One in four BAME employees witnessed racist bullying from managers in the last two years

‘Disappointing’ survey into race at work shows lack of progress on recommendations made in McGregor-Smith review

One in four black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees have witnessed or experienced racist bullying from a manager in the last two years, a report has found, with experts criticising a ‘disappointing’ lack of progress on equality at work. 

More than 6,000 working adults responded to think tank Business In the Community (BITC)’s Race at Work scorecard survey 2018, which measured the progress of organisations on race-related issues since 2015, and outlined a series of actions based around the McGregor-Smith review into Race at Work

The results, published on Friday, revealed a quarter (25 per cent) of BAME employees had witnessed or experienced racist bullying from managers between 2015 and 2018. In addition, the proportion of respondents from a BAME background who witnessed or experienced racist harassment or bullying from customers or service users increased from 16 per cent in 2015 to 19 per cent in 2018.

“Employers need to be really clear about taking a zero tolerance approach to any kind of bullying and harassment,” Sandra Kerr, race equality director at BITC told People Management, citing a recent case of racial harassment on a Ryanair flight as a perfect case study of poor employer policy. 

“Employees deserve respect from customers and clients and the best service possible, and it’s a huge issue that one in four people go to work dreading it because of how horribly their managers treat them.” 

Claire McCarthy, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, added it was vital that organisations developed a clear process and followed it consistently. “Line managers should be trained and confident in implementing the organisation’s policies and dealing with any concerns or complaints. They should also be competent to have open and sensitive conversations with individuals and manage conflict,” she said. 

“Fair processes need to be followed in a reliable way, without fail, both to give confidence to victims that their cases will be taken seriously and to ensure that anyone accused is treated fairly, according to due process.” 

Despite a recommendation in the McGregor-Smith review that diversity should be included as a key performance indicator inside organisations, the proportion of managers with performance objectives to promote equality at work has fallen from 41 per cent in 2015 to 32 per cent in 2018. Less than half (48 per cent) of survey respondents said they had received equality and diversity training, and just 4 per cent said training on equality and diversity was mandatory for managers. 

More than half of BAME employees (52 per cent) believe they will have to leave their current organisation to progress in their career, compared to 38 per cent of white British employees. 

“While organisations may talk about focusing on race equality at work, the results show that they actually need to be challenged to deliver on outcomes or nothing will change,” McCarthy said. 

“Gender pay gap reporting is helping to achieve change for women and with the government now consulting on ethnicity pay gap reporting, this will help to focus organisations' minds on racial inequalities. However, organisations need to go beyond this to ensure all of their systems and processes at work promote and support race equality.” 

According to the report, just 38 per cent of respondents were comfortable discussing race at work, but Kerr said the responsibility for improving the lived experiences of BAME employees was shared by everyone. 

“We must not get into denial over these issues. People find talking about race difficult, they get uncomfortable and say silly things like ‘I don’t see colour’,” she said. 

“That element of discomfort has created some of these problems, so employees should be able to ask for support and access workshops and training on diversity issues. That principle reads across social grades and religions, and being able to talk about this touches all diversity strands.” 

Yesterday (30 October) BITC published its 2018 Best Employers for Race listing, recognising 70 organisations for their leadership on race equality and inclusion in the workplace. Laura Hinton, chief people officer at PWC UK, which is ranked on the list welcomed the acknowledgement, but said organisations still had a long way to go. 

“Progress is being made, and the recent government consultation on mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting shows employers need to take this seriously, but much more needs to be done,” she said. 

“We know that we do not have enough ethnic minority people represented in our senior leadership positions and, in order to drive real change, action plans need to directly address the underlying reasons for this.”