A new report from the Woolf Institute found changes to work and life patterns due to the pandemic could lead to an increase in racism and prejudice.
Three quarters (76%) of all workers in England and Wales work in an ethnically diverse setting, with the same percentage (76%) of respondents to the survey saying they have at least one friend from a different ethnic background.
By comparison, those without work were found to be up to twice as likely to have no friends outside their own ethnic, national and religious groups.
It therefore recommended that friendships play a bigger role in policymaking if workplaces are to continue promoting diversity and inclusivity during lockdown and the changing requirements of COVID-19.
The report suggested that the workplace was a “safe bet” for integration and cohesion strategies, though working from home inevitably means employees have less opportunity to mix socially with their colleagues.
Without having the time for friendship, the report suggested there is less opportunity to break down misconceptions that occur between different groups and recommended friendships play a larger role in policy.
The report authors also said “workplace solos”, the people who are the only representative of their ethnic, national or religious group at work, should be taken into consideration more often by employers as they are “well-placed to challenge stereotypes and establish new norms of social mixing.”
The strategy employers take may vary depending on the area they work in as there were regional differences in attitudes towards diversity and the likelihood that employees would work with a diverse group of people.
People in the North and East of England and in Wales were more negative about diversity than those in London. They were also 70% more likely to work only with British colleagues.
Workers in the East Midlands were four times more likely than those in London to work only with colleagues from the same religious background.
Shabir Randeree, the Woolf Institute’s chair of the board of trustees, and institute founder and director Edward Kessler wrote in the report: “In today’s society, it is essential not only to take diversity seriously, but also to reflect on the significance of how we view one another. Indeed, it is only with such an understanding that we learn how to get on together.
“We believe this is an important report and ask that its findings, which takes into account an extensive range of different views, be widely considered across the political spectrum by policymakers, government officials, religious and community leaders and the wider public.”
The Woolf Institute's report, How We Get Along: The Diversity Study of England and Wales 2020, is based on a survey of a nationally representative sample of 11,701 people across England and Wales. The survey was conducted between 29 March and 5 April 2019.