How to counter hate speech at work
The United Nations invites the world to observe the International Day for Countering Hate Speech on Saturday, 18 June. The event calls on communities and individuals to help fight all forms of hate speech across different platforms.
Hate speech can be any form of discriminatory language directed at individuals or groups. They can also be verbal threats of violence.
These attacks will often target the victim's worldviews, religion, ethnicity, class, gender or physical condition.
Now, with the world's increasing reliance on digital media, cases of online harassment have also risen. These include incidents in the workplace or other work-related reasons.
The rise of violence in the workplace
Discriminatory speech can take a toll on employees’ mental health and become real security risks. Whether it's conveyed face to face, or through social media or any other platform, hate speech runs the risk of harming the victim and exposing their personal circumstances to a wider audience. Not only would attackers shame the victim publicly for being who they are; they also leave victims open and vulnerable to further attack.
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As such, it creates an even bigger threat to one's well-being, reputation, privacy and security.
Younger workers purportedly become the target of digital violence more than older workers do. A study conducted by the eSafety Commissioner in Australia, for example, found 14% to 15% of young adults in the ANZ region have experienced hate speech online.
Many are reportedly attacked because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. For others, their religious affiliation, political views, and race are also among the most common reasons why they are discriminated against.
How can employees and managers fight against hate speech at work?
Respond faster. If you (or someone you know) are in danger, contact the authorities immediately and speak to a lawyer. If the incident took place at work or was perpetrated by a colleague, inform your supervisor and HR right away. Remember to file an incident report outlining the details of the encounter. Hate speech can go out of hand when tolerated. That’s why it’s everyone’s concern. A quick response is needed to prevent harm.
Document messages. Keep track of every encounter. If you can, record or document everything, from messages over social media, email or text, to voice clips on messaging apps. Do not delete them because they are part of the "digital trail". Incidents of hate speech can happen abruptly, so it’s better to stay alert and ready to report the encounter.
Support employees and colleagues. Provide people with the right resources and professional help as they navigate through this sensitive situation. Create a safe space where anyone who feels endangered can come forward for help, and be ready once there is a need for security or police protection, legal assistance and well-being support.
Set boundaries. HR leaders and legal teams can establish clear guidelines and procedures for preventing and addressing discriminatory language and behaviour in the workplace. This assures employees that hate speech will not be tolerated.
Freedom of speech and expression are the foundations of democracy. However, when that freedom is used to trample on other people’s rights and dignity by inciting violence and hateful spats, it should not be met with blind acceptance and nonchalance.