Studies Reveal UK Minorities’ Perceptions of Discrimination at Work

Studies Reveal UK Minorities’ Perceptions of Discrimination at Work

A new survey of ethnic minority business leaders in the UK from the consultancy Green Park shows that racial discrimination remains a serious challenge in the British workplaces, while UK businesses are not making sufficient progress toward meeting diversity and inclusion goals. The survey’s headline findings include that 18 percent of these leaders have personally experienced workplace discrimination in the past two years and that 82 percent of them do not trust their organizations and believe that there is institutional prejudice against minorities in the UK, People Management’s Emily Burt reports:

Meanwhile, just 2 per cent of companies surveyed by Green Park reported that they were meeting their targets for ethnic minority board-level representation, while more than a tenth (13 per cent) said they had an ethnic diversity target but no strategy for meeting it. …

However, nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of those surveyed felt most workplace prejudice was unconscious. In light of this, the researchers recommended that changes in attitudes towards institutional racism must come from the top and not just left to HR to “sort out”. But while 60 per cent of the surveyed ethnic minority leaders said they believed tackling institutional racism had moved up the organisational agenda in recent months, two-thirds of these respondents said workplace language around racism was emotive and made people uncomfortable.

Burt also points to a study published earlier in the year by the University of Manchester, which reviewed 25,000 incidents of racism in the workplace and came to the conclusion “that workplace racism was increasingly normalised,” with nearly 30 percent of surveyed employees saying they had “either witnessed or experienced racism from managers, colleagues, customers or suppliers.”

Meanwhile, the BBC reports on another new study conducted by the Trades Union Congress, which also found that more than one third of black or minority ethnic workers have experienced racism in the workplace:

Incidents included bullying, abuse, or being singled out for unfair treatment, a survey of 1,000 BME workers found. Almost a fifth of the workers said they had been passed over for training or promotion, the TUC added. Industry body the CBI said employers have a legal duty to protect their employees. More than 43% of ethnic minority workers said they did not report discrimination to their employers, and 38% did not report bullying and harassment.

At CEB (now Gartner), our own culture research on racial and ethnic minority employees in the US aligns with these studies. In exploring the data behind the relationship between culture and underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities in the US, we have seen that 72 percent of these employees do not trust their managers, which is especially concerning as 49 percent of minority employees say that trust is one of the top attributes for an organization’s success.

These studies also overlap with some of the findings from our work on pay equity this year. Essentially, the perception of inequities, whether or not they exist to the extent employees believe, in and of themselves can be toxic to the organization’s overall standing in employees’ eyes, further compounding those negative perceptions. This insight can be applied to discrimination of all kinds, not only in pay: Creating a fair and inclusive environment means both reducing the incidence of unequal treatment and addressing employees’ perceptions thereof. Telling employees from disadvantaged groups that the organization is not as unequal as it seems will not impress them, no matter whether it is true.

The biggest barrier the Green Park survey identified to addressing the challenge of minority representation on boards was the underdevelopment of pipelines and strategies for advancing diversity in leadership, as well as a lack of accountability and commitment, Sara Bean adds at Workplace Insight. She passes along the consultancy’s recommendations for how organizations can do better:

Lead change from the top: Diversity is not something the CEO should hand to a Human Resources Director to “sort out,” this strategy has been shown to be ineffective. Equality and workforce diversity must become a board level issue, with the executive publicly and regularly showing support. This is borne out in the research, which showed 84 percent of ethnic minority leaders want stronger leadership from the top on diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Optimise the supply chain: If organisations want to ensure they are reaching diverse candidates, they need to work with suppliers with lived experience and credibility that diverse candidates already trust.

Create your own talent map and pipelines: Recruiters should be tasked with isolating talent pools, internally and externally. There is a need to create programmes to engage and progress diverse talent and regular reporting is required to ensure representation is proportionally maintained.

Managers and leaders at organization may want to contribute positively to employees’ experiences of belonging, or to minimize instances of exclusion or discriminatory behavior, but don’t necessarily know how to go about it. In our latest research on building inclusive leadership, we argue that there are five major leadership behaviors that allow leaders to create inclusive teams: supporting team growth, fostering team accountability, leveraging leadership networks, demonstrating interpersonal integrity, and mediating productive conflict.

CEB Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council members can watch a replay of our recent webinar on creating inclusive leaders to learn more.