How to Spot Racism in the Workplace

Wednesday 12 August 2015
Following the terrible stabbing of supply teacher Vincent Uzomah, we examine how managers can spot the signs of racism and discrimination in the workplace and the steps they should take to address emerging problems
diagram showing diversity

Since the turn of the millennium, diversity has become a go-to buzzword for businesses and governments – even underpinning the successful Olympic Games campaign for the 2012 showpiece.

Bringing positive cultural and economic value to companies and industries of all sizes, workforces comprised of people of different races, genders, religions and disabilities have become synonymous with modern business.

Supported by legislation, including the amended Race Relations Act 2000, the drive to eradicate discrimination within organisations is clear. However, managers must be mindful that there is still significant work to do, as continuing institutional racism has resulted in racial inequality in the workplace worsening over the last decade, according to research by the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank.

Since the early 2000s, more than a third of districts in England and Wales – including large metropolitan cities such as Leeds, Bristol and Cardiff – reported an increase in ethnic inequalities in employment.

The study suggests racial prejudice to be a factor in recruitment, with a clear gulf between employment outcomes for ethnic minorities when compared to white British citizens, even though the former had a better educational background on average.

A series of high-profile racial discrimination cases at some of the UK’s leading employers, including police officer Carol Howard’s court win against the Metropolitan Police last year totalling £37,000, show how failures to address prejudice in the workplace can leave bosses vulnerable to losing money and damaging their reputation. In 2013-14 alone, UK employers faced 3,064 racial discrimination claims from disgruntled workers.

Identifying Office Discrimination

One of the major difficulties can be spotting racial discrimination in the workplace due it often being displayed in a covert manner. Bosses must be vigilant and recognise the signs. Just how can you tell if a member of staff feeling victimised by colleagues due to their race, gender or religion?

Three common examples of workplace discrimination include:

1. Halted recruitment and career advancement

Earlier this year, police constable Ronnie Lungu won a race discrimination case against Wiltshire Police for refusing to promote him based on the colour of skin. Some of the largest British public and private organisations have a high number of ethnic minority employees, but they are seldom seen in senior management roles.

Bosses must be sure to constantly check their promotion guidelines are reflective of a meritocratic organisation, which rewards workers based on their quality of work, experience and qualifications.

2. Staff divisions

Managers should also be aware of people being ignored or treated differently due to their race – usually a more subtle form of discrimination. This could range from black and minority groups having their ideas ignored or excessively ridiculed or seeing the formation of divisions between working teams based on race.

To prevent this, bosses must emphasise the importance of a cohesive working environment; promoting diverse teams and departments, and encouraging staff to get to know each other both inside and outside the office.

3. Hateful jokes and name-calling

Unlike the previous two, this is the most overt and easiest to spot for a manager. Although the assailants may try to pass it off as “funny” and “harmless,” bosses must be aware of race-related jokes and name-calling which can have an isolating and humiliating effect on staff. The perpetrators must be disciplined immediately and effectively.

What Can Employers Do?

Ultimately, in all three of these examples, bosses must have a safe and trusted relationship with their employees, whereby they feel comfortable to reveal any grievance they may have. A zero-tolerance policy is imperative and allows staff to provide feedback of how the process can be made even more robust. As a result, staff are confident that any issue can be dealt with effectively.