Excluded, Harassed, and Undervalued: The Struggle to Break Systemic Barriers

AuthorColleen Sheppard
Excluded, Harassed, and
Undervalued: The Struggle to
Break Syemic Barriers
They told me they did not want me there.
How did they behave?
Well, they tried to confuse me.
Inead of telling me things like two or three moves at a time, which is all
you have to do, they would tell me about 15 moves in a row, like talking really
ickly, using the numbers, like this “take a locomotive, put it there, go here,
go there,” you know, like really — so that I would get confused, or they would
tell me to jump of‌f the train at a switch, I would get of‌f at the switch, and
they would leave me at the switch, and they would not tell me what they were
doing, they would leave me there, or they would ju go of‌f on break, and they
would not tell me they were going on break.
Sometimes they would leave me at a switch, or at an engine. They would
say, “go release the brakes on that engine and wait for my signal”; I would
never hear the signal, they would go of‌f and eat lunch and leave me there.
They used to do that all the time.
testimony of carLa nemeroff, citeD By the supreme court of canaDa
in cn v canada (canadian huMan rights coMMission) 19871
   that some people feel welcomed into an organization or
workplace while others do not? Why is it that some people can work
in an organization for many years and never really feel as though they
belong? The subtle and not-so-subtle dynamics of inclusion and exclu-
sion are the focus of this chapter. While many people tend to blame
Discrimination stories
themselves for not being promoted or for not obtaining a leadership
position, there are often very real obstacles that need to be recognized
and named. For some, the pathway to inclusion is assimilation; they
submerge their authentic selves in an ef‌fort to f‌it in.2 For others, the
refusal or inability to assimilate results in increasing marginalization
and exclusion from organizational opportunities and belonging.
Despite the various ways exclusion and lost opportunities can
occur, it is critical to examine the organizational and institutional
dimensions of being left out — or of not f‌itting in. Individuals in
leadership positions can make an enormous dif‌ference in organiza-
tions by lighting pathways forward as mentors and eliminating bar-
riers to advancement. Too often, however, institutional leaders do
not champion inclusion and instead reinforce and justify continued
exclusion. Individuals from under-represented groups can work to
buttress their own self-conf‌idence, agency, and inclusion, but institu-
tional contexts and cultures often create barriers that are dicult to
overcome, making discriminatory exclusions look normal, fair, and
acceptable, and individual advancement appear entirely merit-based.
This organizational or institutional perspective is an important
focus of what has been called “systemic discrimination” that is,
widespread discrimination within institutions and society. Though
systemic discrimination is also related to individual behaviour and
larger societal structures of exclusion, institutional policies remain
critical to understanding the legal concept. In her 1984 Equality in
Employment: A Royal Commission Report, Justice Rosalie Silberman
Abella emphasized the importance of examining discrimination
through a systemic lens:
The impact of behaviour is the essence of “systemic discrimina-
tion.” It suggests that the inexorable, cumulative ef‌fect on individ-
uals or groups of behaviour that has an arbitrarily negative impact
on them is more signif‌icant than whether the behaviour f‌lows from
insensitivity or intentional discrimination.3
Justice Abella’s report was deeply inf‌luential in subsequent court
decisions and legislative developments, particularly her insight that
“[s]ystemic discrimination requires systemic remedies.4

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