New research highlights that many senior leaders feel discomfort about discussing race at work, including using the wrong or inappropriate language. 

A new report by INvolve, a diversity and inclusion consultancy, identifies key hurdles when it comes to creating workplaces which display diversity, equity and inclusion.

Namely, almost two-thirds of working senior professionals (65 per cent) confessed they are nervous about utilising the wrong language when it comes to discussing race at work.

In addition to this, over half of all respondents (56 per cent) said they would not feel comfortable using terms such as ‘Black’, ‘Asian’, ‘BAME’, and ‘Ethnic minority’.

The research also shows a high level of discomfort using specific descriptors other than ‘White’ when talking about or to individuals in the workplace.

Only 27 per cent of UK respondents felt comfortable using ‘Black’ as a descriptor in the workplace, while under a quarter (24 per cent) felt it was appropriate to use the term ‘Asian’ or ‘Mixed Race’. This is compared to 69 per cent of people who feel comfortable using the descriptor ‘White’.

Findings from the research also strongly suggest that racism is prevalent in the workplace – recognised by both white employees and racially diverse employees alike. 

Over half (59 per cent) of people surveyed stated that they have witnessed one, or more than one instance of racism in the workplace over the last 3 years.

This comes after the recent Sewell report, commissioned by the Government, found that institutional racism is not present within workplaces.

This view was shared by around one in seven (14 per cent) who answered the survey, believing that race and racism should not be discussed at work as it does not exist in the workplace.

However, the majority of respondents did display a willingness to learn with over four-fifths (83 per cent) agreeing that they are educating themselves to understand the most appropriate language to use when talking about race or referring to different ethnicities.

Suki Sandhu OBE, CEO at INvolve, stated:

Last year, the Black Lives Matter movement was an awakening. It provided an opportunity for us to break this silence, and at last begin the necessary, albeit uncomfortable, conversations on race which were long overdue. However, I believe that these important conversations were, and remain, stunted by the lack of confidence that those in positions of power have using the language surrounding race. 

This research provides hope, but also cause for concern. Hope in that it suggests race is a topic that is now being discussed within the modern workplace and therefore a general understanding amongst those in decision making positions that these conversations are necessary and that they are attempting to educate themselves to participate. 

But there is also concern that most of the respondents for the research still feel uncomfortable and unclear on the specific language to use and nervous about having conversations about the issues of race.

However, Mr. Sandhu ultimately concluded that companies have the “most appropriate resources and platforms in place to support and educate their teams”. 

*This report from INvolve ‘Can I say That?’ surveyed 500 senior executives across the UK.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.