Racism in the UK Workplace: The Facts

Racism in the UK workforce

Recent events have left the USA in chaos. George Floyd, an African American, lost his life due to police brutality. This has led to protests and riots not only across the United States but many other countries. These protests have created exposure for a systematic problem that has gone unchallenged for too long, it has also created conversations regarding race.

As a white woman living a privileged life in England, I made the ignorant comment “thankfully we don’t have the same problems here as they do in America”. It’s statements like this that has led me to realise that I need to educate myself.

Due to the racial history of the UK no matter our views on race, there is an “unconscious bias” in place.  This is the result of a system which was created by a group of people to benefit themselves. Only by recognising this will we be able to work to ‘fix’ it.


The History

In 1965 the UK passed the Race Relations Act, this made it an offence to discriminate against somebody because of the colour of their skin, race, or ethnic or national background in public places, like hotels, restaurants, or the cinema. There was still a long way to go to make racial discrimination illegal. So, in 1968, a new Race Relations Act law made it illegal for someone to be refused housing, a job or access to services because of their ethnic background. In 1976, the third Race Relations Act tightened the law, outlining what direct and indirect discrimination was, and the Commission for Racial Equality was founded.

The last act to be passed In the UK regarding race was the Equality Act in 2010. This defined race to include people of colour, ethnic or national origin, and nationality. This Act was supposed to legally protected employees from racial discrimination.


The Statistics

A study by the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, University of Oxford found that discrimination against black Britons and Britons from a south Asian origin has not changed in the past 50 years.  Prof Anthony Heath, co-author of this study said: “The absence of any real decline in discrimination against black British and people of Pakistani background is a disturbing finding, which calls into question the effectiveness of previous policies.”

The idea that discrimination in the workplace has not improved over 50 years is a very bleak one. When you think how far technology and media has come in 50 years the idea that racial discrimination is still as prevalent as it was in the late 60’s early 70’s is unfathomable but sadly it is true.

In 2019 the Racism at Work survey was published by the University of Manchester. They discovered over 70% of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) workers have been racially harassed at work in the last five years. 60% said they had been treated unfairly due to their race with 30% reporting that they had been bullied or been asked insensitive questions due to their race.

It is not just harassment from other employees that people of colour face. A painful 60% said they had been treated unfairly by their employer with almost 15% of women and 8% of men leaving their jobs due to racial discrimination. Worst of all, over 40% of those who had reported a racist incident said they were either ignored or had been identified as a ‘troublemaker’. It’s not surprising that workers on a permanent contract were less likely to report any discrimination even if they experienced it.

Not only do BME employees face racism at work they face racial discrimination before they have even started. Prof Anthony Heath’s study (above) found that minority ethnic applicants send approximately 60% more job applications to get a job interview.


The Experience

Although race is not a ‘hot topic’ in the UK’s media, this doesn’t mean this is not happening in the UK, it’s just more hidden. It is not enough to have the current, and arguably ineffective, legislation in place. More needs to be done for real change to take effect. How can we create a workplace routed in equality when we are incapable of admitting our faults and past neglect? Now is the time for acceptance and change.

Having worked from a young age, I had always noticed the lack of culture and diversity within the workplace. I have personally experienced racial abuse on different scales which has always made me aware and conscious, so I have found ways to overcome these roadblocks. The fact is, as a black woman I have to work harder to be perceived as a serious professional. In the past, I’ve been labelled as paranoid, but the current situation worldwide confirms I am not.

In the past I have been the only black person within a team of 10+ on more than occasion. Did I notice? Yes. Did it bother me? I refuse to let it. However, this can have a detrimental effect for some employees as soon as they join a company. A diverse workplace culture can make a huge difference to someone, increasing feelings of belonging, acceptance, and equality. I know from my prior experience it would have made me feel happier, accepted, valued, and empowered. Naturally, I would have been more driven, elevated, and connected.

I think we have come some way but a long way to go before I see the change I would like to see. – Chloe Jessamy, Founder, Clutter Cutdown and Supportal Services


The Next Step

John Lamphiere, vice president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Glassdoor said, “creating a company culture that celebrates and respects people for their diverse backgrounds and experiences should be a top priority for all employers”. But is this enough?

The idea of ‘name-blind’ CVs has been offered, in the past, as a solution for application discrimination. However, this is not enough. Evidence has shown that with name-blind CVs the applicant has received more extensive discrimination in the interview process than in the application phase. The creation of ethnic hiring targets and other ‘carrot-based’ approaches have had limited success over the past 50 years so maybe it’s now time for ‘the stick’? Fines for employers and fewer non-disclosure agreements (especially for repeat offenders) should be put in place. An employer may be more likely to address and eliminate racially discriminatory behaviour if their reputation is on the line.

When it comes down to it, the issue we must tackle is the ‘learned’ racial bias that many of us may not even know we have. To do this we have to improve the teaching of history and racism in our schools. In 2019 Glassdoor, released their Diversity and Inclusion Study which interestingly showed a significant disparity between the number of employees of different age groups who reported experiencing or witnessing discrimination. 42% of millennial employees said that they experienced or witnessed racism; this is 3 1/2 times the percentage of those in their 55+ who said the same. This stat was the only one to give me hope. This could mean that millennials are more likely to not only recognise but also to report racism in comparison to older generations. If this is the case, we could be looking at a generation with a better racial awareness, a generation who are able to acknowledge their privilege. In the past week I have heard many people state “it is not enough to not be racist; you need to be anti-racist”.



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