We all need to tackle racist bullying at work

We all want to feel valued at work. But not everyone is treated the same, and unfortunately it is becoming all too common for black, Asian and mixed-race employees to suffer bullying and harassment in the workplace. While many businesses encourage people to report it, our research has found that employers are not always acting to resolve issues effectively. 

This month, we released the findings of Business in the Community’s 2021 Race at Work Survey. On the topic of fairness and equal treatment, respondents had a lot to say. And when it comes to bullying and harassment, there’s a lot that needs to change.

This year, almost a third of black and Asian employees reported they had witnessed or experienced bullying and harassment from their managers and 38% of black, 29% of Asian and 27% of mixed-race employees shared that they had witnessed or experienced bullying and harassment from customers, clients and service users.

This has deteriorated over the past three years. Since the 2018 Race at Work Survey found that out of 24,300 respondents, one in four of black, Asian and mixed-race employees reported that they had witnessed or experienced racist harassment or bullying from managers in the last two years.

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This year we have called on the UK government to help stamp out bullying and harassment in business from clients, customers and service users, by adding increased protections for employees in the Employment Bill. 

But we need more employers to act on this issue. Fewer employers are taking action when bullying is reported. Business in the Community’s Race at Work Charter Report in a survey of 114 employers in 2020 found that while 99% of companies encourage employees to call out bullying and harassment if it is observed in the workplace, fewer employers are conducting reviews into these cases, falling from 45% in 2019 to just 38% in 2020. 

For those who reported bullying, our 2018 survey found that only 42% of employees had received support to call out racial harassment and bullying.

This year, the number of employees gaining support from their employers has increased, with 50% of white employees and 46% of ethnically diverse employees sharing that their employers encouraged them to call out bullying.

When put within the context of this year’s survey findings, this suggests that with each passing year more employees feel supported by their employers to speak up and call out bullying when they see it. While this is a promising trend, it is still fewer than half of the number of employees from ethnically diverse backgrounds who feel this way. 

It comes as no surprise then, that many people still believe they need to leave their company to progress in their careers. This year’s survey found that 45% of ethnically diverse employees reported feeling this way, compared with 31% of white employees.

This indicates that the belief of needing to leave a company for career progression is heightened for employees from an ethnic minority background. 

So what’s to prevent people from leaving? It’s up to employers to tackle racial inequality, harassment and bullying in the office, and to make their companies a safe place to work. We are asking employers to sign the Race at Work Charter and: 

  • Appoint an executive sponsor for race
  • Capture ethnicity data and publicise progress
  • Commit at board level to zero tolerance of harassment and bullying
  • Make equity, diversity and inclusion the responsibility of all leaders and managers
  • Take action that supports black, Asian, mixed-race and other ethnically diverse employee career progression
  • Support race inclusion allies in the workplace
  • Include black, Asian, mixed-race and other ethnically diverse-led enterprise owners in the supply chains

Together we can put a stop to bullying, end harassment and make businesses a place where people of diverse backgrounds and talent will want to stay. But only by taking action now, and putting racial equality as a priority for businesses, will we see change happen.

October is Black History Month in the UK and every Friday throughout HR magazine will be posting a series of expert perspectives on how HR can provide better support for Black employees in the workplace.