• Fifth of ethnic minority leaders have experienced workplace discrimination

  • 13 Sep 2017
  • Comments 5 comments

Tackling institutional racism must not just be left to HR to ‘sort out’, experts warn

Almost one in five (18 per cent) ethnic minority leaders have personally experienced workplace discrimination in the last two years, according to new research.

The survey from diversity consultancy Green Park also revealed that eight in 10 (82 per cent) ethnic minority leaders did not trust the organisations they worked for, believing there was institutional prejudice against minorities in the UK.

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.

Sandra Kerr, race equality director at Business in the Community, told People Management the survey findings were “saddening but not surprising”.

“Although there are some employers that are taking action on this pressing issue, the persistent BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] employment gap and under-representation of BAME people at senior levels suggests that others are continuing to overlook this – and risk missing out on the best talent,” she added.  

Raj Tulsiani, chief executive of Green Park, said diversity needed to be a central objective of any recruitment or talent agency. “This isn’t an issue of political correctness; it is an issue of ensuring firms draw upon the largest possible talent pool, benefitting from the breadth of experience and expertise of a diverse workforce,” he said. “We need much greater diversity at board level as a matter of urgency; there is no point having programmes at entry level ensuring greater diversity if these candidates become quickly disillusioned if they see a ‘ceiling’ they will not be able to break through.”

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.

“By confusing the hard objective of competitive advantage with the soft one of social justice people find discussing diversity uncomfortable – especially in the boardroom where many are worried their language will be perceived as racist,” said Ken Olisa, lord-lieutenant of Greater London and board member of the Diversity Recruitment Institute for Value and Excellence. “Tackling this is a business imperative and not an HR policy.”  

A study published earlier this year by the University of Manchester, which reviewed 25,000 incidences of racism at work, concluded that workplace racism was increasingly normalised. Almost 30 per cent of surveyed employees reported that they had either witnessed or experienced racism from managers, colleagues, customers or suppliers.

Meanwhile, a separate government-backed report – the McGregor-Smith review – published in February found that the UK economy would be boosted by £24bn a year if staff with black, minority and ethnic backgrounds enjoyed the same career progression opportunities as their white colleagues.

But according to the Green Park research, ethnic minority leaders are pessimistic about the likelihood of change in boardroom composition within the next two years, with two-thirds (66 per cent) of respondents saying they did not believe there would be a significant improvement in board-level representation by 2019.

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Comments (5)
  • And, I wouldn't mind betting, that women (all, BAME included) will have experienced something discriminatory (and negative) in the last month let alone in the last two years.

  • Is it me?

    Doesn't this report show that over four in five (82%) minority leaders haven't personally experienced workplace discrimination in the last two years?

    18% is far too high, but without a trend line, the stat is misleading and pointless. Not ‘fake’ news but the press seems to be biased towards a negative slant when reporting.

    I wonder? Could it be an unconscious bias?

  • Have to disagree with Peter on this one.

    Institutions can be inherently discriminatory. You just have to look at Oldco Glasgow Rangers FC, when it existed, to see how an organisation can discriminate on religious grounds through its hiring practices. They had an overt no catholic player policy. That's institutional discrimination in my book.  

  • I am very sure those practising discrimination, and those normalising their racist behaviours, are the 73% who insist on this being 'unconscious'. There is nothing unconscious about discrimination and HR and Trainers are facilitators, if not appeasers, every time they put on Unconscious Bias training. Still, it's a nice sop for organisations to pretend they are doing something! BAME people and white people who truly believe in trying to eliminate race discrimination aren't buying it.

    As usual, institutional discrimination will continue to flourish regardless of reports such as this pointing out the obvious.

  • There is no such thing as "institutional racism". Institutions consist of organisations with red brick facade or in the case of New Scotland Yard in 1980 a concrete facing. This misnomer was invented by Scarman in 1981 following the Brixton Riots.

    As a Sergeant at Brixton in 1981 we had two black officers (one on my relief) and they were not racist. I was born in East Africa, coming in the 06's to the UK and at the time I was sponsoring two children at Arusha School Tanzania.

    The term was something born or pulled out of a hat as Scarman had no idea on the complexities of the area, deciding that policing which was acceptable in my olde parish of Macclesfield, Cheshire, wasn't appropriate for London.

    Organisations consist of individuals, an individual can be racist, building most certainly are not, not even statues in Oxbridge are capable of racism. Racism is a state of mind, either by the recipient or the sender, which may or may not be present, but it can be received as such where none is intended.

    On my arrival in the UK from Africa I was given a name that was certainly racist, but I chose to ignore it, made friends and got on with my life, the name calling stopped. Some people will seek to blame the colour of their skin, their orientation, or something different to explain why they feel slighted. Get on with it, work hard and prove people wrong is all I can say.

    But as for institutional racism I've never been insulted by a brick, which come in various colours, and some even with a frog.