One in five UK adults has faced workplace discrimination, international survey finds

Experts urge HR professionals to build an environment where underrepresented people ‘thrive and want to stay’

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One in five (22 per cent) people have faced discrimination in the workplace – with this figure much higher for underrepresented groups, a new study has found. 

The survey of 4,973 individuals across the US, UK, France, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, conducted by Savanta, found that 22 per cent of UK employees had faced prejudice at work because of their identity – the equivalent to 7.3 million adults.

For people with an Asian background, this rises to 41 per cent of people and, for people who belong to the LGBTQ+ community, 33 per cent had faced discrimination.

Two in five (42 per cent) Savanta survey respondents said pay and access to opportunities were where inequalities were still prevalent, with Black respondents most likely to say they had been passed over for a promotion compared to the UK average response rate (58 per cent versus 24 per cent).

It found a quarter of employees (24 per cent) have left a role or are considering doing so because of expressing their views.

Paul Anderson-Walsh, CEO of The Centre for Inclusive Leadership, said those businesses that are falling behind could be missing out on “top talent”, which in turn helps them tackle future challenges. “Organisations relying on innovation need cognitive diversity for fresh ideas, benefiting from various perspectives to solve problems uniquely, as environments that value differences attract top talent, enhance engagement and boost reputation,” he said.

Anderson-Walsh added that HR has an important role to play here in shifting “the perspective of those who think diversity is solely about others and to view the organisation as a system.

“HR has to ensure that underrepresented social identities feel that theirs is an organisation that people want to join and thrive in – and because they thrive, stay.” 

Advita Patel, co-author of Building a Culture of Inclusivity, explained that organisations that ignore the needs of talent will not be able to future proof their business. “It’s proven that diverse teams will make more well-rounded decisions, adapt better to change and gain broader customer insights, and inclusive behaviour will attract and retain top talent, enhance the organisation's reputation and help promote cultural understanding,” she said.

Yet, despite many UK employers trying to improve on the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) agenda – 45 per cent of UK respondents said their employer had a diversity taskforce or team – a recent Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) survey of employers found that many are not being as inclusive as they could be during the hiring process.

Although REC’s June 2023 survey of 167 employers found there has been year-on-year growth in the number of businesses reviewing the wording of job adverts to be more inclusive (60 per cent of respondents in 2023 compared to 54 per cent in 2022) almost half of employers (49 per cent) do not state their interest in hiring diverse candidates.

In addition, two thirds (67 per cent) of respondents do not use name-blind CVs during selection – a figure that has risen from 53 per cent of respondents in 2022 – while more than half (56 per cent) do not have a policy of using diverse interview panels.

To ensure that HR is recruiting in an inclusive manner, Claire McCartney, senior inclusion adviser at the CIPD, explained that there needs to be a focus on making the role requirements clear, specific and behaviour based.

In addition, HR should remove any biased language from job adverts and use the tagline ‘happy to talk flexible working’ wherever possible. “It’s also good practice to anonymise applications and to use structured interviews and skill-based assessment tasks for selection and it’s also important to collect high-quality data to measure inclusion outcomes,” she added.