Empowerment Knowledge

Inequality in the workplace, is discrimination still prevalent in the UK workforce?

One of the key priorities in the UK today is to tackle the inequalities within the workplace.  Organisations and individuals tend to focus more on gender inequality against women in areas such as leadership positions and pay.  This issue often hits the media headlines and has encouraged initiatives such as the FTSE 100 boardroom recruitment (now extended to the FTSE 350) to voluntarily employ 33% of women to boardroom CEO positions by 2020.  Thus far, this has not been successful and further work and discussions have been encouraged to ensure that the target and the issues have been met.

We have also seen that the government have requested that large organisations including public sectors with over 250 employees must publish their gender and bonus gaps.  This resulted in the flogging of the BBC, who when publishing their figures in 2017 showed an extremely large disproportionate gender gap, with two thirds of male employees being paid over £150,000 compared with one third of women.

However, although there have been many discussions and a furore of responses regarding inequality within the workplace, one issue seems to be quietly undetected and kept under the radar….. Racial inequality within the workplace!  It has been suggested that organisations prefer to address gender, pay and age discrimination but when it comes to racial discrimination the silence is deafening and ignored. despite their being figures which prove that this inequality is very prevalent within our working environment. 

Discrimination against Black Asian Minority and Ethnic (BAME) people commences from the recruitment stage, with applications and CV’s rejected at the first stage especially if the applicant has a non-European sounding name.  It has been acknowledged that black women were 20% more likely to be unemployedcompared with 6.8% white women; these figures have remained the same since the 1980s. Therefore, progression in the workplace for BAME’s in employment is limited even though 64% thought that it was important to progress, only 5.5% were employed in top management and one in 13 in middle management positions in 2012 which was a steady decline of 2.1% over a nine year period, despite their white counterparts retaining their share in management positions throughout this time.

As this stats suggest discrimination still exists in the British workforce, figures show that 28% of BAME people have either experienced or seen others face racial harassment at work in the last five years.  Discrimination in the workforce does not necessarily take the form of overt words, actions and behaviours, other behaviours such as being overlooked for promotion, working in jobs that do not make use of an individual’s skills and capabilities or gaslighting (a manipulative form of bullying) are just some of the issues faced by BAME people in the workforce. 

Often depicted as ‘aggressive’ by the media, many black women (and men) have experienced microagression (unconscious expressions of racism or sexism) within the workforce and are often labelled as being ‘aggressive’ when speaking to colleagues sometimes because of the challenging circumstances.  A prime example given to me by a friend was when giving instructions her authority was undermined by a lower grade colleague who changed her instructions behind her back.  By doing so they were wrong and obstructive and when my friend challenged their behaviour she was labelled as ‘aggressive and getting her knickers in a twist’.  This is something that I myself and a number of my BAME friends and colleagues have been subjected to and because of this we are extremely mindful when challenging colleagues (in particularly white ones) because we fear that we will be either disciplined or stigmatised with the ‘angry black woman/man’ reputation.  As a result, inappropriate behaviours often go unchallenged opening the doors for the continuation of microaggressive behaviours by our colleagues.

Unconscious bias is considered to be a key contributor to discrimination within the workplace, whereby individuals unconsciously have biases or stereo types towards other races that are unfamiliar to their own backgrounds and environment.  49% of organisations are now offering staff equality, diversity and inclusion training such as unconscious bias training; however this is not a mandatory requirement for staff.  And with only 7% of organisations making this mandatory training for managers, this makes change difficult particularly when you consider that 28% of BAME employees say that they have either seen or experienced discrimination from a manager.

Discrimination within the UK has become more evident and blatant in recent times, especially since the Brexit referendum in 2016; as one of the main driving forces to leave the EU was down to immigration.  Since then, there has been a high increase and lack of intolerance towards racism and religionwhich has led to an increase in open racism within the UK, taking us backwards rather than forwards. 

In 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May commissioned the ‘race disparity audit’ which was published in October 2017.  This was much to the disappointment of critics as the report did not address anything that was not already apparent about the number of areas of discrimination which BAME’s face daily in the UK, including employment. However, although the report is no different to other reports it has generated dialogue on how to tackle the issue.  The equal opportunities policy no longer carries weight and does not prevent discrimination in the workplace; therefore in order to implement change one recommendation is for Directors to take ownership to change the culture of their organisations.  With a number of organisations providing equality, diversity and inclusion training to staff including the much publicized Starbucks, the next step would be for organisations to encourage open dialogue about discrimination in terms of what it is, the impact it has on BAME staff and how it can be changed.  However, ultimately strong zero tolerance policies should be enforced and exercised against any perpetrators rather than dismissed when reported.  In addition, BAME’s people who are experiencing race discrimination can now take their employers to court more freely without having to pay, as tribunal fees have now been removed. 

If you or anyone you know is experiencing racial discrimination in the workplace, please do not suffer in silence.  There are things that you can do to resolve the situation, these are a few of my own recommendations (but not exclusive):

1. Firstly DO NOT sit in silence!  No job is worth you being degraded or mistreated in any form.  Report any incidents to your line manager, if not your line manager then, their manager or go straight to Human Resources – this is what they are there for.

2. If you are not registered with one already, it’s always good to be a member of a trade union.  Trade union membership is not only for employees who work in the public sector, there are a number of unions which represent various industries, you can find a list of trade unions here.  Trade Unions are there to provide support to employees, if you do not feel you are receiving appropriate or enough support from your trade union rep, speak to their head office and ask for someone else to be assigned to your case.

3. If you are unsure what to do or how to handle the situation, you can get in contact with ACAS who are an independent advisory service that provides impartial advice to employers and employees regarding employment law.

4. Lastly, but more important keep a diary of key events.  Make sure when writing your diary entries you record the date, time, who was there and what happened and keep copies of any evidence to support your claim.  If ever your circumstances lead to disciplinary, investigations or employment tribunal this will help support your case immensely.

We still have far to go and it appears that since the first set of BAME’s immigrants entered the UK in 1948, situations look as though rather than moving forwards, they are actually going backwards.  But as long as you have the knowledge of what to do, you will have power!

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South London Blogger, who is passionate about writing topics that have an impact on people of colour in the UK!

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