Workplace racism increasingly being ‘normalised’, analysis suggests



Review of 25,000 cases of racism at work highlights complicit managers, poor D&I training and workers’ inability to speak out

Managers are commonly indifferent to or perpetrate racism in workplaces, a new report from the University of Manchester has revealed.

The Equality, Diversity and Racism in the Workplace: A Qualitative Analysis of the 2015 Race at Work Survey has delved deeper into statistics from the 2015 Race at Work survey to uncover the reasons such prejudices occur and what can be done to combat them.

Nearly a third (30 per cent) of the 24,457 employees originally surveyed reported they had either witnessed or experienced racism from managers, colleagues, customers or suppliers. Some 17 per cent of ethnic minority workers also revealed they had witnessed such behaviour, and 16 per cent said they had been on the receiving end of it.

Two years on, the University of Manchester’s analysis of 25,000 workers’ experiences of racism found that instances remain rife.

An Indian male clerical worker said he was called a “p**i” by his manager, and another recalled that he witnessed a contractor make “monkey noises” and place bananas on a Ghanaian colleague’s desk.

The analysis also highlights anti-Semitic behaviour. One employee explained that the team ordered sharing starters at a restaurant, but opted for pork-based dishes so their Jewish boss could not eat them. He added that because those involved were more senior, he opted to take no action. “It made me uncomfortable and was one of the reasons I left [the role],” he said.

Several white British respondents reported witnessing colleagues from minority backgrounds being subjected to racism, leading some to suggest that racism had become ‘normalised’. Cases were particularly prevalent in the public, retail and service sectors. One male employee who worked in social housing said: “Prejudice is not uncommon [in the sector].”

Employment status also impacted on employees’ approaches to dealing with racism, with some on fixed-term and zero-hours contracts feeling unable to challenge it. One respondent admitted she said nothing about her encounter with racism because she was on a zero-hours contract and “needed the money”.

The 2015 survey found that less than half of employers provided equality, diversity and fairness training, while the new analysis highlighted a disconnect between those responsible for equality and diversity in workplaces, and the employees who are victim to it. One woman of Caribbean background said that such professionals “seem to have no knowledge of what injustice and inequality looks like, neither do they seem to care”.

The report makes a number of recommendations for employers, including ensuring a senior figure – who is either trained in or demonstrates a requisite level of experience or understanding of diversity and equality – holds responsibility for ensuring the company has an anti-racism, equality and diversity policy.

It also suggests devising clear equality targets aimed at eliminating levels of racial harassment and bullying incidents and complaints, and to examine if there is structural inequality in terms of pay, bonuses, recruitment and promotion.

The report’s author’s also recommended the government scrap tribunal fees, as well as ensuring tribunal committees are consistently diverse.

Rosie Pollock, senior inclusion and diversity consultant at Inclusive Employers, said organisations should be looking more closely into why racism is occurring in their workplaces: “[They] must focus on why it is not being dealt with in an effective manner before it escalates to tribunal rather than turning their focus to external factors.”

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