Unmasking the Struggles: Black Employees in the UK’s Workplace

In a recent eye-opening study titled ‘Black British Voices,’ conducted by The Voice and Cambridge University, a startling revelation came to light – a staggering 98% of Black employees in the UK have felt compelled to tone down their identity to fit in at work. The study unveils a disheartening reality that is rampant in workplaces across the nation.

The research sheds light on the deeply ingrained issue of identity compromise within the workplace, suggesting that these environments may be hostile for Black workers, with potential adverse effects on their mental health. The findings from this study coincide with the mounting concerns surrounding discrimination related to Afro hair at work.

Another survey by World Afro Day revealed that a staggering 84% of employers insisted on straight hair for women “in all circumstances.” These statistics highlight a concerning trend of cultural insensitivity within British workplaces.

The ‘Black British Voices’ poll, which garnered responses from 8,558 Black Britons, further unveiled that efforts by African and Caribbean workers to assimilate were not improving their standing in the workplace. In fact, 88% reported experiencing racial discrimination on the job. These revelations raise questions about the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion efforts in many workplaces.

One key takeaway from the report is that initiatives like Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion workshops may not always cater to the needs of marginalised groups, potentially making them uncomfortable. Dr. Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the teachers’ union NASUWT and former Chair of the TUC’s Anti-Racism Taskforce, emphasised the presence of racism in the job market and the need for employers to take this issue seriously.

Roach stated: “What this is showing is how racism plays out in the labour market, making it harder for Black workers to gain employment and have access to promotion.”

The study also emphasised the profound impact of Black employees feeling the necessity to leave their identity at home on their physical and mental wellbeing. A Government-commissioned report in 2017 revealed that racism in employment cost the British economy £24 billion annually, equivalent to 1.3% of Gross Domestic Product. Campaigners accuse the government of ignoring this report, titled ‘The Time For Talking Is Over. Now Is The Time To Act.’

Office for National Statistics quarterly data analysis from 2001 to 2021 reveals that Black unemployment has consistently remained at least twice as high as white unemployment. The pandemic has further exacerbated these disparities, with the TUC reporting a significant rise in Black unemployment in recent months.

Sandra Kerr CBE, Race Director at Business in the Community, echoed the findings of the ‘Black British Voices’ poll, emphasising that having to compromise one’s identity at work is exhausting. She emphasised that it’s the responsibility of employers to listen to Black workers and engage them in devising solutions.

Sandra Kerr stated: “We encourage employers to do listening exercises to hear about the challenges and, after those conversations, allow Black workers to be part of implementing the decisions and finally get credit from their peers.”

In conclusion, the ‘Black British Voices’ study has brought to light the alarming reality of Black employees feeling the need to mask their identities in the workplace. It is high time for employers, policymakers, and society as a whole to acknowledge these issues, rectify their practices, and take racism at work seriously. Only by actively addressing these challenges can we hope to create more inclusive and equitable workplaces for everyone.

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