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Race discrimination at work - Unconscious Bias & Banter

View profile for Chloe Pereira
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In the pursuit of fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces, it is essential that we confront and address all forms of discrimination. This month, we focus on race discrimination, reflecting on how it often goes unchecked through unconscious bias and seemingly harmless banter. We also provide practical tips on how employers can tackle these issues and create a culture of respect and inclusion for all.

Ethnic diversity in the UK

According to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) data from 2020, the ethnic diversity of the UK workforce has been increasing gradually. However, disparities still exist, particularly at higher levels of seniority. A study by the Resolution Foundation the same year, found that employees from ethnic minority backgrounds face a significant pay gap compared to their white counterparts. The research highlighted that even when accounting for factors such as age, education, and occupation, an ethnicity pay gap persists.

The 2019 Race at Work Survey conducted by Business in the Community revealed that a significant number of ethnic minority employees experience discrimination in the workplace. The survey indicated that approximately two-thirds of ethnic minority employees had encountered barriers to career progression, faced unfair treatment, or witnessed discriminatory practices.

Unconscious Bias: The Silent Contributor

Unconscious bias refers to the deeply ingrained attitudes and stereotypes that affect our decisions and actions on a subconscious level. It can manifest in various ways, including race-related biases. Despite our best intentions, unconscious biases may influence how we perceive and interact with others, leading to inadvertent discrimination.

Unconscious bias is a pervasive issue in the workplace that can contribute to racial disparities. The CIPD's survey on diversity and inclusion in 2020 found that only 33% of organisations in the UK had taken action to address unconscious bias in their workforce.

Banter: The Thin Line

Banter, often considered light-hearted and harmless, can sometimes cross the line into discriminatory territory. It is crucial to recognise that what may seem like innocent teasing or joking can actually perpetuate stereotypes and create an exclusionary environment. When race becomes the subject of banter, it can marginalise individuals and undermine their sense of belonging.

Perpetrators and witnesses can often mistake the response from the subject of the banter as accepting of the treatment. It isn’t uncommon for an individual, in any situation, to respond to teasing by laughing along or even joining in. This doesn’t mean they’re actually ok with it, and it certainly doesn’t make it ok.

Challenging the Status Quo: Tips for Employers

  • Educate and Raise Awareness: Foster understanding and awareness of unconscious bias and its impact on workplace dynamics. Conduct workshops or training sessions to help employees recognise their biases and provide strategies for overcoming them.
  • Set Clear Expectations: Establish a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination, including race-related banter – and enforce it. Clearly communicate these expectations through diversity and inclusion policies, codes of conduct, and employee training programs.
  • Lead by Example: Senior leaders and managers play a pivotal role in shaping workplace culture. They should actively model inclusive behaviour, address any instances of discrimination, and emphasise the importance of treating everyone with respect and dignity.
  • Encourage Open Dialogue: Create a safe space for employees to discuss their experiences and concerns. Foster an environment where individuals can openly address instances of discrimination, including banter, without fear of retaliation.
  • Promote Diversity and Representation: Actively promote diversity in hiring practices, ensuring a diverse workforce that reflects the wider community. Encourage diverse voices in decision-making processes and provide opportunities for employees to contribute and share their perspectives.
  • Training and Sensitivity: Offer ongoing training programs that address unconscious bias, cultural competence, and respectful communication. Provide resources to help employees understand different cultures, challenge stereotypes, and navigate sensitive discussions.
  • Reporting Mechanisms: Establish clear reporting channels for incidents of discrimination or inappropriate behaviour. Ensure that employees feel comfortable coming forward and have confidence that their concerns will be taken seriously and addressed promptly.
  • Support and Accountability: Offer support mechanisms for victims of discrimination and ensure appropriate action is taken to address the issue. Hold individuals accountable for their actions, regardless of their position within the organisation.

Creating an inclusive workplace is an ongoing journey that requires dedication and commitment. By actively challenging unconscious bias, addressing banter, and fostering an environment of respect and inclusivity, we can build workplaces where everyone feels valued, supported, and empowered to succeed.

Get in touch

For advice on race discrimination and support building an inclusive workplace, get in touch for a free chat.

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