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Institutional discrimination

Institutional discrimination is concerned with discrimination that has been incorporated into the structures, processes and procedures of organisations, either because of prejudice or because of failure to take into account the particular needs of different social identities.

Three features distinguish institutional discrimination from other random individual forms of bad treatment.

  1. Triggered by social identity: the discrimination impacts on groups (or individuals because they are members of that group).
  2. Systematic – it is built into to laws, rules and regulations. For example, selection criteria for jobs or courses, laws such as the Minimum Wage, pension regularities, etc. It is reflected in organisational cultures. i.e. ‘the way we do things round here’, including the use of authority and discretion, e.g. how training opportunities are allocated, how flexibility in learning practices is authorised. It is reflected in ways of describing ‘normality’, e.g. long working hours, culture/expectations.
  3. Institutional discrimination results in patterns: incidents of discrimination may appear isolated or random but where institutional discrimination occurs they are part of a wider pattern of events which often may be hidden. Patterns of discrimination can often be surfaced by effective organisational information relating to social identity. For example:
    • which groups of people get promoted in an organisation?
    • which groups of people get accepted onto a training course?
    • which groups of people leave an organisation after six months of employment?

Questions such as this may point to some people experiencing the organisation in a different/more negative way than others.

Thinking point

  • How could discrimination be built into your own organisation? Consider issues such as:

      – timing of lectures or meetings
      – allocation of work or development/training opportunities
      – recruitment practices. 

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