Racism and race related discrimination have been put sharply into focus during the last year. This has led to a renewed debate about race and ethnicity in our society and more specifically in the workplace. 

How is race viewed by employers and employees?

Race is one of the earliest strands of equalities and has been protected by legislation since 1976. Yet, in our Race inclusion reports we found vast differences in the working experiences among different ethnic groups.

We carried out a survey and produced three reports:

The reports show that more ethnic minorities (40%) want to talk about race at work compared to the white British workforce (23%). This may reflect the parallel experiences of the workplace that ethnic minorities have had, which is explored later in the article. Conversations about race are mainly being initiated through employee networks, followed by senior leaders and HR. It almost seems like those already committed to race inclusion are talking among themselves. Findings such as these indicate that some employers are not engaging with their entire workforce on race equality - they may have policies and initiatives, but these are not being actively communicated with the whole workforce.  

The stats show that staff are more comfortable talking about race with their colleagues than with anyone else. Trust in senior management is also a critical factor in determining whether staff are comfortable to talk about race at work. Our research found that where there is strong trust in senior management, more staff are willing to talk about race. Where there is weak trust, much fewer employees will raise race equality issues. 

There are three key reasons people do not talk about race at work:   

  • They do not feel a need to talk about it. 
  • They do not consider race and ethnicity an issue in their workplace. 
  • They do not see an issue with race inequality.  

Terminology relating to race and ethnicity is very important, especially, how people are identified. We found that a quarter of respondents felt that ancestral origin (such as Caribbean ethnicity) was an appropriate way to address people from different ethnic groups. However, a significant percentage of respondents were unsure about appropriate terminology. This lack of understanding may prevent some people from engaging in conversations about race. 

Encouraging ethnicity data disclosure 

When it comes to disclosure less than half of employers are asking their workforce to disclose their ethnicity. Ethnicity data is collected primarily during the job application process, which misses out existing staff that may not have disclosed their ethnicity. A hugely under-utilised tool for collecting ethnicity data is the staff survey, with only 16% of employers asking for ethnicity data. 
Although the vast majority of employees are happy to disclose their ethnicity, almost one third believe that their employer will not do anything with the data. A further 30% believe that their employer may say they will take action to tackle inequality, but that there will be no change evident. 

There are, however, actions that employers can take to encourage disclosure. Our research found that employees were reassured about disclosing their ethnicity when: 

  • There is a clear explanation of how the data would be used; 
  • Assurances of confidentiality are provided; 
  • Visible evidence of the organisation’s dedication to creating a fairer and more inclusive organisation; 
  • Senior leaders showing their commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion.

Equality of career progression 

The parallel experiences of the workplace faced by ethnic minorities is most apparent in access to career progression opportunities. Our research found that less than half of ethnic minority employees felt that their career progression had met their expectations. More than a fifth of ethnic minority employees said discrimination was the reason their career progression had failed to meet their expectations. A higher proportion of ethnic minorities said that a lack of training and development when they started their role and during their employment impacted their career progression. 
In conclusion, it is blindingly apparent that race inclusion, despite the years of legislation, diversity initiatives and campaigning, still continues to be a major barrier to the fair treatment of ethnic minorities in the workplace. 


It is vital that employers are not complacent about race inclusion and look closely at the experiences of their ethnic minority workforce. Employers can work towards creating an inclusive organisation by considering the following recommendations: 

  • Develop a comprehensive and well-resourced race inclusion strategy incorporating these three studied areas: conversations, data and career management. 
  • Collect, analyse and publish a framework of relevant ethnicity data and statistics across all the HR processes in your organisation (including recruitment, promotion, career development, and pay). 
  • Prepare for ethnicity pay gap reporting before it becomes mandatory and report voluntarily in advance if at all possible.
  • Develop an action plan for tackling any ethnicity-based disadvantage.  
  • Support senior leaders to lead the way in initiating positive conversations about race, to be clearly visible as part of the D&I strategy and to communicate the importance of race and ethnicity in the organisation. 
  • Support line managers to manage their teams in a non-discriminatory and engaging fashion.
  • Build a strong sense of belonging and involvement in the organisation by developing strategies to allow greater employee voice.
  • Consult employees possibly via employee network groups on the most appropriate individual and collective terminology in relation to ethnicity.
  • Develop a communications and involvement strategy to communicate and celebrate diversity aims and achievements, to share the organisation’s diversity data and to explain the D&I strategy.  

By Abdul Wahab

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