Discrimination first aid: an effective tool at HR’s disposal?

A new discrimination first aid course has been launched to give employees the skills to face up to discrimination in the workplace. But will it become a standard in UK workplaces?

Inspired by mental health first aid, the course, launched by legal support platform Valla, educates employees on their rights at work to create more accountability for employers who fail to tackle harassment and discrimination.

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Danae Shell, co-founder and CEO of Valla, said she knew from experience how it feels to hear of shocking behaviour at work, and not know how to help. 

She told HR magazine: “We find it’s very common for people not to actually have a label for the problem they’re experiencing. 

“They often blame themselves.”

She added that people who have experienced harassment or discrimination often find their confidence ruined.

“They think they’re making a fuss, a big deal out of nothing. They feel very minimised – only in retrospect do they realise [what has happened].”

According to statistics from women’s charity the Fawcett Society, more than half (52%) of women have been sexually harassed at work, and more than two thirds (68%) of LGBT+ workers have experienced some form of harassment.

Similarly, a 2019 paper commissioned by the Trades Union Congress showed that almost two thirds (65%) of people from ethnic minorities have experienced racial harassment in the past five years of work.

For any employer to sign up to a course like this where employees’ rights are drilled into them, Shell added, would be a bold move.

She added: “It’s a very strong signal from a company to its employees that they believe them, and that they care about them.”

Grace Mansah-Owusu, of D&I consultancy Great Minds for Business, told HR magazine that courses like this, and those that educate employees on being an active bystander, can be effective in empowering employees to tackle discrimination.

She added, however, that for them to be effective, there must be psychological safety in their organisation.

“Psychologically safe environments allow people to speak up and challenge the status quo without fear that they will be reprimanded or treated badly as a result.

“If we are able to challenge bad behaviour it rests on how safe people feel to call things out, especially when it comes to discrimination, otherwise fear and inaction becomes part of the organisations culture. 

“All the training in the world can not address people feeling scared to speak out, there needs to be a practical commitment at the top to eradicate it.”


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