How to tackle racism and xenophobia in the workplace

Almost 4 years have elapsed since the 2016 Brexit referendum, and during this time we’ve seen several studies emerge which highlight a rise in racist and xenophobic behaviour in the UK.

Discrimination at work is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 and every employer has a duty of care to prevent it in the workplace.  However, discrimination and abuse against migrants appears to have become increasingly overt in society, with one study finding that 71% of people from ethnic minorities in Britain experienced discrimination last year, up from 58% in 2016.

There is evidence that current laws are failing to protect discrimination on the basis of nationality.  For example, research led by Professor Anthony Heath from Nuffield College, Oxford, found that minority ethnic applicants have to send in around 60% more CVs just to get a job interview – despite the fact that for many of today’s employees, being part of a socially and culturally diverse work environment is an essential part of their job. In a recent survey by Hays, 58% of professionals said they look for an organisation’s diversity and inclusion policies when researching a new employer. This was particularly important for younger professionals, with 65% of those aged 25 and under saying that this is a top priority.

Here, CABA, the wellbeing charity, outlines some of the key red flags employers should look for and act on:

Examples of xenophobic bullying in the workplace

  • Saying rude or hurtful things about another individual’s culture
  • Mocking someone’s nationality, accent or culture
  • Prejudice assumption and statements about a person based on their country of origin
  • Excluding individuals from conversations or events because of their nationality
  • Making comments both in the office or online which could be construed as hateful towards a country or nationality
  • Trying to pass off hurtful comments about someone else’s culture as a ‘joke’

Employees should be actively encouraged to report these incidents and feel supported by line managers and business leaders.

How to manage complaints of xenophobia in the workplace if you’re an employer

Employees should be treated with respect and consideration at work. Employers have a legal responsibility to investigate and respond to complaints of xenophobia so that they can ensure all employees are being treated fairly.

With all this in mind, here are some key points on how to manage xenophobic behaviour in the workplace:

  • Have a clear, written anti-discrimination policy
  • Take a zero-tolerance approach – make it clear that your business will not tolerate xenophobic or discriminatory behaviour from employees and external clients
  • Provide support for affected staff – always investigate any complaints thoroughly and remain empathetic and respectful
  • Resolve the matter quickly and carefully so all parties feel comfortable to be in the work environment together and so that it does not continue to be an issue
  • Create a safe space – this allows for an inclusive environment where individuals feel safe to raise any issues they may have which is essential. Feeling unable to voice these concerns creates a sense of vulnerability and isolation among those who may be suffering from discrimination. Making sure there is an environment where discussions can be had between leaders and their team members not only builds stronger bonds of trust, it also increases levels of understanding and communication
  • Seek external advice if necessary

Employers should be mindful to manage cultural differences in the office. They should have a general understanding of religious and cultural differences and put measures in place to prevent any conflict surrounding issues which may arise.

What to do if you experience or witness xenophobic behaviour in the workplace as an employee

Tackling discrimination and xenophobia in the workplace is crucial and understanding what to do and how to report it can help to prevent any further issues from developing.

Any form of discrimination can affect team morale and the atmosphere in the office, and the knock-on effect of this impacts everyone. Remember the process of reporting xenophobic bullying can be daunting, so checking in with colleagues to make sure they are feeling ok throughout the process is important. Be aware of how they’re feeling and offer support and show camaraderie.

If you feel that you’re suffering from any form of discrimination in the workplace you should report it immediately. Living in a multicultural society should be celebrated and everyone should be respected and treated fairly, as should their culture. The most important point to remember is that if you are experiencing any form of xenophobia, the problem is not you, and sharing the problem and reporting it will not only make you feel less targeted but will help diminish the chances of it happening to someone else.

For more support, visit caba.org.uk/help-and-guides

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