Understanding Marginalization In The Workplace

By Jack Flynn
Aug. 2, 2021

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If you’ve ever heard the term Marginalized and wondered: “What exactly does that mean?”

You’re not alone.

Especially in the workplace, marginalization can have major implications for the way certain employees are mistreated. Not only that, but this mistreatment can often be unlawful.

So, knowing that, this article will define marginalization, as well as outline examples of it in the workplace and what you can do to fight against it.

What Is Marginalization?

Marginalization is the treatment of an individual, group, or idea as insignificant or peripheral. Marginalized individuals are made to feel unimportant or powerless. Unfortunately, individuals or groups are commonly marginalized for their race, gender, sexuality, or religious beliefs.

Marginalization also leads to prejudice, where someone makes assumptions or stereotypes another based on these traits they can’t control. To this end, prejudice justifies discrimination.

That’s why marginalization is so dangerous.

The First Known Use of the Term Marginalization

The modern use of the term marginalization, or marginalized, was first defined during the social revolution of the 1970s. Chester M. Pierce coined the term in his 1970 work with African-Americans. Originally, it described the experiences of individuals and groups who lived on the fringes of American society.

The term underlines how these people are systematically excluded from obtaining the “American Dream.” Often, they completely lack the tools and resources needed to improve their current situation.

Over time, the term marginalization has become widely used in schools, support groups, and workplaces.

Examples of Marginalized in a Sentence

To further understand the meaning of marginalization, here are two sample sentences of its use:

  1. After several months of offensive comments based on her gender, Sarah decided to step up and do something about the marginalization she experienced in the workplace.

  2. Parker felt marginalized when he heard a fellow employee make a rude and inappropriate comment about his sexuality in the workplace.

Marginalization in the Workplace

In the workplace, marginalization affects how employees are treated. Typically, a marginalized person or group will receive ill-treatment or even discrimination from a higher power. This can be a manager, supervisor, or dominant social group.

The ones in power will have negative preconceived notions about an employee. It can be as simple as perceiving the marginalized employee as lazy or unintelligent sheerly because of their race, gender, religion, etc. This belief will permeate throughout the powerful and non-marginalized in the workplace, even if it’s not true.

No doubt, marginalization breeds a toxic work environment. It can lead to the marginalized employee being excluded from meetings or events, as well as having their achievements ignored. At its worst, marginalization can even lead to bullying in the workplace.

The worse is that it can happen to anyone. Though marginalization most commonly happens to minorities, that doesn’t mean it’s limited to specific groups. After all, a minority is simply people whose practices, race, religion, ethnicity, or other characteristics are fewer in numbers than those around them.

Despite our preconceived notions of marginalization, those who would normally be in the majority can become a minority in certain instances.

Either way, marginalization should not be tolerated in the workplace, as it creates a toxic, discriminatory environment.

Examples of Marginalization in the Workplace

Now that we know what marginalization in the workplace is all about, here are some real-life examples of what workplace marginalization can look like:

  • Stereotyping. Your co-worker assumes you should make the rest of the office coffee because you’re the only woman in the workplace. In this way, he’s falsely and offensively assuming something about your identity based on your gender.

  • Denying opportunities. Your manager purposefully chooses to give your promotion to someone else because of your disability, despite the fact that your disability doesn’t affect your work. This would be considered ableism and is a form of discrimination.

  • Withholding resources. Your supervisor doesn’t provide you with the same tools as your co-workers because he assumes that your Asian heritage makes you more capable. This would be discrimination based on stereotypes.

  • Bullying. Your co-worker insults you or makes otherwise inflammatory comments related to your race, gender, or any other identity. Bullying can also become physical, which is extremely serious.

  • Ignoring Efforts. Your manager refuses to acknowledge the work you do and even gives others credit for your work. This can be implicit marginalization.

  • Isolation. Your manager leaves you out of meetings or other events because you don’t “fit in” with the group.

  • Gaslighting. Your co-worker denies your experience and pretends like the other instances of marginalization you’re experiencing aren’t actually happening. This is a common tactic to keep you disillusioned and prevent you from speaking out.

How to Combat Marginalization in the Workplace

If you’re experiencing marginalization in the workplace, it’s easy to feel hopeless, detached, and even rationalize that you should accept your situation. However, the mental and potentially even physical harm you’re facing is not something you should grin and bear.

Instead, here are some tips for how to fight against marginalization in the workplace:

  1. Recognize marginalization. Though it’s not always easy to determine if the issues you’re facing are based on identities you can’t control, it’s important to do so before you take any other action. Refer to the example listed above to see if any of those examples match your situation.

  2. Believe yourself. You might find yourself defending your fellow employees, even if they’re treating you unfairly. You might even believe them when they gaslight you. However, what’s most important is acknowledging and believing what you actually feel.

  3. Address it publicly. Muster your courage and try to address instances of marginalization as soon as they happen, especially if it’s in front of multiple co-workers. You don’t have to rant or prepare a speech, but simply make it clear that the behavior you experienced was not appropriate.

  4. Seek support. If you feel truly beaten down and unable to escape your marginalized situation, you can always reach out to support groups. Even if your company’s HR department is also part of the problem, don’t be afraid to go outside of the company for help.

How to Support Marginalized Individuals in the Workplace

Even if you’re not being marginalized yourself, you might know a coworker who is. Or, if you’re a manager, maybe you want to do whatever you can to maintain a healthy, inclusive workspace.

Luckily, we have some tips for achieving this too:

  1. Express support privately. Knowing that someone is on their side goes a long way, so whether you’re a manager or co-worker, it’s important that you express your support for a marginalized employee. Have a conversation with them and allow them to feel supported and recognized.

  2. Address the problem. If one or more employees are actively marginalizing another, don’t be afraid to address them publicly or privately. Especially if you’re a manager, private coaching of these employees can go a long way.

  3. Affirm your commitment to inclusion. If you’re a manager or supervisor, be sure to state your support for an inclusive workplace publicly. When you make it clear that you don’t support marginalization, your employees are less likely to do it.

Final Thoughts

Marginalization is a negative experience that unfortunately happens to many people in the workplace. Even worse, it can happen to anyone and lead to prejudice and discrimination.

It’s important to recognize the signs, so if you or someone you know is being marginalized in the workplace, you can stand up to the mistreatment. Never doubt yourself when you feel as though you’re being marginalized in the workplace.

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Jack Flynn

Jack Flynn is a writer for Zippia. In his professional career he’s written over 100 research papers, articles and blog posts. Some of his most popular published works include his writing about economic terms and research into job classifications. Jack received his BS from Hampshire College.

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