Why Racism is Still a Huge Issue in the Workplace

Racism at work is causing a large part of the UK workforce to leave their roles. 120,000 minority ethnic background workers have quit with more than 1 in 4 workers facing racist jokes at work, resulting in 35% of them feeling less confident in work1.

Statistics like the above demonstrate that racism is still a major part of workplace culture, structures, and the everyday working lives of many people in the UK. Racism in the workplace tends to take three forms:

  • Institutional Racism – the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes, and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people2.
  • Structural Racism – a collective practise which exists in workplaces and society, in the form of attitudes, behaviour, actions, and processes. It is the exertion of power and privilege based on race and class3.
  • Every day or Individual Racism – rather than one-offs, Everyday Racism describes the repeated, systematic and familiar practices which act to the disadvantages of minority groups4.

The above definitions come under Race discrimination, which has been illegal in the UK since 1976. Racial discrimination arises when someone is unfairly disadvantaged for reasons related to their race which, in the Equality Act 2010, includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins5.

What Form does Workplace Racism take?

One of the forms is microaggressions, or “death by a thousand cuts” and is one of the most commonplace forms of racism in the workplace. Whilst they may seem minor to the perpetrator, the person on the receiving end experiences stereotype threat, leading them to worry about their perception, their confidence goes, and their motivation can drop. Their mental health can suffer with victims often feeling angry and depressed which can result in them having lower work productivity and ultimately leaving the workplace.

Some examples of racial microaggressions are included below:

Microaggressions create a real disadvantage. The perpetrator delivering these behaviours or statements are often unaware of the demeaning action they have exchanged, sometimes they may even think they’re giving a compliment, for example: “your English is so good!”, when in fact all they are doing is labelling the person on the receiving end as different.

Microaggressions are rooted in our unconscious bias, but they can be both intentional and unintentional.

November 2022 demonstrated that workplace racism is very much alive in the UK, a review6 into London Fire Brigade found it to be “institutionally misogynist and racist” with multiple instances of poor behaviour and abuse across the entire organisation7.

How to deal with Racism in the Workplace

1.     Good employment practices are the best place to start.

Actively using an Inclusion & Diversity policy with relevant training demonstrates an organisation is taking its legal and moral obligations towards being an inclusive and diverse employer seriously.

Remove any opportunities for discrimination during recruitment by avoiding stereotyping, and using inclusive language. Sometimes, the easiest path is to remove all information from a form which could determine an applicant’s characteristics.

Promote clear standards of behaviour regularly and ensure a culture of responsibility for treating people with respect and dignity. Most importantly, adopt a zero tolerance approach to race discrimination.

For more guidance and information on the above explore the UK’s legal position on Race and Employment

2.      Training and Education is a Key Part of Eradicating Racism from the Workplace.

Racial Sensitivity Training8 helps employees to understand how their actions, gestures, and words can impact different people around them. By making employees more conscious of their behaviours, the workplace can become a safer place for everyone.

Understanding why we are biased and where they originate is another fantastic place to start on improving diversity and inclusion within organisations. Our Unconscious Bias Workshop explores where our biases come from, the main types of bias, and how they play out in the workplace.

Our Inclusion Allies Workshop is a vital step towards changing behaviours, as hearts and minds must change first. By understanding the importance and value of allyship, everyone can feel safe to be their authentic selves and contribute fully towards their team and business success.

3.      Talk about Racism at Work.

Conversations need to happen at as many levels as possible. We’ve put together a Sway with insights and guidance as to how to get started.

All of these are a key part in contributing towards Anti-Racism which is a process of actively identifying and opposing racism. Including changing the policies, behaviours, and beliefs which perpetuate racist actions and ideas. Choosing anti-racism is the best way to make our society and workplaces fair and just for everyone9.



Header Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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