How to Prevent Racism in the Workplace: A Handy Guide

Racial discrimination has long been a deeply rooted social issue but is repeatedly ignored—that is, until recently.

In 2020, racism came to be in the spotlight again when the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement took center stage. Even the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a wave of racism. It targeted Asians who are unreasonably being blamed for the spread of the as it originated in China.

These events reflect how widespread racism is even as far-reaching as the workplace. The good thing is we can come together and do something as responsible and compassionate human beings who desire positive change in our society. It’s time for our voices to be heard—if not louder—to spread awareness and eliminate this unacceptable behavior in the work environment.

Here’s a handy visual guide that identifies instances of workplace racism and illustrates the various ways of eradicating it to keep employees safe, confident, and happy.


Eliminating Racism in the Workplace

The law on racial discrimination in the workplace is clear—it is illegal to deny employment opportunities to someone by using their race or ethnicity as a criterion. Employers must never look at skin color, hair texture, cultural identification or expression, or other subjective factors and use them to influence their decision to hire or promote.

While many employers would insist they do not condone racism, microaggressions that find their way into the workplace can lead to discriminatory practices. These indirect, subtle, or unintentional forms of biases can be difficult to recognize, making it vital for HR teams to be extra conscious and vigilant about the presence of racial discrimination in any form.

Here are the top examples of workplace racism:

  • Direct racial discrimination. An employer may blatantly disregard applicants from marginalized racial groups despite their capabilities or suitability for the job. Blacks, Asians, and minority ethnic (BAME) people may be rejected simply because their skin looks too dark or less white.


  • Indirect racial discrimination. An employer may have inconsistent standards in evaluating applicants, giving preferential treatment to light-skinned individuals compared with minority groups. In some cases, white-sounding names are 50% more likely to be considered for a job, whereas equally qualified candidates whose names sound “black” have a slimmer chance.


  • Racial harassment. An employee becomes the subject of offensive remarks or behavior because of their cultural background, resulting in a violation of their dignity or creating tension in the workplace.


  • Racial victimization. A non-white employee may be chastised for submitting a complaint or attempting to stand up to their aggressor. Either the employee is made to feel like the odd one out or treated with violence in an attempt to gag them. 


How to Stop Racism at Work

A healthy workplace can only happen if companies proactively make efforts to eliminate racial injustices. Here are recommendations on how to do that.

  1. Keep the conversation going and continue raising awareness

Accepting that racism is woven into virtually every process, system, organization, or environment is the first step to combating this problem. As you acknowledge the existing injustices against non-white ethnicities, you’re sending a message that you’re committed to making things right.

It’s crucial to back up your message with concrete actions, including setting up communication channels and resource groups so others will be encouraged to contribute their ideas and perspective to the discussion.

  1. Educate all leaders and staff through racial bias training

Anti-racism training can be a worthwhile initiative, but it should be approached more deliberately rather than merely checking a task off your to-do list. It’s also wrong to think that requiring team members and leaders to attend training sessions will instantly lead to racial equity. 

Instead, a better approach is to embed diversity and inclusion ideals into every leadership, management, and professional development program within the organization.

  1. Create a safe space for difficult conversations

The subject of race can make some people feel rather uncomfortable, so expect that not everyone will be willing or happy to get on board. Perhaps they’re scared of being judged if they speak their mind. Worse, they think they might be handed their exit papers if they make their negative experiences in the company known.

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to initiate conversations to assure everyone that they can openly discuss their views and sentiments without having to face the consequences like retaliation, dismissal, and the like.

  1. Know the law that prohibits racism in the workplace

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 considers racial discrimination unlawful. This provision automatically applies if there are 15 or more employees in an organization. It encourages employers to use only job-related criteria when:

  • Reviewing applications or resumes
  • Interviewing candidates
  • Administering tests to job applicants
  • Awarding promotions, transfers, or other similar career-related benefits

Employers should always consult a racial discrimination attorney to guide the HR team in implementing this statute across the recruitment process.

  1. Gather data to understand the problem and create solutions

If you’re unsure about how prevalent racism is in your organization, looking at your employee data is the most logical step to take. How many of your ethnic staff have received disciplinary over the last few years compared with white ethnicities? What’s the percentage of the pay gap between people of color and the white population in your workforce?

Once you have these pieces of information, you must involve your managers in analyzing the data and developing action plans to address any discrepancies.

  1. Promote accountability

Accountability means not allowing anyone who has committed an act of racism to get away with it. For one, there’s the risk that they may do it again. By holding them accountable for their actions, you’re conveying a strong message that you will never put up with racism while helping to alleviate the psychological distress it has caused to the offended person.

In addition, accountability makes you a trustworthy employer in the eyes of diverse talent groups, so you’ll never have problems attracting and retaining them.

  1. Revisit office policies and processes

A deeply ingrained culture of racial equity entails constantly reviewing your policies and processes. The goal is to identify which part of your organization may be susceptible to letting racial bias go unnoticed, such as managers or team leaders who have a say on hiring decisions or giving promotions.

  1. Provide support to vulnerable individuals or groups

Employees who are likely to experience racial discrimination will have more confidence to report racist behavior if they know that their complaints will be processed fairly and without judgment. Since different people will have various coping mechanisms, you must have the initiative of asking those who have been discriminated against how they want to be supported so they can recover in no time.

  1. Tackle systemic racism within the organization

Rather than single out an individual guilty of racist behavior, it would be best to look at the bigger picture instead. Does the organization try to ignore, deny, or conceal unfair practices against employees from minority groups? If so, you need to have the determination to introduce company-wide changes that will protect all employees regardless of their skin color.


No Place for Workplace Racism

Racism—whether it’s in the form of derogatory language, physical intimidation, or biased attitude—should never be welcome in the workplace or any environment for that matter. Employers and employees must call it out at the first sign and, from there, do their part in protecting the rights of people of color.

Are you or do you know someone who is a victim of racism in the workplace? Get in touch with Shegerian and Associates for legal assistance now.

Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.