4 Signs That Racism May Be an Issue in Your Workplace

Thursday 12 May 2016
Racial discrimination is a growing issue, with almost a third of employees witnessing or experiencing racism at work
people's hands with different skin colour together

Even the suggestion of racism occurring at your office would make most employers feel uncomfortable, and British Prime Minister David Cameron’s accusation that the UK’s biggest businesses maintain “ingrained, institutional and insidious” attitudes that hold black and ethnic minority (BAME) employees back, reaffirmed the work British bosses still have to do to tackle the issue.

From preferential treatment for people of a certain race to the use of racist terminology, racial discrimination occurs when a person or institution alters its actions or behaviours based on race or ethnicity.

“Unfortunately, racism is not something that can be eradicated by having the right policies in a company; it depends really on each individual’s attitude and mindset,” claimed author I. Q. Mtungwa, in seminal book The Black Spot: A Critical Look at Transformation in the Workplace.

Drawing from personal experience, the writer added: “When I joined one of the top investment banks in the country, I was impressed by how black people were progressing within the company and the respect they got. However, on talking to some individuals, I became aware that it was not as smooth sailing as I thought it to be. Some of those blacks in senior positions and fancy jobs were actually not happy.

“Why? Mainly because, as one explained it, the treatment is such that they are constantly reminded that they are black, among a white crowd. Again, it’s not easy for one to point out exactly what the problem is, you just pick up the ‘vibe’. In that situation, there is not much you can do as a black person, except do the best you can and hope you get acknowledged and appreciated for it.”

Worryingly, the largest ever survey published on race equality in the UK workplace, published in November last year, shows that racial harassment and bullying in the workplace appears to be on the rise.

With more than 24,000 employees surveyed in the Race at Work report, conducted by racial equality charity Business in the Community, the research found 30% of employees in the UK that have witnessed or experienced racial harassment in the workplace have done so in the last year alone, an increase from previous years.

Furthermore, minority groups stated they felt more isolated in the business world, with only 55% of BAME employees feeling they are a valued member of their team, compared to 71% of white employees.

Here are four signs that racism may be an issue in your workplace:

1. Stereotyping

Managers must look out for examples of stereotyping in their offices, which can provide the basis for racial discrimination to occur. Often based on misconceptions and incomplete information, stereotyping is particularly harmful as it portrays false generalisations, and attributes the same characteristics to all members of a group, ignoring victims as individuals in their own right.

Be wary of the language used, and topics discussed, by colleagues. Are terms like “they” and “us” used often to create a divide? Also, are workers making derogatory comments about a particular element of a person’s culture or customs?

2. Hostility

Whether it is a black woman who is informed that she is too aggressive, a Muslim man criticised for not drinking during social events or an Indian immigrant mocked for their accent, managers should be able to spot unfair criticism and hostility towards racialised persons.

Victims of racism in the workplace also can be subject to accusations of being out-of-place, and not fitting in the office culture. Moreover, racialised people tend to find that normal differences of opinion or failing to get along with a co-worker may be treated as more serious due to the hostility held towards them in a racially-charged work environment.

3. Overcritical

With the increasing pressures of the modern time-poor, stress-rich business world, criticisms of employee performance from team leaders and peers is common.

Managers must be mindful, however, of how fair the criticism is to all staff, particularly minority groups, reacting quickly to criticisms that go a step too far. Victims of racial discrimination at work have reported being vilified for doing their work.

Muhammed Hassan, a marketer in West London, said: “Whether I deliver a project on time, or early, add bells and whistles, I often feel that my work is never deemed good enough.”

4. Consistently Overlooked

The “glass ceiling” is a prolonged issue that ties together all the previous points, and results in many talented, ambitious and well-educated BAME men and women failing to gain jobs, promotions or salary boosts, compared to their white counterparts.

But when the opportunities do finally arise, victims of racism note that their authority is constantly challenged and undermined by those both above and below them on the career ladder.

Frustrated British financier Mariah Edu remarked: “You feel the need to constantly prove yourself worthy of your job or opportunity. You know that some people assume you got your job, promotion, award, or special recognition, not because you worked your ass off or deserve it, but because you are black.”