Ethnic diversity in the workplace

Aug 07, 2019

What is BAME?

A person's race and religious beliefs are protected characteristics under Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015 . This means it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of his or her race or religion. With this in mind, we need to ask ourselves if the use of the BAME label is helpful? The black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) label is often used by diversity and inclusion professionals to audit staff diversity and signify efforts to make workplaces more diverse.

Recent reports on BAME employee experiences at work have indicated that those from minority backgrounds face greater challenges in progressing their careers than others. 

Employers have a responsibility to ensure that all members of staff are able to do their job effectively in a safe environment, free from hostility and intimidation. Strategies to help raise awareness within organisations should include training around different cultural backgrounds and the impact of racial stereotyping and racial terminology.

Types of discrimination

There are 4 types of discrimination based on a person's race or religion.

Direct discrimination

Treating someone less favourably because of his or her perceived or actual race or religion, or that of someone they associate with.

Indirect discrimination

This occurs when a policy or procedure applies to all employees but puts people of a specific race or religion at a disadvantage.

Harassment

Intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive behaviour towards an individual associated with their race or religion.

Victimisation

Unfair treatment of an individual who has made a complaint about race or religious discrimination.

Central Statistics Office

According to the CSO (Central Statistics Office), ethnicity rates very highly on the league table of all types of discrimination. In Quarter 1 2019, persons from non-white ethnic backgrounds accounted for 33.1% of those experiencing discrimination, along with 26.7% from non-Irish nationals. 

Equally, within the workplace, discrimination based on ethnic background featured widely in the statistics collected by the CSO with those from non-white and non-Irish ethnic backgrounds accounting for a combined total of 34.2% of respondents reporting this type of prejudice.

The way forward

Suki Sandhu, CEO and founder of Involve – an organisation that promotes diversity in the workplace - believes that the BAME term is helpful. He believes that “Ethnic minorities cannot hide race. When we walk into a room, people can see it. Being BAME highlights our differences, and highlights the all-too-often lack of diversity in those rooms we are entering. 

“I think we need to understand the benefit that using these labels can have. They help us position ourselves as a role models, which can have a hugely positive impact for future generations.”

A key focus for Involve is promoting ethnic diversity in the workplace, particularly through the use of role models. It produces an annual list highlighting successful BAME executives who serve as role models to younger generations. At a time when there are only six FTSE 100 CEOs who are from an ethnic minority, the organisation said there was a need for this conversation to be had.

So what can be done to address this status quo? Diversity & Inclusion initiatives are gaining traction in many progressive organisations in Ireland and this is encouraging many senior leaders to address the keys issues around lack of diversity generally. 

We know the business case for diversity, and in particular, ethnicity is clear. However, the stats that belie the research show that we’re still not seeing the same pace of change in racial equality at work. While one in eight of the working-age population is from a BAME background, this group still only holds one in sixteen of the top management positions. Despite governmental and business focus we are failing to make a meaningful and lasting impact. 

All workplaces have a legal obligation to make their organisations more ethnically diverse and this needs to continue to be a key area of focus for businesses in Ireland.  Challenging the prevailing attitudes to diversity both within and beyond the workplace, should be the North Star for all companies that want to both protect human rights and equality by helping to build a fair and inclusive society. It is not only good for business, it is good for Ireland.

Dee France is CA Support Manager at Chartered Accountants Ireland.