4 Initiatives Workers and Employers Can Take to Facilitate Discussion About Race and Racism
Mon, August 15, 2022

4 Initiatives Workers and Employers Can Take to Facilitate Discussion About Race and Racism


In the workplace, particularly in America, race remains to be a taboo topic, noted Eboni K. Williams of business news magazine Forbes. For years, American workers were encouraged and sometimes told not to talk about race in the office. Williams believes that talking about the complexity of the “Black American experience” entails having difficult and unsettling conversations in the workplace.

However, avoiding discussions about your personal feelings or your colleagues’ experience about racism is a moral and ethical failure on the company, Williams asserted. Talking about race can be intimidating but the toughest part about it is getting the conversation started.

Statistics On Discrimination In the Workplace (2019)

The Harris Poll conducted an online survey on behalf of Job and recruiting website Glassdoor about discrimination in the workplace. The survey involved a total of 5,241 adults aged 18 and older in the US (2,028 adults), UK (1,071 adults), France (1,052 adults), and Germany (1,090 adults). 49% of respondents from all countries said they have witnessed or experienced discrimination based on age, gender, race, or LGBTQ status in the workplace.

The respondents also have experienced or witnessed ageism (34%), gender discrimination (33%), racism (30%), and LGBTQ discrimination (24%) in the workplace. Racial discrimination was highest in the US (42%), followed by the UK (31%), France (28%), and Germany (21%).



Survey On Racism At Work (2018)

Pearn Kandola, a business psychology consultancy, found that 60% of Black participants among 1,422 respondents experienced racism in the workplace, followed by 42% of Asians, and 14% of White participants. Overall, 31% of individuals from all racial groups experienced racism at work.

With regard to subtle racism, participants were given a list of different experiences involving varying forms of racial or ethnic discrimination. When the respondents were asked to select, 10% said they have been intentionally excluded from work or social events because of their race and 7% have been verbally or physically abused or have been falsely accused or criticized by their colleagues.

25% said their colleagues have made assumptions about their abilities, character, or behavior based on stereotypes of their race. 14% answered “I have sometimes felt that because of my race, I am not always actively included by my colleagues.” 20% “sometimes feel that because of my race, colleagues treat me differently” and 61% answered none of the above.

52% of respondents said they have witnessed racism, most of them were Black participants (69%). Only 52% of Asians and 45% of Whites had witnessed racism in the workplace. To address racism, the participants reported the incident to a manager or the HR department (16.5%), confronted the perpetrator (31%), spoke to the victim of the event (18%), and 3% filed a complaint with an authority. Only 32% of participants took no action to address racism.

When asked for the reasons behind the respondents’ inaction, 3% said they did not have time and 23% reported feeling unsure of who would be appropriate to talk to. Other reasons mentioned by the participants were not considering it serious enough to report (25%), fearing for the consequences (39%), and “it wasn’t my business” (11%). Of the participants who reported taking action, 50% said “the action led appropriate outcomes and the situation was dealt with.” They also said the issue either remains unresolved (27%) or worsened the situation (3%). 20% answered “the complaint was ignored or no action was taken.”  



4 Ways to Talk About Race and Racial Discrimination In the Workplace

1.     Change Your Mindset

Sandra Caballero of World Economic Forum, an international organization, suggested employing the “Remember you can do better” mindset. In theory, most individuals want to support racial equity but they don’t know how because most solutions are long-term.

Changes may take some time to occur since systemic racism has been present in the US before it was founded, affecting the lives of minorities for centuries. This doesn’t mean you have to be passive. When it comes to race, people are always in “construction zone” mode, said Caballero.

2.     Know Your Intention and Prepare Yourself

Ask yourself why you want to engage with a colleague or a superior about race and racism. Create a safe space for discussions and avoid making assumptions. Explain your goals clearly. This requires vulnerability and transparency, but being open may result in a game-changing outcome.

To facilitate dialogue, you will need to research about race and racism. You can read online articles or watch documentaries, giving you the upper hand in the conversation. Your colleagues will trust you or be more open if you demonstrate ample knowledge about the history and the modern day impact of racial dynamics.

3.     Acknowledge That Not Everyone Has the Answer

It may be easy to proclaim yourself as the sole expert in anything related to race. However, Williams said individuals are experts in their own personal experiences. Therefore, it is recommended to make space for these “experts” to share their own experiences.



4.     Conduct Workplace Trainings But Know Its Shortcomings

Successful anti-racism training goes beyond awareness and how to address it, said Vaneeta Sandhu, a leadership trainer with a focus on diversity and inclusion at LifeLabs Learning, cited Jennifer Liu of CNBC Make It, a site to make readers smarter with how they earn, save, and spend their money.

For instance, employers can give employees tools for how to handle micro-aggression properly rather than teaching them about it.  Further, requiring employees to attend diversity training can backfire as it can trigger bias among those who do not like being told what to do, according to an article by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev of Harvard Business Review, a general management magazine.

Employees may be able to participate in the conversation with a more open mind to change and learning when they choose to “opt in” to equity training. Companies can also ensure that voluntary professional development courses are driven by anti-racist principles. They can also include anti-racism training and principles in employee and company goals, enabling companies to achieve measurable outcomes at a set timeline so both employees and employers are held responsible.  

5.     Continue the Dialogue About Racism

Protests may dissipate and the media may stop reporting about racism, but this issue will not magically disappear any time soon. Dialogue should be made at the internal leadership level, at the internal management level, and at the all-employees level, suggested Caballero. For her, dialogue necessitates growth— and the more employees and employers talk about racism— the more they can question their internal conscious and unconscious biases.

Now is the time for companies to talk and address racism in the workplace. Conversing about racism can be unsettling, but employees and employers need to work together to build a more equitable workplace.  Dialogue is the first step to combatting racism, allowing people to question their own unconscious biases and perceptions about race.