Combating hate in the office

National Hate Crimes Awareness Week 12th to 19th October

In 2019 you would hope that the only thing that mattered at work was your ability to do your job. While in many ways diversity and inclusion has improved and companies are at least talking about creating opportunities for all, scratch the surface and you find shocking levels of discrimination still exist. Sadly, hate crimes are are all too common in the workplace.

A hate crime is an act of violence or hostility directed at someone because of what or who they are. There are five protected characteristics under UK law – disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity. Currently crimes based on gender or age discrimination are not considered as hate crimes under law. There is no one single, definitive figure that covers the number of hate crimes in the UK. Both the police and the Crime Survey for England and Wales record offences, but they only included recorded cases and the suspicion is that thousands go unreported every year. To illustrate the scale of the issue in 2017/8 the police recorded over 94,000 hate crimes in the UK.

There are also no reliable figures for the number of hate crimes that take place at work, but various surveys show a huge number of people are affected. The TUC Racism Ruins Lives survey found that of the 5,000 BAME employees surveyed, 65% had experienced racism in the last five years. The TUC also conducted a survey with LGBT employees that found 68% have been sexually harassed at work and 42% have experienced unwelcome comments about their sex lives. A report from Leonard Cheshire found a quarter of UK employers would not even consider hiring someone with disabilities and 17% of disabled people had had their job offer withdrawn as a result of their disability.

Why should this be a priority for employers? Well, at the very least, they have a duty of care, an obligation to provide all of their employees with a safe and secure environment to work in. A toxic atmosphere that allows discrimination to thrive is not conducive to a collaborative and productive workplace. The TUC Racism Ruins Lives survey revealed that almost half of the respondents who had experienced racism at work said it negatively impacted their performance, 28% said it had caused them to take sick leave and more than 10% actually left the organisation because of it.

Through review sites, like Glassdoor, employees now have a platform to share their experiences and publicly call out organisations who fall short when it comes to protecting their staff. Employer reputation has never been more valuable for attracting the best talent. Negative reviews around this issue could have a devasting impact on a company’s ability to attract new employees.

So, what can employers do to address the situation? While it is an important step to have written policies in place setting out expectations and consequences around the standard of behaviour expected, organisations must also be prepared to take action to demonstrate hate will not be tolerated. Sadly, many people who do report this kind of discrimination find that it makes their situation worse. This means they are reluctant to come forward and instead suffer in silence. Employers need to think about how they can handle these situations sensitively, protecting the victim of the abuse and not turning the problem back on to them.

Creating a culture that values openness and frank dialogue is a good starting point. An essential building block to this process is a creating a culture that gives employees regular 1-2-1 time with their line manager, a chance to discuss issues that are affecting any aspect of their performance and development beyond their day to day tasks. These regular meetings are a chance for strong bonds of trust and understanding to be built. They should be a safe environment for anything to be discussed from issues around workload to difficulties with colleagues, providing an opportunity for unacceptable behaviour to be flagged and confronted.

To support this, managers must know where they should turn to for help and how to proceed if an employee does raise a concern over discrimination. Without the support of their HR team and senior managers, these complaints risk being glossed over or ignored, allowing hostility to remain. It is the duty of every organisation to support diversity and inclusion at all times, not just to coincide with awareness days or with glib marketing slogans. The process should be owned by a senior manager, who’s responsibility it is to ensure all incidents are fairly and fully investigated.

It is also important that employees know this process too. If they don’t feel comfortable raising the issue with their line manager for whatever reason, there should be someone else they can approach, either in HR or their team, who can support them and bring it to the attention of the process owner for investigation.

It is up to responsible employers to take a lead on this issue. Setting the right tone in the workplace can have a positive impact on people’s behaviour in their personal lives. Embracing diversity and inclusion must go beyond words and be enshrined within a company’s DNA. Implementing a robust framework can ensure everyone can feel safe, valued and secure in their place of work, not just in Hate Crimes Awareness Week, but all year round.