Others should follow NHS focus on race equality

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The NHS Equality and Diversity Council’s first report from the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) has shown that black employees in the health service are more likely to be bullied than their white colleagues. Sandra Kerr, national campaign director for Business in the Community’s Race Equality campaign, welcomes the NHS’s focus on this issue.

Last week’s publication of WRES data was taken from the 2015 NHS staff survey and is the first time it has been collected and published nationally, from across every NHS trust in England.

The report found that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees are more likely to experience workplace bullying compared to their white colleagues, with three-quarters of acute trusts having a higher percentage of BAME staff being harassed, bullied or abused by staff compared with their white counterparts.

Eight out of 10 (81%) trusts also reported a higher percentage of BAME staff experiencing discrimination from a manager, team leader or colleague than white employees.

WRES also found that BAME employees see their chances to progress as limited. In 86% of trusts, a higher percentage of BAME employees do not believe their organisation offers equal opportunities for career progression or promotion in comparison with white employees.

This finding chimes with Business in the Community’s own research, which found that 64% of BAME employees believe progression is important and 40% want to be on a fast-track programme – compared with 41% and 18% of white employees respectively – yet only 8% of BAME employees have been on such a programme.

Our Race at Work research also found that BAME employees are more likely to experience racial bullying and harassment, regardless of which sector they work in. We found that 30% of employees who had witnessed or experienced racial bullying and harassment from managers, colleagues, customers or suppliers reported that it had occurred in the last year alone.

In the last five years, 28% of BAME employees had witnessed or experienced racial bullying from a manager (compared with 17% of white employees) and 32% had witnessed or experienced it from colleagues.

Although racial bullying and harassment was experienced and/or witnessed by BAME employees across all sectors, healthcare scored particularly highly. Race at Work showed the sector has some of the highest rates of bullying.

In the past five years 26% of BAME employees experienced it from managers, 32% from colleagues, and a worrying 38% – the highest of all industries – experienced racial bullying or harassment from customers, clients or service users.

No matter which data set you look at, these results expose a concerning issue in the healthcare sector – and in many other UK workplaces. To put it bluntly, the percentage of BAME employees experiencing or witnessing racial harassment or bullying in the UK is far too high and needs immediate action.

The announcement that the NHS recognises the challenge it faces and is committed to take action is welcome – and a step I would like more sectors and employers to take as, sadly, there is more to be done in every sector.

So what can employers do to address racial bullying and harassment in the workplace? Here are some recommendations:

  • Set objectives for managers at every level around ensuring diversity and inclusion in their teams, including ensuring equal access to training, development opportunities and progression programmes.
  • Senior leaders should openly recognise the existence of bullying and harassment and take clear action to erase it from their organisations by delivering a “zero tolerance” message from the top and giving employees confidence that something will be done.
  • Ensure channels, including informal ones, for reporting bullying and harassment are accessible and straightforward and communicate this to all employees.
  • Monitor data from staff surveys to identify if particular groups are experiencing higher levels of workplace bullying and take steps to address this.

No-one should have to suffer bullying and harassment in the workplace, including those working in the NHS.

Employers must act now to ensure their workplaces are free from harassment and that all managers, employees, contractors, service users and customers understand and adhere to this code of working.

This will help organisations target and stamp out racial bullying and harassment – creating more diverse, fair and inclusive workplaces that work for everyone.

Sandra Kerr

About Sandra Kerr

Sandra Kerr OBE is the national campaign director for Business in the Community’s Race Equality campaign, a network of organisations from the private and public sector working and committed to race equality as part of good business practice.
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