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Most Employees From Marginalized Racial and Ethnic Groups Have Experienced Racism in the Workplace

Catalyst study across six countries finds 66% of employees from marginalized racial and ethnic groups experience racism at work.

Forty-one percent named leaders as instigators of racism; clients and customers also identified.

New report analyzes the insidious ways racism shows up in the workplace, and what organizations can do.

As companies worldwide face opposition to their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, two-thirds (66%) of employees from marginalized racial and ethnic groups in AustraliaCanadaNew ZealandSouth Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States have experienced racism at work during their career, according to a new global report from Catalyst. Half (52%) have experienced racism in their current job.

The report, How Racism Shows Up at Work And the Antiracist Actions Your Organization Can Take, surveyed more than 5,000 women, men, transgender, and nonbinary employees and reveals the pervasive and insidious ways racism exists in the workplace. The most common expressions of racism are workplace harassment (48%) such as racist jokes, slurs, and other derogatory comments and employment and professional inequities (32%), where respondents experienced pay gaps, were passed over for promotion or were assigned more or less work than their colleagues based on race.

“Our findings show that racism in the workplace is deeply embedded, often flying under the radar in the form of offhand comments or other exclusionary behaviors,” said Lorraine Hariton, president and CEO of Catalyst. “It’s imperative that leaders at every level of an organization act to combat racism and build antiracist workplaces, address racist and discriminatory incidents, and create environments of physical and psychological safety that enable employees to report racist experiences.”

Participants also report experiencing racism in the form of racial stereotypes and degrading commentary about their bodies or cultures. Stereotypes include assumptions about a person’s intelligence, cleanliness, or language abilities, as well as blame for Covid-19. Women (51%) and men (50%) experienced racism in the workplace to the same degree. Trans and nonbinary employees experienced more racism than others (69%).

Who Perpetuates Racism in the Workplace?

Respondents most often named leaders (41%) as the instigators of racism, but co-workers (36%) and customers/clients (23%) also engage in racist acts. Women and men are equally likely to initiate acts of racism; however, trans and nonbinary people were never cited in the survey responses as the instigators of racist acts.

Four out of five acts of racism are initiated by White people, and one out of five are instigated by another non-White person.

Whiteness Is the Norm at Work

Studies show that Whiteness is at the center of work contexts. It is used as a lens through which employees, organizational policies, and business strategies are judged, assessed, and valued. This can result in, for example, dress codes that don’t work for natural Black hair or performance assessment criteria that value White modes of leadership over others.

“When Whiteness is the default at work, people from marginalized racial and ethnic groups are pressured to conform to White standards of leadership, presentation, and self-expression,” said Joy Ohm, Vice President, Knowledge Architect and Writer at Catalyst. “Our research shows that racism is a lever that leaders, colleagues, and customers pull to apply this pressure and maintain the status quo.”

How Organizations Can Take Action

Catalyst offers actionable solutions for leaders to make systemic changes to their organizations: leaders must commit to addressing racism and recognizing how Whiteness is centered in work contexts. Organizations need to enact policies that eliminate racial workplace inequities, such as implementing systems to end bias from hiring, development and promotion processes and training managers to notice and act when employees experience racism from teammates, customers, or managers. Key steps also include fostering a climate of mutual respect in the workplace, instituting codes of conduct for clients and customers, and understanding emotional tax.

About the World of Voices Series

This study is part of Catalyst’s World of Voices research series, which aims to amplify the voices of employees from marginalized racial, ethnic, and cultural groups; provide global business leaders with data-driven, intersectional insights; and help organizations not only drive positive change but also illuminate a path forward for equity and inclusion.