New study shows mixed bag for ethnic minority inclusion

Structural racism is still a problem, although companies have responded well to the Black Lives Matter demands, says a new study

Racial discrimination remains a problem, with ethnic minorities less likely to visualise a future as a CEO and many convinced that racist beliefs are still widely held, according to a new study into multicultural Britain.

The study, from insights agency Opinium and ethnic diversity advocacy organisation reboot discovered that 64% of people from an ethnic minority background in the UK experience discrimination. While this has dropped overall from 73% in 2020, those from African, Mixed race or Caribbean backgrounds are most likely to say they have experienced discrimination (67%, 69% and 84% respectively).

In terms of workplace progression, Black respondents were the most likely to feel that they wouldn’t reach CEO level at large companies at 63% compared to other ethnic minority workers (46%). In contrast, only 12% of White respondents report similar feelings, which shows the extent to which ethnic minorities feel there are accessibility issues at work.

A significant 72% of ethnic minority respondents also said that seeing someone like them in a senior position makes them feel that they can reach that position one day, while 36% said their current senior/leadership team is less diverse than the overall team.

The study also reveals that microaggressions around race, rather than direct racism, are one of the prominent issues facing ethnic minorities in Britain today. In fact, 70% of those from an ethnic minority background think racist beliefs are widely held in society, while not openly talked about, while only 57% of White Britons share the same sentiment.

Nearly half of ethnic minority respondents (45%) said someone making a racist comment but making it sound like a joke was one of the most common forms of discrimination they encountered. A further 39% said someone making comments with racist undertones was most commonplace, while 36% said someone making negative comments about immigration was.

When it comes to accountability around better workplace diversity, equity and inclusion, the study shows that ethnic minorities seem to think this is more important than their white counterparts.

For example, when asked if firms should publish data on ethnic diversity in their workforce, only two in five (43%) of White Britons agreed, compared to 69% of ethnic minority respondents. Furthermore, less than half (45%) of White respondents believe their firms should publish a diversity policy, compared to 73% of ethnic minority respondents.

However, the findings do show that ethnic minorities believe their employers have made some inclusive changes to their business since the Black Lives Matter movement took off two years ago and demanded more anti-racist action across society.

Just under half (47%) of ethnic minority workers say their employer has taken “some” action on racism and ethnic diversity during the last year, which is up from 40% in 2020. Just over half (53%) of ethnic minorities think that businesses have made an authentic effort to focus on diversity and inclusion in the past year, with 27% of ethnic minority workers saying their employer has introduced new diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Priya Minhas, lead researcher of the Multicultural Britain series at Opinium, commented: “It’s interesting that this year many of our tracking questions have shown a drop in the number of people from ethnic minority backgrounds saying they have experienced discrimination or abuse.

“Whilst these numbers are still too high to be seen as positive, a shift in the right direction is a good thing. What is difficult to tell at this stage is whether we are starting to see a change in attitudes in the right direction, or whether this shift this year is because pandemic restrictions led to a reduction in social interactions between people, and therefore a reduction in the likelihood of experiencing face-to-face discrimination.

“It will be important to see whether this trend continues in 2023 and beyond, or if a return to ‘normal’ after the pandemic also means a return to the sort of disheartening figures we saw 2018 to 2020.”

Noreen Biddle Shah, Founder of reboot said: “Race and ethnicity have certainly gone up the corporate agenda these past couple of years, but there is still some way to go before we see parity in numbers. Ethnic minorities place huge importance on role models. Seeing people of their own ethnicity in senior leadership positions makes them feel they can climb to the top of the corporate ladder, yet less than half think their workplace is doing enough to ensure the senior team is diverse.

“Beyond the moral argument, reflecting multicultural Britain is fast becoming a reputational imperative for companies thanks to more shareholder and employee activism around social impact. And let’s not forget, for companies, this presents a huge commercial opportunity as well.”

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