The experience of cricketer Azeem Rafiq is a reflection of wider institutional malaise on inclusion in UK institutions and workplaces, says Dr Naeema Pasha

We are aware that even elite sports people are not immune to abuse, given the attacks they receive from fans and some parts of the media.

The point here about Rafiq, is that he was talking about his own employer.

Watching him discuss his experiences showed how severely workplace abuse affects an individual.

As lead researcher on Henley’s Equity Effect research, I was saddened but not surprised to see that racial abuse is still prevalent in workplaces. The report found that:

  • 22% of employees say they have personally experienced or seen discrimination of some sort in their workplace, with many citing race as the primary pretext (55%).
  • Black employees are more than twice as likely to experience racial discrimination compared to Asians and mixed-race ethnic minorities (19% v 9% and 8%).
  • The leading form of discriminatory action cited by ethnic minorities is discrimination in work allocation (41%), and verbal abuse is second (33%).
  • White employers are significantly less likely to have seen discrimination in their organisation, in comparison to those from an ethnic minority background (30% v 47%).
  • Over half (56%) of employees and business leaders said cultural differences are the root cause for inequity, followed by lack of understanding of backgrounds and history.

Watching Rafiq give evidence demonstrated how the sense of shame and humiliation can lead to a battle with mental and physical health. When this happens to workers, it impacts businesses by blocking talent and reducing innovations, and creates toxicity across the organisation that can affect the performance of the business.

The Equity Effect research showed that businesses which commit to investing in  targeted racial equity measures, recorded an average revenue 58 percent higher than those who did not.

The impact on Yorkshire County Cricket Club shows there’s quite a direct correlation between equity and financial performance. Because of the experiences voiced by Rafiq, they lost high value sponsorship, their reputation is in tatters, and they have been suspended from hosting international matches.

It is critical that businesses work on both anti-discrimination and equitable practices, or they are at risk of further excluding marginalised employees, customers and stakeholders – and the impact of that on businesses, is frankly, enormous.



Dr Naeema Pasha is Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Henley Business School. Her recent research on Future of Work provided the foundation for building World of Work (WOW). Her doctoral research on managing careers in uncertainty sheds light on key factors that enable people to take a positive pro-active stance to build successfully against the backdrop of future of work technological changes, such as ability in managing effectively in huge uncertainty.