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Promoting racial equality in the workplace

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Despite increased awareness of racial disparities in the workplace, racial discrimination persists. While many employers want to promote racial equality at their organisation, some may not know where to start or may be worried about getting it wrong. This article discusses recent Government action on tackling discrimination in the workplace and suggests steps employers can take. 

Legal protection

The Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010) defines ‘race’ as including:

  • Colour;
  • Nationality; and
  • Ethnic and national origins.

Part 5 of EA 2010 protects individuals in employment, occupation and vocational training against race discrimination, harassment and victimisation. This includes both job applicants and individuals ‘in employment’, i.e. those under a contract of employment, an apprenticeship agreement or a contract personally to do work.

The effects of race discrimination in the workplace

Racism and discrimination in the workplace can hurt employee morale, and cause some employees to leave an organisation. A recent study of 2,000 women of colour in the UK showed that 75% have experienced racism at work. Another survey of 250 professional Black women in senior management positions presented that 50% have resigned from roles as a result of unfair treatment relating to their race. Employers must be proactive in ensuring racial equality in their workplaces if they want to maintain a diverse talent pool.

Government involvement

Following the increased attention on the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was established with the support of the Government. The Commission’s 2021 report listed various recommendations to combat racial inequality and discrimination. In response, the Government proposed several “comprehensive actions” to increase opportunities for racial and ethnic minorities in employment.

Key proposals from the Government report that involve employers

There were many proposals within the Government report, including:

  • Promoting avoidance of categorising minorities under one group, for example, by using terms such as ‘BAME’. Individuals from different minorities experience different discrimination relating to their race, so it can be unhelpful to use umbrella terms which group ethnicities together;
  • Committing to improve career progression for individuals of all minorities;
  • Encouraging greater diversity on Boards;
  • Updating the Government Equalities Office guidance to empower employers to use positive action;
  • Creating an Inclusion at Work Panel in 2023 which will provide a resource for employers on promoting inclusion and confronting bias at work;
  • Creating an Inclusion Confident Scheme in 2023 which will allow employers to voluntarily sign up and show their pledge to inclusion; and
  • Addressing ethnicity pay gap reporting. There has been much discussion as to whether ethnicity pay gap reporting should be mandatory; currently there is no legal requirement for employers to report on this, however this can be done on a voluntary basis.

What can employers do to promote racial equality in their workplaces?

There is no “one size fits all” solution to racial discrimination in the workplace, but there are many strategies businesses could implement depending on their size and resources. These include:

  • Avoid microaggressions. A microaggression is a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group, such as a racial or ethnic minority;
  • Review recruitment procedures to ensure that they are inclusive;
  • Review policies and procedures to ensure that they do not discriminate against minorities;
  • Encourage an open-dialogue on racism at work;
  • Seek to understand how unconscious bias can affect the way minorities are treated at work;
  • Provide regular training on race discrimination, harassment and victimisation;
  • Ensure that employment opportunities are available to all staff; and
  • Deal with allegations of racism promptly in accordance with their polices.

Innovative ways that employers can ensure racial equality in their workplaces

  • Include an equal opportunities statement on their company’s website;
  • Create a judgement-free space for staff to discuss and ask questions about race;
  • Invite guest speakers of minority groups to speak at their workplaces to provide training;
  • Exercise their right to make positive action in recruitment to encourage minorities to apply for roles;
  • Consider whether working practices, such as working in the office full-time could be amended to a hybrid working system. This may encourage minorities who live a further distance from workplaces to apply for roles if there is greater flexibility in how they work;
  • Appoint a diversity and equality officer who will be able to dedicate their role to promoting racial equality; and
  • Conduct annual racial and ethnicity monitoring with their employees in order to obtain accurate statistics and feelings about diversity in their workplace.

Consequences for employers of successful race discrimination claims

If an employee feels they have been discriminated against, they may bring a claim against their employer, and/or any other individual, such as manager or a colleague whom the employee believes to be responsible for the discrimination.

Where an employee is successful in their discrimination claim, an Employment Tribunal may award any or all of the following remedies:

  • a compensatory award;
  • an appropriate recommendation with the aim of reducing the effect of the discrimination on the employee; and/or
  • a declaration regarding the rights of both parties relating to the proceedings.

Compensatory awards for discrimination claims is uncapped so awards may be large.

 

Conclusion

It is important that employers encourage racial equality in their workplaces given that recent statistics present that minorities are facing racism at work. As discussion on this subject increases and as people become more educated, it is vital that employers also remain up-to-date.

Having a diverse workforce can positively affect businesses by resulting in different viewpoints and ideas. Implementation of the new Government proposals will greatly assist in helping employers ensure that they have an inclusive workplace, but until then there are still steps that employers can take to protect themselves against successful discrimination claims, as well as making their workplaces more inclusive for minorities.