Unprecedented poll exposes minority ethnic bias in the workplace

Biasmin Briatain

The extent of racial bias faced by black, Asian and minority ethnic citizens in 21st-century Britain has been laid bare in an unprecedented showing a gulf in how people of different ethnicities are treated in their daily lives.

A survey for the Guardian of 1,000 people from minority ethnic backgrounds found they were consistently more likely to have faced negative everyday experiences – all frequently associated with racism – than white people in a comparison poll.

The survey found that 43 per cent of those from a minority ethnic background had been overlooked for a work promotion in a way that felt unfair in the last five years – more than twice the proportion of white people (18 per cent) who reported the same experience.

The results show that ethnic minorities are three times as likely to have been thrown out of or denied entrance to a restaurant, bar or club in the last five years, and that more than two-thirds believe Britain has a problem with racism.

The ICM poll, commissioned to launch a week-long investigation into bias in Britain, focuses on everyday experiences of prejudice that could be a result of unconscious bias – quick decisions conditioned by our backgrounds, cultural environment and personal experiences.
It is believed to be the first major piece of UK public polling to focus on ethnic minorities’ experiences of unconscious bias, and comes amid wider concerns about a shortage of research capturing the views of minority groups.

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, said the findings were upsetting, commenting,

Racial prejudice continues to weigh on the lives of black and ethnic minority people in the UK. While we all share the same hard-won rights, our lived experience and opportunity can vary, Stereotyping is not just something that happens, stereotyping is something that is felt, and it feels like sheer terror, confusion and shame.

Half of the respondents from a minority background said they believed people sometimes did not realise they were treating them differently because of their ethnicity, suggesting unconscious bias, as well as more explicit and deliberate racism, has a major influence on the way millions of people who were born in the UK or moved here are treated.

As well as demonstrating how much more likely ethnic minorities are to report negative experiences that did not feature an explicitly racist element, the poll found that one in eight had heard racist language directed at them in the month before they were surveyed.

It also found troubling levels of concern about bias in the workplace, with 57 per cent of minorities saying they felt they had to work harder to succeed in Britain because of their ethnicity, and 40 per cent saying they earned less or had worse employment prospects for the same reason.

Sheila Flavell, COO of FDM Group commented,

Tackling unconscious bias should be a top priority for businesses of all sizes in the UK, especially with so many people from BAME backgrounds feeling it has had a significant impact on their pay and career progression. This is more than just a HR issue, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed at board-level with practical policies in place to prevent it. Facing up to the challenge requires companies to ensure all senior staff are trained on how to identify such behaviour and be certain that discrimination is stamped out for good.

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