Race Equality Works for Northern Ireland

This morning we launch a new report on race equality in Northern Ireland’s workplaces, based on in-depth research conducted with rewni20 top employers in the region.

The research has been conducted in collaboration with Business in the Community and CRAIC NI, with support from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

The research finds that:

  • Employers in sectors which employ high numbers of migrant workers (mostly white European) have engaged extensively with equality measures, but have focused on language and cultural integration. Low numbers of Northern Irish ethnic minorities in other sectors has invited some complacency about the need to address race equality issues beyond migrant workers.
  • Employers in other sectors have been highly influenced by the focus of government and equality bodies on migrant workers, and largely view the race equality agenda through this perspective. But migrant workers working in low skill sectors initially due to lack of English fluency are not viewed as potential future recruits to other sectors, despite the high skills levels which they often bring to Northern Ireland.
  • Employers assume that racial prejudice is decreasing in Northern Ireland, particularly amongst young people, contrary to evidence from recent surveys. Half of employers interviewed do not want to take responsibility for educating employees about racial bias, and view racial bias training as a burden. Alternatives including unconscious bias training or emphasis on non-prejudiced teamwork have been adopted with varying success. Employers who did not provide racial bias training to employees felt poorly equipped to challenge racist views and behaviours in the workplace which harmed employee relations, particularly where these were couched in humour.
  • Employers who implemented a zero tolerance approach to discrimination and harassment reported its success in strengthening employee efficacy and producing a strong team environment and respectful work culture, even where there is not significant training on racial or other biases
  • Employers are experienced and knowledgeable about a wide range of equality measures which can be implemented, but do not feel that they have been convinced of the case for prioritising race equality to date. This is the most significant obstacle identified in the research. There is support for affirmative action for community background and gender, but private sector employers largely are not convinced that affirmative action is appropriate to address race equality in Northern Ireland.
  • Employers which shared an understanding between management and employees of the benefit of an equality perspective in all aspects of their business experienced fewer problems between employees and were able to incorporate new equality measures more easily. Most employers were able to identify at least one action which they could implement immediately to improve race equality in their workplace. Capacity to undertake this action is influenced by the extent to which equality issues were seen as part of the wider culture of the business. Access to information about local demographics and actions taken by other Northern Ireland employers increased positive responses to the case for expanding race equality measures.

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The research suggests a range of measures which employers can adopt:

  • Clearly communicate the value of diversity for your organisation
    • Make statements about diversity visible and meaningful to staff at all levels – this helps to address attrition, since staff are more likely to commit to a workplace when they perceive the organisation as a whole as being a place they can thrive, and are more likely to opt for informal resolution of conflicts. It also helps to support diverse recruitment. Think about external messages – advertising of positions, products and statements in the media are all read by wider audiences – as well as your existing staff.
  • Commit to raising awareness of racial bias
    • Communications about the importance of equality in the organisation underpins staff positivity about training. Management who take training with their team produce more commitment as education is seen as a joint venture. Training is also investment in the wider society of Northern Ireland, since people tend to mix in more diverse groups at work than outside. Staff employ that knowledge and experience more widely in their family and community life, creating positive interactions beyond your business, and widening their experience and perceptions.
  • Be aware of the wider context
    • Racism is high in Northern Ireland, and is not the preserve of any particular group. Regular experience of suspicion or harassment affects ethnic minorities and migrants, but also the neighbourhoods we live in and schools our children attend. Ensuring that the workplace is a psychologically safe space for all staff increases productivity and commitment.
  • Know the numbers
    • Make sense of the wider picture of race equality in Northern Ireland. Employers familiar with local demographics are better equipped to address emerging issues and also to address the local population as service users, customers or potential staff.
  • Opt for open, transparent communication
    • Consultation and feedback are key to understanding how well established the message about diversity is within the workplace culture. Staff surveys, feedback sessions, staff networks and anonymous reporting channels are all ways of ensuring that you have the widest range of information available, and all can be integrated with other forms of consultation and feedback.
  • Get comfortable talking about racial bias
    • Workplaces where there is confident and knowledgeable communication about racial bias are better equipped to deal with harassment, unconscious discrimination and structural  inequalities. Introducing the vocabulary of fair treatment and respect for people of all backgrounds helps to focus on positive efforts to address existing inequalities and prevent further inequalities arising in your business.
  • Showcase success
    • Work with ethnic minority and migrant staff to find ways to create visibility for diverse role models. Be creative in ways of  managing visibility, using internal communications and external showcasing opportunities effectively to maximise benefit without creating unnecessary additional burdens for ethnic minority and migrant staff which might harm their progression.
  • Keep equality on the table
    • Consider how the value of diversity is reflected in your business activities. Performance evaluation and team goals can be adapted to reflect the core message you create about diversity in your organisation. Setting goals on equality which are objectively measurable are key to ensuring that the organisation stays up to date. Creating a policy review schedule or audit process can prevent slippage on goals, and prompts staff to check for updated materials and consider the changing context for the business and its employees.

You can read the full report here race-equality-works-for-northern-ireland-2016

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