Results from the latest Race at Work survey by Business in the Community (BITC) have yielded some signs of genuine progress. [1]

Now covering 108 employers and 1.3 million UK workers – including 32,000 staff of black and minority ethnic (BAME) heritage in the UK management population – the findings, published on 2 October, revealed that 84% of those organisations have enlisted executive sponsors for race. In addition, 53% are engaged with various, relevant mentoring activities.

It also emerged that 63% of the employer respondents are monitoring ethnicity pay on a routine basis, and that 97% have zero-tolerance policies on racist bullying.

But the survey also showed that only 31% of the employers feel comfortable with publicly declaring their ethnicity pay gaps – and that, despite the extensive deployment of zero-tolerance policies, one in four UK BAME employees are still experiencing bullying and harassment. Furthermore, fewer than half (45%) of the employers have commissioned formal reviews of racist bullying in the workplace.

BITC race campaign director Sandra Kerr said: “Employers are making progress within their organisations to ensure that they are truly the best places to work for employees from all backgrounds and ethnicities. For the first time, we now have a current picture of the challenges that need greater focus and where employers may need support.”

However, she noted: ““In order to achieve a fairer workplace in the UK, we need to encourage all employers to hold themselves accountable and to be transparent about where they are and what direction they are headed. We can see this in the evolution of ethnicity pay gap reporting over the past few years where many employers are measuring their pay gaps and taking action – but half of those measuring their pay gaps are still hesitant to speak publicly about it. Similarly, many are recognising the importance of a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment, but our results show this needs to be matched with consistent action.”

What sort of actions should employers take to ensure that their zero-tolerance policies actually have teeth, and are not simply words on a page? And how should a review of racist bullying be structured and phrased to ensure that it obtains substantial and useful information?

The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “We talk quite often in our blogs about the gap between intention and reality. A zero-tolerance policy on racist bullying sounds brilliant, and will undoubtedly change behaviours in the workplace and make people think about what they say – particularly in terms of a form of interaction that we’ve explored in our research, namely banter: informal communication that hinges upon a sort of loose, knowing humour that can backfire spectacularly if misapplied. We are actually planning to undertake further research in that field, because it’s all part of the intention/reality gap – certainly if banter is a free-flowing force in your workplace.”

Cooper notes: “A policy may indeed mean well – but how do you get it to take root in the hearts and minds of your staff so that it informs their everyday interactions? It must happen on two levels: i) an informal basis so that everyone feels welcome and included, and ii) more formally in a way that is linked to recruitment, training, retention and promotion: aspects of work in which it is important for staff to be mindful.”

She adds: “Yes, a policy is a great way to start a useful conversation. But it takes absolutely constant monitoring to ensure that the employer is always on track to meet the ambitions it has set out on paper. As such, it is vital for organisations not to make excuses for any lack of achievement. They must see every shortfall that comes to their attention as a problem that needs rectifying, and an opportunity to improve: ‘Whatever we’re doing now isn’t working – we need to be doing something else.’”

For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on appreciating diversity and respecting different cultures

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