Lifting the lid on workplace discrimination

12 April 2018

This article was featured in the May 2018 issue of the magazine.

Annabel Jones, ADP UK HR director, lifts the lid on discrimination and explains what organisations can do

New research has revealed more than a third (37%) of working adults in the UK have been discriminated against in the workplace. The research, from ADP’s The Workforce View in Europe, surveyed 1,300 workers in the UK on their attitudes and opinions of their working life and the future of work.

Prejudice comes in many different forms and it’s baffling to think in a modern world that talented employees could be held back in their career because of their gender, ethnic origin, background, disabilities or religious beliefs. In light of the recent #MeToo campaign discrimination is the top of every news agenda, and it’s staggering to think that over a third of UK employees have felt discriminated against for one reason or another.

UK employers are obliged by law to ensure equal treatment of workers and prevent any kind of discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. The findings suggest that despite this legislation, an undercurrent of prejudice seems to still exist and affect behaviours and decisions within the workplace. 

So, how are your employees being impacted? And how can organisations respond?


‘Generation snowflake vs the Grey Generation’

Unsurprisingly, workers over the age of 55 feel discriminated against for their age, with 17% saying they have been. Age was also identified as the biggest barrier to career progression with a staggering 47% of over-55s saying this is the case. But surprisingly they are not the age group who have felt the most prejudice because of how old they are. Young employees – aged between 16 and 25 – scored highest with 19%. Employees aged between 35 and 44 had the lowest score with just 5%. Women also feel biased against for their age more than men with a score of 14% compared to 10%.


...undercurrent of prejudice seems to still exist and affect behaviours and decisions... 


How does the UK compare?

In the UK age discrimination was most prevalent in the North East, with 20% of workers saying they’d felt held back in some way by their age. This compared with London at 14% and the East with just 8%. More workers felt discriminated against in the UK than the European average (34%) although the UK did not have the most alarming results, which belonged to Italy (42%) and France (38%). The Netherlands had the most promising response with only 21% of respondents saying they felt they had been discriminated against.


Background, race and religion

These three reasons came lower down on the causes for discrimination in the workplace than the two main offenders of age and gender. Only 7% said their background had led to bias at work, compared to 4% for both race and religion. Employees in the North East experienced the most discrimination because of their background, with 12% feeling this way. In London, religion was the third largest cause for discrimination at work according to 10% of employees. This was followed closely by race and nationality with 9%. 


Industry prejudices

The research also revealed which sectors were more impacted by discrimination according to workers. Employees in IT and telecoms are the most likely to have felt discriminated against (53%), followed by those in financial services (52%) and arts and culture (50%). In contrast, less than a quarter of those in the travel and transport industry have felt this way (23%) alongside just 27% of those in manufacturing. 


What can organisations do?

The root causes of discrimination in the workplace are obvious, but it is up to companies to tackle these issues head on. Legislation like gender pay gap reporting help us to move one step closer to parity, and there should be more concerted efforts to tackle discrimination in other senses, whether this is for people’s race, background, appearance or religion. 

Training for leadership, and the general workforce is vital to help prevent these kinds of events from occurring. It is also essential that organisations develop and implement a comprehensive antidiscrimination policy and actively show they are prepared to investigate complaints of discrimination or harassment.

In an increasingly global workforce it’s important that employees are ready to work with a wealth of different people, from different backgrounds, sexuality, race, religions and more. Discrimination at work hurts the employees directly, but it also harms a company’s ability to promote the right talent and improve diversity and productivity amongst its workforce.