Inclusion Resources, March 2023 – Anti-racism in the workplace

In the UK, we have a wealth of talented Black individuals working across various industries, yet the level of representation in the workforce is significantly disproportionate to the Black population in this country.

Despite initiatives aimed at addressing this imbalance, many continue to face barriers that limit their opportunities for career progression. The disconnect between the talent pool and workforce representation has deep-seated roots, despite calls for change and recent attempts by some organisations to be more inclusive.

The scale of the issue

Coqual’s 2022 report, “Being Black in the United Kingdom” (summarised key findings are found in the link), provides an overview of the British Black experience in the UK. It makes for sobering reading, but we believe it’s a necessary one. It reports that:

  • 68% of Black professionals have experienced racial prejudice at work
  • Black employees are 60% more likely to change something about themselves to fit in, compared to their White counterparts
  • Black professionals routinely experience microaggressions, for example having their expertise questioned, their ideas invalidated, and their appearance or emotions micromanaged

The excerpts below demonstrate just a few more of the many reports and statistics that reveal the issue at hand for Black employees.

A study from market research firm Ipsos found 41% of British workers noticed a change in the way their company handled race related issues since April 2020, but 43% said any initial commitments to change didn’t last.

Frank Douglas, CEO and founder of HR consultancy Caerus Executive, said after initial performative acts companies have reverted to normal.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Two years ago, black and brown staff saw an increased interest by senior management on their place in the workforce. It led to traumatising so called ‘listening sessions,’ creation and/or money for ERGs and increase support for Black History Month, in 2020.

“Most minority staff believe that now that the pressure and spotlight is off – companies have defaulted back to their comfort level and, once again, are avoiding the issue of race and trying to truly improve the lived experiences of black and brown staff.”

“Have workplaces changed since George Floyd?”, from HR Magazine. Read more.


The denial of structural racism appears to be a big barrier to racial equity because it allows for more victim-blaming explanations of systemic inequality.”

“The more that BIPOC [black, indigenous and people of colour] individuals are blamed for racial disparities, the less likely it is for white people and institutions to take responsibility for the continued effects of systemic racism.

“Study finds denying existence of structural racism is linked to anti-black prejudice”, from Sky News. Read more.


The researchers found that although white, Asian and Latinx employees received higher job ratings when they talked more about their contributions and accomplishments, Black employees were penalised by white managers for doing the same thing. Black employees who rated themselves highly on self-promotion received lower ratings of their job performance and assessments of their fit with the organisation.

In other words, self-promoting at work benefited white, Asian and Latinx employees while it had negative consequences for Black colleagues.

“Black Employees Face Backlash From White Managers When They Self-Promote At Work”, from the Huffington Post. Read more.


Black women are under-represented and underpaid in executive roles and the least likely to be in the UK’s top 1% of earners. Black women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles across the UK workforce….

Black women also experience the largest pay gaps when compared to non-Black women and men, as well as Black men (Almeida et al. 2021).

The largest gaps are in finance, professional services, and big technology. 70% of Black women in these sectors believe they are being paid less than their comparable peers, with more than 10% of women reporting pay gaps as high as 30%.”

“Black women least likely to be top earners”, a 2022 report from 30% Club Growth through Diversity. Read more.


What is the solution?

The need for pro-active anti-racism in the workplace is more crucial than ever; it’s not enough to simply hire more candidates from racially minoritized groups and hope for the best. Companies must actively foster a culture that is inclusive and supportive of all employees, and this is not easy work if the current culture leaves Black employees unfulfilled and psychologically unsafe. This means implementing policies and training programs that address bias, providing opportunities for career advancement, and creating a safe space for employees to voice their concerns and to be taken seriously. By doing so, companies can ensure that their Black employees feel valued in their careers.

More and more organisations are thinking again about their approaches to race, power, discrimination and related issues. It’s a matter of justice and equality, certainly – but it’s also a matter of wellbeing, and of supporting those around us. We are realising, more and more, that having policies and practices that encourage diversity aren’t enough; and that not being racist, as individuals and organisations, isn’t enough either. Across the country, we’re waking up to the need to be actively anti-racist.”

“Toolkit: Being anti-racist in the workplace”, from Mental Health At Work. Read more.


HR leaders need to be activists. They can advocate for cultural change that goes beyond policies and procedures and the transactional aspects of HR. For this, they need to be bold and courageous.

If it exists in their organisation, they must break down structural racism. Decades of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) policies have brought us no closer to anti-racist workplaces. We need activism.”

“Why HR should be anti-racist ‘activists’”, from Personnel Today. Read more.


The modern term “woke” is to anti-racism what the n-word is to broader society. It’s both an appropriation and a slur and should not be used in a pejorative sense at any time. As a pejorative, it’s code for “we’re really going too far with this equity stuff” but since that sounds too much like crude, primordial racism, sexism and/or homophobia, the ill-defined “woke” is simply used as a convenient euphemism…

It’s an offensive term that mocks historically marginalized communities’ efforts to fight for equity. Its use makes many feel targeted, minimized and belittled. Insist that it not be used in the workplace.”

“7 Ways To Encourage Workplace Anti-Racism, Nearly Three Years After America’s Racial Reckoning”, from Forbes. Read more.


It is neither an overstatement of the problem of workplace racism to pursue anti-racist measures, nor does it oppress those who hold more privilege and representation at work. In fact, anti-racism campaigns seek to make the workplace more welcoming for all employees, regardless of ethnicity.

It’s critical to understand that anti-racism campaigns – as with all inclusion measures – aim to build a society that is more just and equal for everybody.