Have You Been Othered? 

Unveiling the Impact of Implicit and Structural Biases on Belonging, Visibility, and Value


In our diverse world, the unfortunate reality is that some individuals are often subjected to being “othered,” where they are treated as outsiders or excluded based on their identities and identity expression. This phenomenon is prevalent in both the workplace and society, leaving many to grapple with feelings of alienation and marginalisation. This blog post delves into the lived experiences of those who have been minoritised and othered, exploring the profound impact of implicit and structural biases on their ability to belong, feel seen, and valued. Additionally, I will offer insights on how to recognise, address, and combat these biases to foster an inclusive and equitable environment.

The Experience of Being Othered

Being othered encompasses a range of experiences for individuals who belong to marginalised groups, such as ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ communities, disabled persons, and women in male-dominated fields. In addition to these experiences, it is crucial to recognise and address other forms of discrimination and biases that further contribute to the othering of individuals. Let me here explore some less-famous factors that come to mind:

  • Faith-based Discrimination: Individuals who belong to religious groups that differ from the dominant majority in any given society, or those who practice lesser-known or non-mainstream faiths within their societies, may face discrimination in various aspects of their lives, including employment and access to public services. For instance, they may encounter challenges in securing jobs due to employers’ biases, or they might experience barriers when trying to access certain public services. Prejudice against specific religious beliefs can lead to exclusion, stereotyping, and even hate crimes.
  • Accent-based Discrimination: People with accents that differ from the dominant language in a region may experience discrimination in social settings, education, and employment. This can result in individuals feeling alienated and undervalued, affecting their sense of belonging and confidence.
  • Migration-status-based Discrimination: Migrants, refugees, and individuals with uncertain immigration statuses are vulnerable to being othered due to their nationality or migration background. Discrimination against these groups can lead to restricted access to education, healthcare, and job opportunities.
  • Appearance and Dress-norms-based Discrimination: Physical appearances and adherence to specific dress norms can also subject individuals to prejudice. This includes discrimination based on skin colour, body size, and cultural or religious attire, among others. Such biases can impact self-esteem and hinder professional and personal growth.

This list is by no means exhaustive and so many forms of othering still go unnoticed, unfortunately. In the workplace, these may manifest as microaggressions, unequal opportunities for growth and advancement, or exclusion from decision-making processes. In society, othering can lead to discrimination, stereotypes, and a lack of representation in media, politics, and other influential spheres.

Implicit Biases: The Unconscious Influence

Implicit biases are deeply ingrained attitudes and beliefs that individuals hold unconsciously, often formed by societal norms, media portrayals, and cultural conditioning. These biases can affect how we perceive and interact with others, leading to unintentional discriminatory behaviours and unequal treatment. For example, hiring decisions may be influenced by implicit biases, perpetuating homogeneous workforces and limiting diversity in leadership roles.

Structural Biases: The Institutional Barriers

Structural biases refer to the systemic and institutional barriers that perpetuate inequalities for marginalised groups. They can be found in policies, procedures, and practices that favour dominant groups, creating an uneven playing field. For instance, a lack of affordable childcare facilities may disproportionately impact working mothers, hindering their career progression. Similarly, racial profiling in law enforcement perpetuates injustices for people of colour.

Impacts on Belonging, Visibility, and Value

The consequences of othering can be severe and multifaceted. Individuals who are consistently othered may struggle to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, leading to lower self-esteem and mental health issues. Furthermore, when people are excluded and their contributions are undervalued, their potential to make meaningful contributions diminishes, stifling innovation and creativity in workplaces and society.

Acknowledging and Addressing Implicit and Structural Biases

Creating an inclusive environment begins with acknowledging the existence of implicit and structural biases. Organisations and individuals must engage in self-reflection to identify and challenge their own biases. Training and workshops on unconscious bias can be instrumental in raising awareness and cultivating empathy.

To address structural biases, institutions need to assess their policies and practices to ensure they promote diversity and equity. Implementing blind recruitment processes, offering mentorship and sponsorship programmes for underrepresented employees, and setting clear diversity goals are some steps organisations can take.

Combatting Othering and Fostering Inclusivity

Below are some suggestions to move towards a more inclusive workplace:

  • Education and Training: Regular diversity, equity, and inclusion training sessions can empower individuals to recognise their biases and work towards becoming better allies and advocates for marginalised and minoritised groups.
  • Amplify Voices: Actively seek out and amplify the voices and perspectives of underrepresented individuals. Encourage them to participate in decision-making processes and leadership roles.
  • Diverse Representation: Ensure that representation in all areas, from media and marketing to leadership positions, is reflective of the diversity of society.
  • Allyship and Advocacy: Foster a culture of allyship and support, where privileged individuals stand up for and support those who are othered.
  • Accountability: Hold individuals and organisations accountable for their actions and policies that perpetuate bias and discrimination.

Being othered is a painful experience that affects countless individuals in the workplace and society. Implicit and structural biases play a significant role in perpetuating this phenomenon, hindering the sense of belonging, visibility, and value of minoritised individuals. However, by acknowledging these biases and taking active steps to combat them, we can create a more inclusive and equitable world where everyone feels seen, valued, and empowered to thrive. It is on all of us to stand together and build a better future—one where othering is replaced with genuine acceptance and understanding. In today’s world, awareness around Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) is rising and we see businesses and organisations having teams, departments and policies to enhance EDI in the workplace, but is all EDI work real? 

The Importance of Real EDI Work: Beyond Tokenism

In the pursuit of fostering inclusive environments, it is essential to emphasise the significance of genuine Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) efforts. Tokenism, which involves making superficial gestures towards diversity without substantive changes, can be detrimental to progress. Simply hiring a few individuals from underrepresented groups to fulfil a quota or appear inclusive does not address the root causes of othering and bias.

True EDI work involves a deep commitment to promoting diversity at all levels, actively addressing biases, and creating an inclusive culture where every individual feels valued and respected. It requires a holistic approach that goes beyond recruitment and encompasses organisational policies, practices, and workplace culture.

By engaging in real EDI work, organisations can:

  • Foster an Inclusive Culture: Create an environment where diverse perspectives are embraced and celebrated, and individuals from different backgrounds feel a genuine sense of belonging.
  • Break Down Biases: Challenge and dismantle implicit and structural biases through continuous education, training, and open conversations, the word “open’ here is key!
  • Recognise Intersectionality: Acknowledge the interconnected nature of various identities and experiences, recognising that individuals may face multiple layers of discrimination. Listen to the lived experiences with humility and learn from them with empathy.
  • Provide Equal Opportunities: Ensure fair and equitable access to career advancement, training, and leadership roles for all employees.
  • Lead by Example: Senior leaders and management must demonstrate their commitment to EDI values through their actions and decisions.

Othering based on implicit and structural biases can be deeply damaging to individuals and society as a whole. Addressing this issue requires an understanding of the diverse ways in which people can be marginalized, including faith-based, accent-based, migration-status-based, and appearance/dress-norms-based discrimination.

To truly combat othering, organisations and individuals must engage in deep and authentic EDI work. This entails recognising and challenging biases, promoting inclusivity at all levels, and providing equal opportunities for everyone.

By doing so, we can create a world where everyone can thrive, regardless of their background or identity, and replace othering with a celebration of diversity and shared humanity.

Ready to bring this conversation to your organisation or community? Reach out to me at info@reemassil.com

*Image Credit:

Creator: jcarino | Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Copyright: jcarino

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