shame and depression that arise from such cases are tremendous on the mental health of a person; cases have been reported to have driven an individual to insanity.

Ethical leaders- how they handle workplace discrimination?

Ethical leaders from large and small companies are dealing with ethical issues stemming from the behavior of their employees. There are many ways that leaders can address workplace discrimination. Leaders can develop a workplace policy based on the company's philosophy. To avoid discrimination within the workplace, employers can provide ethics and discrimination training so that employees are aware of how to behave within the organization.

Due to tremendous growth and proliferation of information sharing in the present world, issues of ethics in the workplace are significantly highlighted through media. Therefore, for leaders in this diverse environment, it's imperative that they can handle discrimination in the workplace. Some intrinsic ideas and steps act as a blue print for ethical leaders in dealing with such issues. They are derived from personal commitments to equality, legal obligations as well as organizational requirements(Eisenbeiss&Brodbeck, 2014). Therefore, coming up with a process that provides equality in the organization is a complex matter and requires a holistic approach.

To achieve equality, ethical leaders must be familiar with the legal obligations that they, as well as the organizations they are in, must a bind too. This is because the legal issues provide a blueprint through which discrimination is eliminated. Examples of such laws and legislations include "Americans with Disability Act, Equality Act, Civil Rights Act, Family Medical Leave Act, Discrimination Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Age Discrimination Act as well as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act"(Milligan, Oppenheimer, Ross &Sagafi, 2017). These are legal rules by which leaders may use to handle issues of discrimination.

Ethical leaders use organizational policies to handle issues of discrimination in the workplace. Every organization has its set of policies and rules that every employee has to adhere to in their interactions in the organization. The policies are embedded in the contracts of the employees as they enter the organization. The policies are formulated by leaders with the complexity of handling all cases of discrimination in the workplace. They stipulate the penalties that may befall any individual regardless of their position in the organization (Krings, Johnston, Binggeli, & Maggiori, 2014). Through the meticulous and unbiased application of the policies, ethical leaders can counter discriminatory issues. 

Training has frequently been used and applied by ethical leaders to educate employees on the issues of discrimination. Training is carried out on all organizational and workplace processes that may perpetuate any form of inequality as well as discrimination. For instance, training is carried out by the employees who conduct organizational hiring and recruitment. This is particularly important to emphasize on the equal opportunity employment policy (Shih, Young & Bucher, 2013). Emphases are laid upon job description and requirements as opposed to individual characteristics for suitability of a work position. Ethical leaders have to be extremely innovative in dealing with issues of discrimination, this is because they are susceptible and complex at the same time. Solutions and mechanisms employed by ethical leaders are a representative of the ideal workplace with fairness and equality.


Discrimination is a susceptible subject in the workplace, and despite the tremendous achievement in legal enactments to curb the vice, there exist some elements. It the responsibility of ethical leaders to ensure that policies, as well as solutions, are found that can be used to handle such issues. From my perspective, the issue of discrimination may be faced out when there will be an overhaul of the social behavior of individuals. This is because; the workplace discrimination is a representative of the discrimination that takes place in the society. Therefore, for the purpose discrimination should be dealt with from both a personal and societal perspective.


Assari, S., Miller, R. J., Taylor, R. J., Mouzon, D., Keith, V., & Chatters, L. M. (2017). Discrimination Fully Mediates the Effects of Incarceration History on Depressive Symptoms and Psychological Distress Among African American Men.  Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities , 1-10.

Brouwers, E. P. M., Mathijssen, J., Van Bortel, T., Knifton, L., Wahlbeck, K., Van Audenhove, C., ... & Tófoli, L. F. (2016). Discrimination in the workplace, reported by people with major depressive disorder: a cross-sectional study in 35 countries.  BMJ open 6 (2), e009961.

Eisenbeiss, S. A., & Brodbeck, F. (2014). Ethical and unethical leadership: A cross-cultural and cross-sectoral analysis.  Journal of Business Ethics 122 (2), 343-359.

Geoffroy, M., & Chamberland, L. (2015). Mental health implications of workplace discrimination against sexual and gender minorities: A literature review.  Sante mental at Quebec 40 (3), 145-172.

Hernandez, T. K. (2010). Employment Discrimination in the Ethnically Diverse Workplace. Ordham Law School FLASH: The Fordham Law Archive of Scholarship and History,1-6.

Hagelskamp, C., & Hughes, D. L. (2014). Workplace discrimination predicting racial/ethnic socialization across African American, Latino, and Chinese families.  Cultural Diversity and Lippert-Rasmussen, K. (2017). The Routledge Handbook of the Ethics of Discrimination.

Jones, K. P., Peddie, C. I., Gilrane, V. L., King, E. B., & Gray, A. L. (2016). Not so subtle: A meta-analytic investigation of the correlates of subtle and overt discrimination.  Journal of Management 42 (6), 1588-1613.

Kite, M. E., & Whitley Jr, B. E. (2016).  Psychology of prejudice and discrimination . Psychology Press.

Krings, F., Johnston, C., Binggeli, S., & Maggiori, C. (2014). Selective incivility: Immigrant groups experience subtle workplace discrimination at different rates.  Cultural Diversity And Ethnic Minority Psychology 20 (4), 491-498.

Marchiondo, L., Ran, S., & Cortina, L. (2015). Modern discrimination. In  The Oxford Handbook of Workplace Discrimination .

Milligan, J., Oppenheimer, D., Ross, B., & Sagafi, M. (2017). Looking Toward the Future: Different Avenues for Attacking Employment Discrimination.

Okechukwu, C. A., Souza, K., Davis, K. D., & de Castro, A. B. (2014). Discrimination, harassment, abuse, and bullying in the workplace: Contribution of workplace injustice to occupational health disparities.  American journal of industrial medicine 57 (5), 573-586.

Purkayastha, D. (2012). Flexibility in the Workplace & Discrimination by Association: Sharon Coleman Vs Attridge Law. IBS Center for Management Research, 1-10. Retrieved from http://docshare01.docshare.tips/files/23437/234373463.pdf

Schmitt, M. T., Branscombe, N. R., Postmes, T., & Garcia, A. (2014). The consequences of perceived discrimination for psychological well-being: A meta-analytic review.  Psychological Bulletin 140 (4), 921.

Shih, M., Young, M. J., & Bucher, A. (2013). Working to reduce the effects of discrimination: Identity management strategies in organizations.  American Psychologist 68 (3), 145.

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