The Elephant in the Room: Protected Characteristics – Race

I often ask myself how, in 2021 is Race still an ‘Elephant in the Room’ in the workplace.

The Race Relations Act first came into force in 1965 and outlawed discrimination on the “grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins” in public places. It was then updated in 1976 and 2000 and replaced by the The Equality Act in 2010. And yet, Race is still a cause for concern.

I hate the idea of quotas!

Shortlists for people of colour. Graduate schemes only open to members of the BAME community. Employers who hire one person from an ethnic minority as it looks good on their statistics. It is doing the right stuff for totally the wrong reason and it can back fire badly.

Everyone wants to feel valued. They want to feel they got the job based on who they are, not because they ticked a box. They want to progress because of merit and proven ability. They want an equal voice not a privileged voice. They want to see role models and people like them progress, be heard and make a difference.

Why in 2021 are both employers and employees still so scared of discussing Race?

Discrimination legislation has certainly made employers nervous, but it has also split the BAME community.

Years ago, I asked a lecturer who had been made redundant along with about 50 colleagues why she was bringing a tribunal claim for Race Discrimination. Her answer left me so sad: “Because I am a Woman of Colour, therefore I can.” 50 employees were terminated based on the subjects that they taught no longer being offered. At no point did race or any other protected characteristic come into it, but for her it did. I felt that she was detracting from people who had genuine race discrimination claims. It left a bitter taste.

Recently I have been helping a lady who has been bullied and harassed out of her job. From what she has told me, I genuinely believe she has a race discrimination claim, but the employer scared her so much she won’t bring the claim or any of the other claims she has available to her. She is moving on, I get it, but race discrimination is sadly still alive and kicking.

As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to ensure that no one is discriminated against in your workplace. You need a policy for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. You need to train staff to ensure that everything from hiring to firing (and everything in between) is properly aligned to your EDI policy. You need to consult, involve, educate and live your policies. You need to lead by example. You need a zero tolerance approach to harassment, bullying, exclusion or discrimination on the grounds of race. You need to ensure that everyone feels comfortable at work, able to express their thoughts, ideas and concerns free from harassment, regardless of their race or the race of the colleagues around them.

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