Why do people discriminate? 

Have you faced discrimination of any kind at work? Maybe it was based on your age, your gender, your sexual orientation or your race. These are certainly not all of the different types of discrimination, but they are four of the most common. 

Regardless of exactly what it looked like, you may have found yourself wondering why you were discriminated against. Why do people act like this? It’s so clearly unfair and, thanks to modern labor laws, it’s also illegal. And yet it still happens. Why is this?

As one psychologist put it, the whole thing starts with the tendency that people have to group items — or other people — together into sets. That, she said, is a natural behavior. 

However, once people start to assign people to these groups, they may take an extra step and start viewing these groups through a negative lens. This can happen due to other factors, such as past experiences, deep-seated generalizations and biases, influence from friends and family members, and the like. Some biases may not even be conscious.

Essentially, people start to view groups that are not exactly like their group as an “other.” They may then assign this “other” with stereotypical characteristics. Once they believe those stereotypes to be true, they can apply them to anyone who fits within this mental group, and they may then discriminate against them on this basis. For instance, an employer may refuse to hire a qualified female applicant on the misguided basis that they think women aren’t good corporate leaders because that’s what they’ve always heard from others.

If you get discriminated against for any reason at work, be sure you are well aware of your legal options. It’s often wise to have a consultation with an experienced advocate about your situation before you decide what steps you should take next.