Time for straight talking on racism in the workplace


The time has come to have an open and honest conversation about race in the workplace. In fact, the discussion is well overdue.

Recent research from the TUC found that a third of ethnic minority workers felt they had been unfairly turned down for a job, compared to just 19 per cent of white workers. More BAME workers also reported being unfairly overlooked for a pay rise – 29% versus 22% of white workers – or a promotion (28% compared to 21%).

The findings build upon separate research earlier this year from the TUC, which showed that the unemployment rate for ethnic minorities has increased at more than twice that of white workers during the pandemic, up almost two-thirds from 5.8% in the final quarter of 2019 to 9.5% in the last quarter of 2020.

This has reinforced calls for the government to introduce mandatory ethnic pay gap reporting, like that required on the gender pay divide. For its part, the Scottish Government used last week’s Public Sector Leadership Summit on Race Equality in Employment as the platform to announce that it is urging all public sector organisations to review their recruitment procedures and publish their ethnic pay gap figures.

This will have no direct bearing on private sector employers and remains voluntary in the case of the public sector. Given the large proportion of employers that have taken advantage of the suspension of mandatory gender pay gap reporting, it remains to be seen how many will freely choose to produce the equivalent data for ethnic minorities.

Government legislation is one way to tackle the structural racism that still exists in the UK labour market, but employers must also hold themselves to account for racial bias in their recruitment and promotion processes.

This will involve uncomfortable questions, robust training and rigorous monitoring. Given that the Race Relations Act was in force from 1976 before being overtaken by the Equality Act of 2010, it should also go without saying that employers need clear and transparent policies that promote diversity, inclusion and a zero-tolerance approach to prejudice.

But policies are of no use if they are not enforced, and this is where structural and unconscious bias are allowed to take hold. This is a problem that cannot continue to be ignored, and the only way to begin tackling it is by quantifying the scale of the problem.

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Posted on April 1, 2021