Almost two-thirds (61%) of Black employees experienced racism in the workplace in 2021, according to a new report published today by Pearn Kandola, a leading business-psychology consultancy. 

Despite this, the Racism at Work research found that over half of UK employees are not seeing racial equality promoted at work. 

Conducted in 2021, the new report replicates a 2018 study to explore experiences and changes in perceptions of racism in modern UK workplaces. It revealed that even though we have seen a number of significant global events over the last four years – including the tragic death of George Floyd and the widespread racial equity movement it sparked in 2020 – very little has changed when it comes to discussing and promoting racial equality in work environments. 


Discussing racism: 2018 vs. today

Despite a global increase in conversations around racism, the research reveals that employees are still not comfortable having discussions around race at work. In 2021, the average comfort level was only 59/100 – a number that barely changed since 2018. 

Perceptions of racism in the workplace also barely changed between 2018 and 2021. Last year, 88 percent of employees believed racism existed in their workplace, only rising by 2 percent from 2018 (86%). 

The lack of progress becomes more concerning, however, when we look at the number of respondents that see racism as an issue. Three-quarters (75%) of employees considered racism to be a problem in 2021 – again, a minor shift from 73 percent in 2018. 

“We’ve not seen enough change since our previous research in 2018, despite the global conversations that have taken place since 2020. We are still as wary, if not apprehensive, about conversations around race as we ever were,” said Binna Kandola, OBE, Business Psychologist and Co-Founder, Pearn Kandola. “If we are to make progress on race, it will be achieved by discussion. It’s time for us all to take a good, hard look at how we perceive racism at work, as well as inclusion as a whole, to ensure we are able to talk to one another in an environment of mutual respect.” 


Confronting racism in the workplace

As with discussions around racism, more needs to be done when it comes to taking action against racism at work. Worryingly, half of respondents reported that their organisation was not doing anything to promote racial equality in the workplace in 2021. 

This lack of action is evident in the way employees respond to racism in the workplace. While 52 percent witnessed someone being racist in work last year, over a quarter (28%) took no action, with the most cited action being “I feared the consequences”. In addition, almost a third (31%) of white respondents selected “It wasn’t my business” as a reason for not taking action – rising by nearly 20 percent since 2018. 

Binna Kandola commented: “The fear of getting it wrong is hindering the fight against racism. We’re still seeing concerns in the workplace around how to challenge racist behaviour constructively and how colleagues will respond if challenged. Despite everything that has happened in the world over the past two years, we have a long way to go in making race a topic that is able to be discussed openly and empathetically.”


Taking action

Of the 49 percent of employees that said their organisation was actively promoting racial equality, education was the most frequently cited action. 

Educational activities included: workshops, seminars and talks, and learning, training and development courses. Championing equality in the workplace, culture and communication, and changing internal policies and practices were also underlined as actions being rolled out in the workplace to promote racial equality.

“Education is a good place to start, but for organisations to create truly inclusive workplaces, we need to listen to the experiences of employees and implement actionable solutions,” said Binna Kandola. “This can include: recognising different experiences between racial groups, as well as differences within racial groups; skill development in creating environments of psychological safety; and having a clear dignity and respect at work policy. Ultimately, challenging racism is everyone’s business.” 






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.