Racism is, unfortunately, still a substantial problem in the world, and racism occurring in the workplace is a particularly rife issue. Statistically, the majority of people from ethnic minorities in the U.K. have been exposed to work-based racial harassment in the last 5 years. 

We need to be able to discuss this issue openly and honestly. Having an open dialogue is the best starting point for lasting change, we can’t make any change or progress if we don’t acknowledge racism and work to root it out of our workforce. 

On this page, we want to talk to you about how you can deal with racism in the workplace as an employee. We want to make sure that, when racism does unfortunately occur, people of ethnic minorities know their rights and know how to stand up for their rights. Having the right toolkit to proactively deal with racism and call it out can help us all make a radical change in the world of employment. We don’t make any progress when we sweep things under the carpet.

The Definition of Racism and Race Discrimination 

Under the Equality Act of 2010, the master sheet of U.K. equal employment law, race discrimination is defined as the act of treating someone differently because of their race, the race you preserve them to be, or the race of someone closely connected to them. 

Race “includes colour, nationality, citizenship and ethnic or national origins.”

Discrimination may be direct or indirect. Direct discrimination could look like verbal abuse and direct blocking of certain races from joining jobs or activities. Indirect discrimination could look like rules that exclude certain groups, such as banning headscarves or demanding that all job applicants have U.K.-based qualifications. Both are discrimination. They don’t allow every person of every race and ethnicity to have the same, equal opportunities. 

Harassment and victimisation are also elements of race discrimination and they are illegal under the Equality Act. 

If you think that you have been discriminated against, you should chat to the Equality Advisory Support Service’s helpline. They can help you figure out your next steps. 

How Can Racism In The Workplace Look?

While you may think you know what racism looks like, it can take many subtle forms in the workplace. This can make it very hard for victims of racism to speak out. They do not want to be perceived as fabricating a situation or exaggerating another person’s behaviour. BAME staff must know that racism on any scale, minor to major, is illegal and shouldn’t continue. 

Knowing exactly how racism can look and knowing that you are right in speaking up against certain behaviours is vital. Only when you know something is inappropriate can you get the appropriate support in dealing with it. Reporting racism helps us all tackle the problem head-on. 

The following are just some of the ways that racism can manifest in the workplace: 

Racist Jokes, Offensive Words, and Racial Slurs

Racism doesn’t always sound serious, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hugely offensive and bigoted. Racist jokes can be highly isolating and dehumanising for many BAME members of staff who feel they can’t call out racism in this form. So if you hear racist jokes, slurs or language, make sure to point out that that kind of behaviour is unacceptable and take it further with your employer. 

Being Patronized and Treated as a Lower Rank

This is a common problem for many BAME members of staff. Many people of an ethnic minority have experienced being spoken to as if they are a “junior” in their workplace, even when they are not.  Having your abilities and ideas undervalued can be an aggressive form of racism that slowly takes away your confidence and self-belief.

It is important that you stand up for yourself and report cases where you have been treated differently due to your race or ethnicity at work. This kind of discreet racism can, unfortunately, be harder to prove. So, make sure you get examples and evidence whenever you can.


The BAME employment gap stood at 29.3% in 2020. This figure marks the difference in hourly pay between BAME staff and non-BAME staff.

It is illegal for an employer to pay you less than you deserve, which is racist discrimination. Unfortunately, we don’t often know what salary our colleagues are making and this act of racism can easily fly under the radar. Asking for transparency is well within your rights.

Selection Criteria for Recruitment and Promotion 

BAME people are statistically overrepresented in low-level job positions and underrepresented in management and executive positions. This isn’t due to a lack of skill or knowledge, it is racism in action. 

Racism can unnecessarily stunt your career. You should ask to see your employer’s process for promotion and career progression. This information will help you determine whether you are being fairly evaluated. If not, then you can take this further with HR and with external sources that deal with discrimination. The next section will help you further with this.

What to Do if You Experience Racism at Work 

Racism in any setting, including the workplace, is illegal under the 2010 Equality Act. This piece of legislation protects everyone from discrimination and unfair treatment at work.

If you feel that you are experiencing racism at work in any form, raise it with a manager immediately. If you don’t want to speak to your boss or manager, you can go straight to your HR department. They will be able to help you to process a formal complaint or take any further appropriate action.

If you want to take legal action regarding the racism you have experienced, you can contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission and/or Citizens Advice. It is key to get all the advice and support possible so that you feel well-equipped to take on your legal case. You are far more likely to win your case when you have the right support and guidance.

Racism has no place at work. If you want to work for a fair and equal employer, you can check out our inclusive job board at Aspiring to Include. We only work with Diversity-Positive employers that want to provide the most ethical work environment possible. 

In addition, you can find out more about the BAME and employment in our dedicated section.