'Deeply embedded': 2 in 3 employees experienced racism at work

Leaders emerge as 'instigators' of racist acts: global report

'Deeply embedded': 2 in 3 employees experienced racism at work

A majority of employees who belong to marginalised racial and ethnic groups have experienced some form of racism in their entire career, with their organisation's leaders even blamed as instigators of such experiences.

These are the findings of Catalyst's survey among 5,000 women, men, transgender, and nonbinary employees from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Two-thirds (66%) of the respondents said they experienced racism at work during their career, with 52% saying they experienced it in their current job.

"Our findings show that racism in the workplace is deeply embedded, often flying under the radar in the form of offhand comments or other exclusionary behaviours," said Lorraine Hariton, president and CEO of Catalyst, in a statement.

Manifestation of racism

According to nearly half (48%) of the respondents, workplace harassment is the most common expression of racism at work. This includes racist jokes, slurs, as well as other derogatory comments.

Racism also manifests through employment and professional inequities, according to 32% of the respondents. These include pay gaps, being passed over for promotion, or were assigned more or less work because of race.

Respondents said they also experienced racism through racial stereotypes, including getting assumptions on their intelligence, cleanliness, or language abilities.

Some of the respondents added they receive the blame for COVID-19, while others said they get degrading comments about their bodies or cultures.

According to the report, trans and nonbinary employees experienced racism more than others (69%). Men (50%) and women (51%) also experienced racism at work in the same degree.

Leaders as instigators

Meanwhile, the report found that leaders are more likely to initiate racist actions than other workplace colleagues.

Nearly half of the respondents (41%) cited their leaders as instigators of racism. Another 36% said it was their co-workers, while another 23% said it was from customers or clients.

Women and men were equally likely to initiate racist acts, while four out of five of the respondents said racism are initiated by White people.

What can employers do?

Catalyst said employers must commit to addressing racism and recognising how "Whiteness" is centred in work contexts.

According to the report, whiteness being used as a "lens" to judge, assess, and value employees can pressure members of marginalised racial and ethnic groups to conform to such standards.

"Our research shows that racism is a lever that leaders, colleagues, and customers pull to apply this pressure and maintain the status quo," said Joy Ohm, Vice President, Knowledge Architect and Writer at Catalyst.

Key steps to address racism in the workplace include implementing systems to end bias from hiring, development, and promotion processes.

Managers should also be trained in noticing and acting when employees experience racism in the workplace.

"It's imperative that leaders at every level of an organisation act to combat racism and build antiracist workplaces, address racist and discriminatory incidents, and create environments of physical and psychological safety that enable employees to report racist experiences," Hariton said.

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