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Racial harassment prevalent in UK workplaces

The results of the largest ever survey of attitudes towards race at work contain some troubling findings

Racial harassment and bullying in the workplace is prevalent, according to the Race at Work report from Business in the Community (BITC).

The report, which is the largest ever survey of race issues at work with 24,000 responses, found three out of 10 (30%) employees in the UK had witnessed or experienced racial harassment in the workplace in the last year alone, an increase from previous years.

Only 55% of Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers said they felt they are a valued member of their team, compared to 71% of white employees.

Despite this, 65% of BAME staff said they enjoy working for their organisation, compared to 61% of white employees. Additionally, 64% of BAME people said they want to progress in the workplace.

Ambition to progress in their careers is particularly high for employees from a black background (72%), and for Asian (63%) and mixed race (61%) groups. For white employees the number was 41%.

Sandra Kerr, race equality director at BITC, said it was clear that ethnic minorities’ experiences of work are still not equal to those of their white peers.

“Despite having greater enjoyment and ambition for work, the experience of workplace processes and cultures for BAME employees is certainly not ideal,” she said. “This is compounded by the extremely worrying finding that incidents of racial harassment and bullying appear to be on the rise. The scale of this challenge is immense and needs immediate action.”

The report includes four main calls to action for government:

1. Commit to ensuring that during 2016 the UK Corporate Governance Code’s definition of diversity for listed companies includes “and race” – it is currently defined as “diversity, including gender”.

2. Use its procurement spending power to make sure businesses that tender for public contracts can demonstrate a commitment to racial diversity.

3. Draw up a policy framework on race to promote good practice and close the persistent unemployment gap.

4. Consider commissioning a review into race equality in the workplace with focus on promotions at senior management levels, similar to Lord Davies’ review of women on boards.

Group distribution director of Nationwide Graeme Hughes said the report raises major issues that employers must address.

“There are some very interesting findings – from the fact that employees from ethnic minority groups tend to be more ambitious than their white colleagues, to the issue that people do not feel comfortable talking about race in the workplace,” he said. “It really lifts the lid on the current state of race at work, and we as employers need to reflect on the findings and recommendations and have a good look at our workplaces.”