We all want diverse teams, an inclusive workplace, and a constructive and welcoming corporate culture. It’s key to our organisations’ success and our workforce’s happiness. This kind of culture doesn’t happen by accident, however.

This is why we at crooton focus so much on DEI efforts. These are the tools you need to create the culture you want. We’ve talked about how to make your job adverts more inclusive, understanding the difference between diversity, equity, and inclusion, and have analysed the state of DEI in the UK today.

As part of our efforts, we’re going to look at discrimination — specifically, the less well-understood areas of discrimination: discrimination by perception and discrimination by association. 

What is discrimination by perception?

Discrimination by perception is also known as “perceptive discrimination”. This is when someone is discriminated against because it is believed they have a protected characteristic, whether or not they actually do. 

It might seem strange to think that it is possible to be discriminated against for a characteristic you don’t possess, but the effect on someone’s career progress (and dignity) is the same in either case.

Not all of our characteristics are considered ‘protected’. The Equality Act of 2010 set down nine characteristics that are protected by law. They are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marital or civil partnership status
  • Pregnancy or maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Discrimination based on any of these characteristics or the perception of them is illegal in the UK under the Equality Act.

Examples of discrimination by perception

It might help to look at a few examples to understand how discrimination by perception works.

An employer sees a female employee walking hand in hand with another woman. They conclude that the employee is in a lesbian relationship and change her duties at work as a result. In reality, the two women were sisters, and the employee is actually heterosexual.

She has been the victim of discrimination by perception based on sexuality. An employer sees an Arabic name on a job application. They mentioned to the hiring manager that they did not want to interview that candidate because they believed that Muslims would take too much time off for religious observances. 

The candidate in question is not Muslim but has been the victim of discrimination by perception based on religion.

A female employee had been due to take up a prestigious secondment abroad. She gains some weight in a short space of time. Her manager incorrectly assumes that she is pregnant and gives the opportunity to a colleague because they are concerned that she might not be able to complete the trip. 

She is the victim of discrimination by perception on the basis of pregnancy.

What is discrimination by association?

Discrimination by perception isn’t the only way someone can be discriminated against for a characteristic they don’t actually have.

Discrimination by association happens when someone is discriminated against because someone they are associated with has a protected characteristic. Typically, this is a spouse, parent, or child, but it can include friends and associates.

Discrimination by association does not apply to the protected characteristics of pregnancy, maternity, marriage, or civil partnership.

Examples of discrimination by association

An employee asks for time off to attend a friend’s civil partnership. Following this, his manager criticises his work performance and chastises him for taking breaks despite allowing the rest of the team to do so.

Because this behaviour only began after the manager discovered that he has gay friends, he has been the victim of associative sexual orientation discrimination.

A white employee brings their black partner to their work Christmas dinner. The next day, they notice that their line manager and colleagues appear hostile. Over the next six months, they are regularly subjected to bullying and racial slurs directed at their partner. HR takes no action, and the employee suffers mental health issues as a result.

They have been a victim of discrimination by association based on their partner’s race.

How to keep discrimination by perception and association out of your recruitment process

Most of these are examples of discrimination against established employees. For most companies, however, the biggest risk of bias is during the recruitment process.

Let’s look at some achievable steps you can take to take discrimination by perception and association out of your recruitment process.

Avoid assumptions

We all know what happens when we make assumptions, but that doesn’t mean we don’t do it. Whenever we meet someone, we try to understand them and how they fit into our understanding of the world, which usually involves making at least some assumptions.

Making assumptions is normal, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything we can to avoid it, especially in the context of candidates for a job. Our job is to keep an open mind and be curious about our candidates.

Do your best to avoid making assumptions. Focus on times when your assumptions have been proven wrong, or remind yourself that we’re far more complex than a set of characteristics. Instead, listen to what candidates say about their experience, skills, and background.

Although it’s almost impossible to completely avoid assumptions, we can treat those assumptions as our best guess. Be open to the idea that your preconceptions can be wrong and that candidates can surprise you.

Remove information that isn’t relevant from applications

As hiring managers and HR professionals, we’re typically keen to have as much information as possible. It feels strange to think that sometimes having less information might lead to us making better decisions.

Removing irrelevant information from CVs and applications helps you avoid unintentional discrimination by perception or association. Removing names, in particular, has been shown to reduce racial discrimination in recruitment.

In fact, much of the information we receive about candidates is (or should be) irrelevant to the hiring process. As well as their name, we don’t need to know their age, sex, or marital status despite these being commonly included on CVs.

Devote time and resources to understanding unconscious biases

Your recruitment team are at the forefront of your efforts to reduce bias and discrimination in your hiring processes. Give them the tools to do this effectively and create a more diverse and inclusive culture.

Unconscious bias training can help your recruitment team understand their pre-existing biases, which is the first step towards overcoming them. Give your team the training they need to look at this issue, and the time they need to put a plan into action.

Reducing unconscious bias in interviews isn’t easy. Check out our other tips on how to reduce bias when interviewing candidates.

Use standardised questions to ensure fairness

It’s easy to develop a rapport with a candidate who is similar to us. We empathise with them. We understand their experiences (or think we do). In contrast, we often struggle to create that same rapport with candidates who are less like us.

Standardised questions help you overcome this bias, ensuring all candidates have the same opportunity to tell you about their skills and demonstrate their abilities.

Well-thought-out lists of questions allow you the freedom to put candidates at their ease and understand what makes them unique while keeping the interview experience similar for all.

Work with a trusted partner

Discrimination by perception or association isn’t just bad for your corporate culture and DEI efforts. It’s a serious legal situation that can damage your employer branding and have severe financial consequences.

Working with a trusted partner, like crooton, allows you to look at your recruitment process as a whole and address all potential sources of discrimination before they become a problem.

If you’d like help to create the fair, inclusive hiring process you’ve been looking for, get in touch with the crooton experts now.

Please call us today to find out about our rates and prices or to get a bespoke quote based on your specific requirements and let us help you calculate how much you could save working if you were to work with us.

ready to talk? call us on 0208 124 2558

Alternatively book a meeting using the wizard below or submit the form to get in touch

If you're a candidate looking for a job - please click here

At crooton, we specialise in helping people just like you build diverse and inclusive teams. Contact us today to see how easy it can be to create your ideal, diverse workforce with crooton.

schedule a call with us to discuss your recruitment needs:


send us a message: