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Racism in the workplace: What can managers do?

According to a recent survey by business psychologists Pearn Kandola, over half of UK employees have witnessed racism in the workplace but a shocking third of them said they failed to report it to their employer.

 Less than a fifth reported the issue to HR and only 18 percent spoke to the victim, the survey found. Of the respondents who took no action, four in 10 said they did so out of fear of the consequences. A quarter said they did not consider the incident serious enough to report it, and a further 23 percent claimed that they were unsure of who to report it to. 

The stats

14 percent of the 1400 survey responses have sometimes felt that because of their race, they are not always actively included by their colleagues. Only 18 percent of witnesses of workplace racism spoke to the victim. The study found that black people, at 69 percent, were the most likely demographic to have witnessed racism at work, followed by Asian people (53 percent) and white people (45 percent). Only one in five of UK employees reported an incident to HR, with fear of the consequences the biggest barrier to speaking up.

What can managers do about workplace racism?

Based on their findings, Pearn Kandola made some recommendations for organisations.

1. Creating a safe climate

The survey’s findings show that people are fairly comfortable talking about racism. This suggests that the previous belief that we are all too afraid to discuss racism is not necessarily the case. However, it is important to note that those who have experienced racism are the least comfortable discussing it. We, as managers, therefore, need to promote discussion of racism with individuals who have experienced it first-hand. These are the people who have the richest insight into how an organisation’s culture may be fostering a racist environment. Organisations can make open discussion a habit through setting up regular minority discussion groups.

2. Developing our understanding of what racism in organisations means

One-third of those who didn’t report racism said it was because they were unsure of whether it was serious enough.
Managers should mention both subtle and explicit forms of racism in their training and their employee code of conduct. There is an educational role that needs to be undertaken, particularly with leaders and HR. Reporting incidents to a line manager and to HR were amongst the least effective actions to resolve problems. Additionally, unconscious bias training can be utilised to raise awareness of subtle racism.

3. Everyone has a role to play in workplace racism, including bystanders

Managers must work towards building a culture of inclusion, in which people can challenge one another on racism without fear. If an employee witnesses racism, they must feel they work in an environment which encourages them to share. Education can be highly effective to help everyone become better at being culturally inclusive.

A great tool for managers working towards creating a culture of inclusion isManaging Workplace Diversity by Nirmal Kumar Betchoo. Download it here: