Coqual calls out racial injustice in British workplaces

Two in three Black professionals have experienced racial prejudice at work

Unless you have lived experience, it’s impossible to fathom the level of racism, microaggressions and unfair treatment that is still the norm for Black professionals in the UK workplace.

Systemic racism in the UK is downplayed, but Black professionals who experience daily microaggressions and barriers to advancement in the workplace know it exists.

In fact, professionals who are Black are 81% more likely than White professionals to say their companies are “not at all” or only “slightly” fair, according to a new study by global think tank Coqual.

Earlier this year, Coqual reported that nearly half of Black UK professionals surveyed say race is one of the aspects of their identity that most impacts how people see or treat them at work.

Its new report, Being Black in the United Kingdom, documents how race continues to shape the Black experience in the UK and uncovers data-backed differences within the diverse Black community along the lines of gender, heritage, social class background, and other layered identities.

For example, more than half (52%) of Black women and 46% of Black respondents overall intend to stay at their companies for just two years or less, compared to 34% of White professionals.

When it comes to their aspirations, 63% of Black employees surveyed say they are very or extremely ambitious – a higher percentage than any other racial group surveyed.

“For far too long, the voices and experiences of Black professionals have been ignored. This new report sheds light on these experiences while illustrating what’s at stake for companies that choose to ignore the bias and barriers Black employees face,” said Lanaya Irvin, Coqual’s CEO.

“Our data and insights reveal that race is a salient and critical factor and provides ways for companies to make real, sustainable changes that will set the course and foundation for Black professionals to thrive in the workplace.”

Coqual finds Black UK professionals face a steep climb than their colleagues recognise. More than three in four (76%) Black professionals surveyed say Black employees have to work harder to advance. In comparison, only 30% of White professionals, 42% of Asian professionals, and 52% of mixed-race professionals say the same.

According to the survey, Black professionals experience 13 microaggressions more frequently than their White and Asian colleagues do—acts that underestimate, invalidate, and tokenise them, among others.

“Black professionals in the UK are experiencing harsh daily realities,” said Julia Taylor Kennedy, Coqual’s Executive Vice President.

“While many companies are having more conversations about race at work, they are not leading to much action – which can be incredibly dispiriting. In our study, we provide a framework for action.”

Prejudiced attitudes and encounters take many forms and show up daily, forcing Black professionals to anticipate and endure negative treatment. Coqual finds more than two in three Black (68%) and more than half (58%) of mixed-race professionals surveyed say they have experienced racial prejudice at their current or former companies, compared to White (28%) and Asian (50%) professionals who say the same.

The experiences of Black professionals in the UK are far from monolithic and corporate leaders need to understand the differences within the UK’s diverse Black community. Coqual’s survey uncovers the unique experiences that Black professionals have based on heritage. Nearly half of Black Caribbean professionals (47%) surveyed say their organisation is “not at all” or only “slightly” fair, a higher rate than Black African professionals (35%). Black Caribbean professionals are also less likely than their Black African peers to say they can be themselves at work (40% vs 59%).

Meanwhile, Black African professionals in the UK face microaggressions that label them perpetual foreigners more frequently than Black Caribbeans. Colleagues mispronounce their names and assume they grew up disadvantaged or are unfamiliar with UK culture. In interviews and focus groups, Coqual heard how these stereotypes signal that Black African professionals do not belong or should not stay in the UK.

The new report, resulting from a survey of more than a thousand college-educated professionals in the UK, in-depth conversations, focus groups, and interviews, provides actionable solutions for organisations to build more inclusive workplaces.

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