Racism in the Workplace

6 months ago by Sophie Stones

Racism in the Workplace


Last month, a survey, which flew relatively under the radar last year when the results were published, resurfaced due to fresh analysis. The survey which will come as no surprise to some and shock others, focused on the experiences of BAME workers, asking; have you experienced racism in the workplace?

Despite over 70% of Asian and Black workers answering that yes, within the last 5 years they’ve faced racial harassment, for those with no firsthand experience it’s easy to assume that the problem lies with other workers and within other offices. However, respondents overwhelmingly agree that unless you’re the intended recipient of abuse, racial discrimination can often be insidious, leaving victims feeling alone, self-doubting and unable to provide solid proof.

With 55.6% of Asian, Black and Mixed Heritage participants reporting that their experiences have had an impact on their mental health, workplaces are simply not doing enough. In fact, over 40% who reported a racial incident say they were either ignored or labelled a troublemaker themselves. Worryingly, a shocking 1 in 10 respondents raising a complaint said they themselves were subsequently disciplined and/or forced out of their job.

The responsibility to create change lies on all of us, and it shouldn’t be left solely to the victim of racial discrimination to report incidents themselves, however whilst more than half of UK employees have witnessed racism in the workplace, the majority have failed to report it, or even to approach the victim, either due to a fear of consequences, uncertainty of where to report it, or, rather irresponsibly, not considering the incident serious enough to report. These results confirm that for many UK workers, there’s either a lack of an active, efficient, diversity policy or inefficient publicity of an existing one, that simply isn’t working.

Despite so many onlookers not deeming certain incidents serious enough to report, even small incidents of ignorant questions, insensitive comments, and inappropriate actions, such as hair-touching, build up into a larger picture of harassment, leading 28% of BAME respondents to take a period of sick leave. Personal statements by survey participants draw attention to insinuations of intellectual inferiority and suggest that they are exposed to excessive surveillance and scrutiny. These actions affect income, promotion opportunities, and training, something the report says contributes to "the profound impact that racism has on class experience, class position and the life chances of ethnic minority workers.”

Despite being fifty years after the introduction of the Race Relations Amendment Act, this survey proves that even if you can’t see it, racism “remains a widespread and endemic feature of everyday working life in Britain”, with many respondents claiming that incidents have gotten worse and more frequent in light of the current political climate. As the title of the report says, “Racism Ruins Lives” but it shouldn't be. Everybody has the right to a workplace that is free from discrimination, which promotes equality, diversity and inclusion and which says no to any and all harassment.

View the whole report here and please see below for the reports official list of ways employers can ensure they’re on the right track.

  • Ensure that a senior figure within the organisation, who is either trained or demonstrates a requisite level of experience or understanding, is made responsible for ensuring that the company has an equality and diversity policy in place and that this policy is shared with all staff, external stakeholders, contractors, clients and customers;
  • Ensure that senior leadership figures sign a policy agreement that guarantees equality and diversity practitioners have the time, space and resources required to fulfil their role, particularly in terms of having time to investigate and respond to reports of racism;
  • Ensure that equality and diversity training is made mandatory for all managerial staff;
  • Ensure that senior management figures and all employees in leadership positions are clear about their organisation’s policies on racism, equality and diversity, and acknowledge their responsibility to ensure that these policies are put into practice at all times;
  • Consider appointing a senior ethnic minority figure in the organisation to represent more junior employees that experience/witness harassment and bullying in order to prevent ‘speaking out’ against racism having a career limiting impact;
  • Ensure that senior organisational leaders and Human Resources staff work in a constructive, collaborative and transparent manner with trade unions, employee network groups and diversity and inclusion specialists;
  • Work with trade unions to establish targets and develop positive action measures to address racism and racial inequalities within the workforce;
  • Ensure that equality and diversity audits/assessments do not simply focus on measuring the demographic composition of the workforce, but also examine whether there is structural inequality in terms of pay, bonuses and levels and rates of recruitment and promotion;
  • Make sure that there is a simple method for ethnic minority workers to report racism at work, and make sure that ethnic minority workers feel confident that complaints will be taken seriously, acted on and dealt with satisfactorily;
  • Establish structures, roles and processes that unequivocally communicate that all reports of racism will be taken seriously and will be handled in a sensitive and timely manner, acting in ways which protect staff who are subject to racism;
  • Establish and sponsor ethnic minority employee networks which create ‘safe spaces’ and offer support to people who have experienced racism;
  • Ensure that procurement agreements with clients and external contractors should also include a commitment to opposing racism and treating staff with dignity and respect.