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Racism isn’t a storm in a Yorkshire teacup


Being abused is abhorrent. The story of cricketer Azeem Rafiq and the racist abuse he received at Yorkshire County Cricket Club was abhorrent by any standards.

We are aware that even elite sports people are not immune to abuse, given the attacks they receive from fans and some parts of the media. Footballers are continuously fighting racist experience and Taking The Knee is now part of the pre-match ritual to combat racism. The point here about Rafiq, is that he was talking about his own employer. This was not social media attacks or shouts from unknown racist fans – but in his place of work. Watching him discuss his experiences on television addressing the UK Government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, showed how severely workplace abuse affects an individual. As lead researcher on Henley’s Equity Effect research, I was saddened but not surprised to see that racial abuse is still prevalent in workplaces. The report found that:

  • As many as 22% of employees say they have personally experienced or seen discrimination of some sort in their workplace, with many citing race as the primary pretext (55%).
  • Black employees remain the worst off. They’re more than twice as likely to experience racial discrimination compared to Asians and mixed-race ethnic minorities (19% v 9% and 8%).
  • In terms of how this manifests, the leading form of discriminatory action cited by ethnic minorities is discrimination in work allocation (41%). Verbal abuse is second (33%), and following this, for Black employees it’s the feeling of having an intimidating environment created around them (31%), while for Asians it’s discrimination in promotion.
  • When it comes to recognising racial inequity, white employers are significantly less likely to have seen discrimination in their organisation, in comparison to those from an ethnic minority background (30% v 47%).
  • Over half (56%) of employees and business leaders said cultural differences are the root cause for inequity, followed by lack of understanding of backgrounds and history. Black employees (49%) and ethnic minorities in the public sector (50%) cite non-diverse leadership teams as the key reason for racial inequity in the workplace.
  • It is not just the companies with highest revenue or highest operating profit in our sample that have targeted activities towards racial equity (published), there are many companies with lower revenue and operating profit who have also invested in racial equity, yet they can still expect to see an improvement in their employees’ job satisfaction, loyalty, creativity and, ultimately, value.

Abuse hurts as it alienates

Watching Rafiq give evidence demonstrated how the sense of shame and humiliation will impact a person to their core and can lead to a battle with mental and physical health. When this happens to workers, it impacts businesses by blocking talent and reducing innovations, and above all creates toxicity across the organisation that can affect the performance of the business.

None of this is new. We are all probably aware that tackling discrimination is a good thing for the whole organisation. We intuitively know that organisations who embed equity diversity and inclusion directly into their transformations will probably outperform those organisations who don’t. The Equity Effect research showed that businesses which commit to investing in targeted racial equity measures, recorded an average revenue 58% higher than those who did not.

The impact on Yorkshire County Cricket Club shows there’s quite a direct correlation between equity and financial performance. Because of the experiences voiced by Rafiq, they lost high value sponsorship and their reputation is in tatters, and they have been suspended from hosting international matches.

There is a strong business impact in how discrimination is handled, because businesses are made of people. Yet, despite the positive intent, the organisational culture and mindset of many businesses resist it. It is critical that they work on both anti-discrimination and equitable practices, or they are at risk of further excluding marginalised employees, customers and stakeholders – and the impact of that on businesses, is frankly, enormous.

Published 17 November 2021
Leading insights Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

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