Are Our Current Workplaces Working?

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“The right to work is a foundation for the realization of other human rights and for life with dignity” - International Network for Economic, Social & Cultural Rights

Work is an international right and there should not be discrimination of any sort. Three common types of discrimination are discrimination based on age, gender, or because someone is differently abled. But no matter the type, the bottom line is that everyone has not only the right to work but also the right to be treated with respect at their place of work. However, as the #MeToo movement has shown us, this is not always the case. You will sometimes find that it is hard to get a job if you are under the age of twenty-five (looking young and assumed lack of experience) or if you are over fifty (considered old and assumed that older talent doesn’t add as much value to the company). We need to stop with the Generation Z, Millennial, and Baby Boomer distinctions and value all people in the workforce; this means respecting employees for their contributions and not because they fit a certain mold. The question we must confront is how do we build companies that allow everyone to contribute?

The right to work is an international right, and this is not just a saying. There are a body of laws governing the right to work. Three articles from the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights are central foundations employee rights:

Article 6(1): “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain [her or his] living by work which [she or he] freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.”

Article 7: “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work.”

Article 8: “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to ensure: (a) The right to everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of [her or his] choice…(d) the right to strike…”

Besides these articles that lay out the rights, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights has agreed on three “As,” availability, accessibility, and acceptability and quality, to be interrelated features of creating the best workplace possible for all.

It would seem that since there is a governing body over worker’s rights that there would be limited issues. However, there are multiple areas that need improvement. One such area is the ability of companies and workplaces to account for the differently abled. In some countries the issues stem from lack of educational policies for those that struggle in school because of their disability. For example, in India, oftentimes an improper learning environment for those with disabilities leads to students dropping out of school. This in turn limits their choices in the workplace. Countries such as Israel, are currently attempting to create more inclusive communities for the differently abled. Daniel is a community being built with the intention of creating an environment conducive to the success of those with disabilities. Meanwhile, The Finance Ministry, Israel Innovation Authority and Foundation for the Development of Services for the Disabled at the National Insurance Institute recently gave companies money to develop products to help those with disabilities. One company created “Open Sesame,” a smartphone app that allows those who cannot use their hands to use a smartphone. A technology such as “Open Sesame,” is pertinent to the success of those with disabilities in the workplace, as oftentimes not being able to type or use one’s hands will prevent them from obtaining a job, as these are skills that many contemporary jobs require. It is encouraging to see Israel making these strides for more inclusivity for the differently abled, and other countries and companies should follow in its footsteps.

In addition to the differently abled, those of certain ages also experience discrimination in the workplace. “Two out of three workers between ages 45 and 74 say they have seen or experienced age discrimination at work.” And the United States Supreme Court may have upped this statistic when it ruled in 2009 that one must meet a “higher burden of proof” for age discrimination as opposed to other types of discrimination. And Americans are not happy about it, as eight in ten Americans desire for Congress to create stronger laws to prevent age discrimination. The Centre for Ageing Better conducted a survey and found that half of those surveyed over 50 years old believe that they would be at a disadvantage if they applied for a new job. Part of the problem surrounding age discrimination stems from recruitment policies, which often ask for birth year or graduation date, thereby aging a person. Companies can create policies to prohibit age discrimination in the workplace, and there are venues for those who have experienced age discrimination to take action. Some companies which are making the strides to do things differently include Barclays, Boots, Aviva, and the Co-Op, which are all trying to increase their number of employees over fifty years old by 2022. Companies also need to find ways to integrate Baby Boomers into workplace along with Gen Z. It is a simple fact that people are retiring later. Older generations have skills that millennials do not like understanding human side of business, and vice versa. On the employee end of the spectrum, if employees have experienced age discrimination at work they can sue their company or file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, companies should implement policies so that it does not come to this step.

The third major type of discrimination in the workplace is one that has been highly publicized as of late: gender discrimination. The following statistics from the Pew Research Foundation highlight the dire nature of this issue: 42% of American working women say that they have experienced gender discrimination at job; 25% report earning less than men; and 23% say they have been treated as less competent because of their gender. These numbers in and of themselves point to a need to address gender discrimination. Gender discrimination also subsists as an issue for transgender and gender non-conforming people. In a survey of transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers, of the 77% of those that reported being employed, 36% said that they saw offensive graffiti and pictures, and 33% experienced unwanted sexual comments at work. The most common experience was misgendered, where an individual was referred to by their birth name or the wrong pronouns. It should be noted that New York City Law requires employers use an individual’s “preferred name, pronouns, and title but also protects transgender and TGNC people against discrimination.”

Large companies have recently gotten in trouble for discrimination against both women and men. In terms of discrimination against women, Microsoft has been sued for gender discrimination as well as sexual harassment, as has Computer Sciences Corporation. Walmart and Quest Diagnostics and AmeriPath were also brought to court for gender discrimination. In terms of discrimination against men, Entura Capital, a beauty company, was sued for refusing to hire men as Sales Reps, and Lawry’s, a corporation operating restaurants, was sued for only hiring female servers. In addition, Yahoo was sued and the Jimmy Fallon Show, for preference toward women. As these issues come to light so has a mission to stop it. The #MeToo movement has highlighted major public figures for sexual harassment, including Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and James Levine. While stemming from a terrible source, hopefully the #MeToo movement is helping to bring some of these gender discrimination issues to light.

Any type of workplace discrimination needs to stop. While it is up to the companies to implement changes, as employees we are the foundation for change and can be brainstorming ways to create a more inclusive workplace. Perhaps mentorship, advisory, or philanthropy programs for reconciling different generations in the workplace, more apps like “Open Sesame” for the differently abled, and constant fighting back against gender discrimination, can be the impetus for change. I once wrote: let’s start the future of work now. Let’s allow the last generation and the newest generations to work and learn together. Let’s create industries of age inclusivity where everyone can continue to find their purpose and find dignity within their working lives. As we start a New Year, we need to do this now more than ever. The world will only move forward if we have everyone working toward a shared goal, and this one seems pretty simple: since everyone has the right to work, let’s make all workplaces the most inclusive they can be. It’s an old rule, but a cardinal one, especially for the workplace: treat others the way you want to be treated. And businesses will only thrive from this inclusivity. In the words of the Harvard Business Review, “diversity is the key to unlocking innovation in a business.”