Discrimination is behaving differently toward people from different social identity groups, such as those based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, or some other category that is not related to the qualifications, contributions, or performance of the target group members. It is usually thought of as unfair and is often illegal. Discrimination has been the subject of substantial research in the social and behavioral sciences. It can entail acting more favorably toward those who have not earned it or less favorably toward those who have, although most of the research focuses on the negative behavior toward less favored groups rather than on the positive behavior toward more favored groups.
Although discrimination can occur in many domains, this paper focuses primarily on discrimination in work and organizations. Research on labor market discrimination spans disciplines with most research being done in economics, sociology, psychology, and law, as well as in business or management. Such research has examined differences in access to jobs or employment including hiring and promotion, job rewards such as income and wages, evaluation of performance, treatment on the job from supervisors and coworkers, and unemployment or underemployment. Discrimination may be explicit or overt, but increasingly research has focused on more subtle forms of discrimination that reflect unconscious or implicit biases. Research also considers perceived discrimination.
Research on discrimination has examined trends in discriminatory behavior or outcomes for various groups, comparisons across groups in terms of the extent or experience of discrimination, antecedents and the consequences of discrimination, as well as mediators and moderators of discriminatory behavior. Most research on discrimination has found that those from lower status or subordinate groups within any society are more likely to experience negative discrimination, while dominant group members almost always receive more favorable treatment. Although there are variations in terms of circumstance and context, native-born, heterosexual men from higher social classes and from dominant racial or ethnic groups are disproportionately found in the best jobs, with the most authority, and with the highest incomes, while women, racial or ethnic minorities, immigrants, those from working or lower classes, and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are more likely to suffer adverse discrimination. An increasing emphasis on the intersectionality of social identity recognizes that the labor market experiences of particular people reflect the combination of their multiple identities. Discrimination can be interpersonal, intergroup, organizational, and it can be embedded in structures and institutions.