4 ways to Speak Out against Racism and Discrimination in the Workplace Effectively

Following the events which unfolded in Sofia at the European qualifier on Monday, the Bulgarian prime minister has called for the head of the country’s football association to resign after England players were racially abused. Whether you are the leader of a country, an organisation, a team or a small business, you must be prepared to confront racism and discrimination wherever you find it. Sandra Smart, Company Director of Octopus Personnel, outlines how to speak out against racism and discrimination within the workplace.

Two women talking - Octopus Personnel Speak Out against Racism and Discrimination in the Workplace

You may have already faced racism and discrimination within your career or your own life and whether you encounter racism, antisemitism, unwanted sexual advances, or misunderstandings about LGBTQ lifestyles, marginalising others is, quite simply, poisonous for your business.

Racism and Discrimination in the Workplace

Discrimination can manifest in a number of ways in the workplace. For example, being assigned less desirable projects or tasks or be denied the training or mentorship that could help employees move up in the organisation. Other examples include lower salaries, denial of job perks, and fewer promotions.

In addition to these outright discriminatory practices, employees also often face micro-aggressions. These are defined as brief comments or behaviour that communicates negative attitudes towards a person’s ethnicity, sexuality, age, disability or gender identity. A micro-aggression can be intentional or unintentional. They may take the form of avoiding someone, excluding them from conversations or events.

Last night’s events were most certainly intentional, with targeted inappropriate language and gestures designed to malign and upset the players. As the world speaks out and condemns these actions, it is important to think about how you communicate around discrimination. Here are four ways you can speak out against racism and discrimination in your workplace.

Racism or Discrimination in any form is not welcome here

As a leader, you set the tone for your team. Do you have a clearly stated zero tolerance policy against racism, sexual misconduct and discrimination? Have all members of the team had time to review the policy? Is it clearly displayed within the workplace? Do your team understand why you are passionate about eradicating discrimination?

A poster showing all people are welcome - Octopus Personnel Speak Out against Racism and Discrimination in the Workplace

Teamwork and ensuring all members of the team are valued comes with clear guidance from the top. Build a work environment which values everyone, driving productivity through support. Let no-one be unclear about your intentions and expectations.

Speak Up against racism and discrimination

End the silence. If someone makes an inappropriate comment, be that at work, a company function or event, you need to think how you will respond. Thinking through your response before you are challenged when the actions of a group or an individual are racist, sexist or hurtful will mean you will feel more confident, calm and measured and ensure the right message is conveyed. When faced with inappropriate behaviour, the time for action is immediate: don’t let inaction condone discrimination.

A man man staring out across a staircase - Octopus Personnel Speak Out against Racism and Discrimination in the Workplace

Free Speech Doesn’t Mean Free Reign

Discrimination is a difficult topic, but explaining why something is offensive clearly is important and will put you on the path to resolving issues and changing behaviour, rather than a simple reprimand. As a manager, when talking to someone about recent racist comments, sexist remarks or unwanted sexual advances, a private leadership conversation is needed. A calm atmosphere and use of the first person “When I heard what you said…” or “When I saw what you did…” will help to ensure the situation doesn’t incite anger. Explain what the individual’s actions or comments meant to you in a way that’s clear and even-handed.

Depending on the circumstances, and your role, ask for support and discuss your approach and tone beforehand. Consider who could (and should) join you for this dialogue. The conversation must be a dispassionate retelling of the facts, followed by a first-person discussion of the impact. The conversation isn’t a debate, but an understanding that actions have consequences. Without becoming upset, own and explain your own feelings and, if possible, the feelings of the team. Were you hurt? Disappointed? Take a careful look at the impact of divisiveness—and ask for others to do the same. Ask for greater understanding around collaboration: because we are all better when we work together, without fear of harassment.

A team discussion in an office - Octopus Personnel Speak Out against Racism and Discrimination in the Workplace

Align dialogue and actions

I am not suggesting that confronting racism is not a difficult dialogue and that there aren’t many opportunities for disagreement. This is why it’s important to choose the right time, environment and to shut the door. Consider carefully the scope of your conversation. It is unlikely that you can convert or change the thinking of a racially insensitive person: a more realistic goal might be developing understanding about this issue and encouraging new behaviour. Understanding how words (and actions) can do harm—even unintentionally—can shed a non-confrontational light on unwanted actions. Whilst you can’t tell your team what to think, you can stop inappropriate comments or behaviour.

Beyond the moral implications of racism, racist remarks foster a hostile and offensive work environment. You need the advice of HR as you must be prepared to take disciplinary action where appropriate. Clearly state your expectations within the conversation, inviting appropriate action – or an appropriate departure, if needed. As a leader, you must speak out, , like the Bulgarian prime minister, and make it clear that offensive remarks are counter-productive. And you should take swift action when others feel otherwise.

Four people collaborating around a laptop - Octopus Personnel Speak Out against Racism and Discrimination in the Workplace

How can Octopus Personnel help?

We know you fully recognise the value of top talent. Those unique and diverse individuals that can drive your business forwards and boost the bottom line, but HR departments face a tricky task when it comes to ensuring a flow of continual talent into the business, and making sure they hire individuals who are suited to the job and the culture of the organisation. In the current buoyant jobs market, where employers are competing with one another for the most skilled and experienced staff, this becomes even more difficult.

Using Octopus Personnel to identify and attract talent, and negotiate terms, can relieve a huge amount of pressure. We can help you find the right people to drive your business forwards, bring them to interview, and secure their services within budget.

Robust and Ethical Recruitment

We have a robust approach to actively ensuring diversity, including in terms of age, ethnicity and sexuality, in our recruitment processes. For example, we ensure imagery and videos for job advertisements represent a wide range of ages and ethnicities. The wording of our advertisements focus on skills required, not unconsciously implying a specific age of workers, e.g. we won’t seek digital natives; we are specific about proficiency in certain digital skills or a proven track record adopting and mastering new tools.

A diverse workforce brings industry and business knowledge and a wealth of experience that helps your team to strategise and solve problems. We know that companies with women on the boards perform better, and that having an effective approach to equality in the business delivers financial benefits.

Infographic showing 4 Business benefits to using Octopus Personnel to enhance your recruitment

Excellent value for money and a money-back guarantee

Other agencies use a system of scaled percentages, which increase costs dramatically in line with high-value candidates’ starting salary. We offer a flat rate of 10% of starting salary across all permanent placements. We are dedicated to providing a first-class service and we are so confident in our abilities that we offer a unique 100% money-back guarantee if our candidates don’t meet your expectations.

Our service is quick, efficient and above all cost-effective! What’s our secret? We love what we do and we get a genuine kick out of changing people’s lives for the better and by helping our clients to grow and expand their businesses.

Have I convinced you? What have you got to lose?

At Octopus Personnel, we have years of industry expertise and outstanding relationships with our clients, understanding the ever-changing needs of their businesses. We are perfectly positioned within the market to guide you to the right employee who will drive your business forward. Call the office on 01747 825568 to discuss how we can help you or click here to find out more about our services.

Sandra Smart

About the author

I believe that recruitment is at the heart of a growing economy and that a different type of recruitment service, with honesty, efficiency and integrity at its heart, can benefit all. Octopus Personnel is the result of hard work, focus and commitment to that vision – to delivering consistently great results for our candidates and clients alike, as well as ensuring the agency is a vibrant, inclusive, inspirational place to work and develop rewarding careers.