How to fight xenophobia and racism in the workplace

93% of workers don't believe workplace racism exists

How to fight xenophobia and racism in the workplace

You may think that xenophobia and racism in the workplace are long gone – that every employee is treated equally, respectfully, given the same praise and opportunities. Or, at the very least – you console yourself that racism doesn’t exist in your workplace. Not in your organization – not in your team.

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Well, you’d be dead wrong. The fact is racism is alive and well in most companies – big or small, old or new. The mistake most people make is not recognising racism when they come face to face with it. Racism isn’t loud or brash – it’s subtle, quiet, and sometimes barely perceptible. But it’s still there. HRD has uncovered some of the best methods of identifying xenophobia in your workplace eradicating it for good.

Spotting racism at work

To end racism, you must first identify it. According to Glassdoor, 42% of employees have witnessed or experienced racism in their company – and yet, shockingly, 93% of white workers still don’t believe it exists. This disparity is alarming, and something HR leaders need to take note of. There’s a few signs and signals that you can look out for that may suggest foul play.


One way of assessing whether race is an issue in your team is by looking for stereotyping. This will normally take the form of generic misconceptions and sweeping, false, generalisations. Terms such as ‘they’ or ‘them’ and ‘us’ or ‘we’ are key identifiers that something’s wrong.

Being overlooked

Another xenophobic indicator is being overlooked – whether that’s the C-suite blocking an employee’s deserved promotion, or an employee not being offered the same development opportunities. For instance, black workers have just 31% access to their senior leaders – compared to white workers at 44%. It may be subtle – but it’s there. Take a look at your boardroom executives. Is it a diverse mix of race and gender? If not, how could you help improve the ratio?

Start small conversations

Racism isn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon – it doesn’t just manifest itself out of thin air. It’s perpetually propagated and it always has a source. Finding that source is essential – and that beings with starting small, yet powerful, conversations. Starting with the executive team.

Read more: CEO fired over alleged racism against Uber driver

“As a leader, have a group talk with your employer and your employees,” added Kimberly Lee Minor, CEO of consulting firm Bumbershoot. “Try to understand their individual stances on issues – uncover their levels of exposure. Who is in their world? Who is in their inner circle? Once you find the problem, try to understand whether the racism is due to an inherent lack of education or exposure or background. From here you can start having meaningful conversations in order to help bridge the gap.”

Educating employees

Ignorance, unfortunately, is rife in workplaces with employees oftentimes using terms that they believe are ‘harmless’. Well, they’re not. And it needs to stop.

“Discussing racism might be awkward for some people, but it’s necessary,” Tamisha Parris, founder of diversity-consulting firm Parris Consulting, told HRD. “It’s time we got comfortable with being uncomfortable. There’s a lot of subtle racism that employees endure every day; remarks and actions which can be eradicated through training and development. HR has a very special role to play in this. It’s crucial that HR professionals know where the company stands when it comes to racial discrimination – what it looks like and how it can present itself.”

Building a safe space

Finally, make it a priority to build a culture of anti-harassment into your strategy. A recent report from Quantum Workplace found that just 39% of employees actually feel comfortable being emotionally transparent around their leadership team. It all starts with cultivating openness and authenticity in your teams – which extends beyond the issue of race to concepts such as gender, religion, and sexuality. Bias of any kind is not welcome in a modern workplace – and by helping eradicate one you’re helping put an end to them all.

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