Little progress made in workplace racial equality since 2018 

Comfort levels around discussing racism have barely changed

Almost two-thirds (61%) of Black employees experienced racism in the workplace in 2021, but despite this, over half of employees say employers are not promoting racial equality.

A new Racism at Work also revealed that even though there have been several significant global events over the last four years – including the murder of George Floyd and the widespread racial equity movement it sparked in 2020 – very little has changed when it comes to discussing and promoting racial equality in work environments. 

The report, based on research conducted in 2021 by leading business psychology consultancy Pearn Kandola replicates a 2018 study exploring experiences and changes in perceptions of racism in UK workplaces.

Discussing racism: 2018 vs today

Despite a global increase in conversations around racism, employees are still uncomfortable having discussions around race at work. In 2021, the average comfort level was only 59/100 – a number that has barely changed since 2018. 

Perceptions of racism in the workplace also barely changed between 2018 and 2021. Last year, 88% of employees believed racism existed in their workplace, rising by 2% from 2018 (86%). 

The lack of progress becomes more concerning, however, when looking at the number of respondents that see racism as an issue. Three-quarters (75%) of employees considered racism a problem in 2021 – a minor shift from 73% in 2018. 

“We’ve not seen enough change since our previous research in 2018, despite the global conversations that have taken place since 2020,” said Binna Kandola, OBE, Business Psychologist and Co-Founder Pearn Kandola.

“We are still as wary, if not apprehensive, about conversations around race as we ever were.

“If we are to make progress on race, it will be achieved by discussion. It’s time for us all to take a good, hard look at how we perceive racism at work, as well as inclusion as a whole, to ensure we are able to talk to one another in an environment of mutual respect.” 

Confronting racism in the workplace

As with discussions around racism, more needs to be done when taking action against racism at work. Worryingly, half of the respondents reported that their organisation was not doing anything to promote racial equality in the workplace in 2021. 

This inaction is evident in the way employees respond to racism in the workplace. While 52% witnessed someone being racist at work last year, over a quarter (28%) took no action, with the most cited response being “I feared the consequences”. In addition, almost a third (31%) of white respondents selected “It wasn’t my business” as a reason for not acting – rising by nearly 20% since 2018. 

Kandola commented: “The fear of getting it wrong is hindering the fight against racism. We’re still seeing concerns in the workplace around how to challenge racist behaviour constructively and how colleagues will respond if challenged. Despite everything that has happened in the world over the past two years, we have a long way to go in making race a topic that is able to be discussed openly and empathetically.”

Taking action

Of the 49% of employees that said their organisation was actively promoting racial equality, education was the most frequently cited action. 

Educational activities included: workshops, seminars and talks, learning, training and development courses. Championing equality in the workplace, culture and communication and changing internal policies and practices were also underlined as actions being rolled out in the workplace to promote racial equality.

“Education is a good place to start, but for organisations to create truly inclusive workplaces, we need to listen to the experiences of employees and implement actionable solutions,” said Kandola.

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