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several white collar workers communicating in office against window SBI 300739935
several white collar workers communicating in office against window SBI 300739935

Over a third of UK adults have suffered discrimination at work

Over a third of British adults (36%) report having experienced some form of discrimination in the workplace or when job hunting, study finds.

New research into workplace discrimination, commissioned by HR software provider CIPHR, reveals just how widespread employment bias is in the UK. On average, one in six people (16%) report having suffered ageism, one in ten (10%) say they have been the subject of gender-based discrimination (12% of women and 7% of men), and around one in twelve feel that they have been on the receiving end of prejudicial treatment because of a disability, their race or sexual orientation (9%, 9% and 8% respectively), at some point in their careers.

CIPHR’s survey of 2,000 UK adults suggests that as many as 32% of people have been discriminated against in their workplace, while 34% believe they’ve been prevented from getting a job they were qualified to do, due to discrimination.

Shockingly, three-quarters of 18 to 24-year-olds (73%) and half of 25 to 34-year-olds (50%) say they have experienced discriminatory attitudes and behaviours at work or during the recruitment process, compared to one in five over-45s (22%) – a big generational difference. Younger workers are much more likely to perceive and experience discrimination, it seems. They are also, perhaps, more likely to call out bias at work, which may have become accepted and normalised over time.

Young adults also seem to be bearing the brunt of newer forms of discrimination that have emerged during the pandemic. One in ten 18 to 24-year-olds report being discriminated against at work because they are at higher risk from Covid-19 and/or fear working in their usual office or workplace (10%) – over double the 4.5% average across all age groups.

Around the same number (12% of 18 to 24-year-olds) feel that being clinically vulnerable or at higher risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19 has proved a factor in not getting jobs they’ve applied for (the average is 5%).

Discrimination rife in workplaces

No industry can claim to be free from discrimination, harassment, bullying, intimidation, or retaliation. And most employers would admit there’s still much work to be done to tackle ageism, racism, sexism, ableism, religious intolerance, and the myriad of other different forms of discrimination found in workplaces across the world. But which workers say they have personally experienced the most discrimination?

When looking at specific professions, people working in HR – often seen as standard bearers for good policies and initiatives designed to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion – are, at least statistically, more likely to report unfair or discriminatory treatment themselves. Over three-quarters of HR professionals (79%) feel that they have experienced some form of work-related discrimination. By contrast, less than a third of people working in travel and transport (29%) say the same.

According to the results, HR also performs badly for age, gender, and disability discrimination (cited by 36%, 25% and 21% of people, respectively).

Those working in the legal profession are the second most likely to say they have experienced age and gender discrimination (31% and 25% respectively), while nearly a third of people (31%) working in the art and culture sector report being impacted by ageism.

Nearly a quarter of those (23%) working in finance or IT and telecommunications say they have faced racial discrimination, and 17% of IT and telecoms workers also report having been discriminated against due to a disability.

One in five people working in sales, media and marketing (21%), and the art and culture sector (19%), feel they have been targeted for discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

The survey also identified high levels of age discrimination during the hiring process across numerous other sectors, including travel and transport (19%), education (13%), retail, catering and leisure (11%), and healthcare (10%).

Industries and professions reporting the highest levels of workplace discrimination (for workers and job applicants):

  1. HR (79%)
  2. IT and Telecommunications (60%)
  3. Legal (59%)
  4. Finance (57%)
  5. Arts & Culture (54%)
  6. Education (41%)

=7.        Sales, Media & Marketing (38%)

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=7.        Healthcare (38%)

=7.        Manufacturing & Utilities (38%)

  1. Retail, Catering & Leisure (36%)
  2. Architecture, Engineering & Building (30%)
  3. Travel & Transport (29%)

London named worst in the UK for workplace discrimination

Greater London, home to over nine million people, is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. It also ranks as the worst place in the UK for people reporting that they have experienced workplace discrimination. 

Over half of the adults (54%) living within the area say they have been discriminated against either at work or when applying for work (or both). That’s well above the UK average of 36%.

Among the three most common forms of prejudice, identified by Londoners taking the survey, are age discrimination when job hunting (14%), race discrimination in the workplace (12%), and race discrimination when job hunting (11%).

Notably, one in ten Londoners think they have been singled out for discrimination while job hunting during the pandemic because they are at higher risk of serious illness from Covid-19 (11%). Around the same number (10%) describe being discriminated against by their employers because of their anxiety or fear of working from the office or workplace during the pandemic.

In comparison, around three in four people living in Wales, Scotland or South West England (72%, 70% and 69% respectively) say they have never experienced any work-related discrimination (the UK average is 60%).

Commenting on the findings, Claire Williams, director of people & services at CIPHR, says: “All organisations should already have equal opportunities and anti-harassment and bullying policies in place, but they have to go further to ensure that their actions also counter discrimination and encourage diversity and fair treatment. It is not good enough to just have a policy, employees expect more. Employers and HR need to introduce practices that prevent and proactively tackle workplace discrimination. This means investing in training and awareness and ensuring that management at all levels are leading by example – creating a safe working environment and a positive culture where discrimination, and other unacceptable behaviours, are actively called out and eradicated.”

“Looking at this research, it’s concerning to see that workplace discrimination is still so rife, not just in the workplace but all the way through the recruitment process. Despite all the headlines and the calls for action, employers are still letting prejudice and unconscious bias turn away top talent from their business.

“To ensure a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination, and help organisations attract and retain the best employees, HR professionals need to work with their employers to make fundamental changes to processes, to minimise or remove the opportunity for bias.

“Some steps that employers could consider to tackle discrimination include: investing in recruitment software and processes that anonymise candidates, using various screening and assessment tools to remove personal prejudice, introducing minimum gender and diversity quotas at interview stage, providing regular, in-depth anti-discrimination training, and using diversity, equity and inclusion data to help identify potential areas that need improvement.  

“For employees suffering discrimination, reach out to your HR team or a trusted senior colleague. They should listen to your complaints in confidence, be empowered to take action where necessary, and be able to provide you with practical support and guidance.”

CIPHR’s Workplace Discrimination report, examining the incidence and most prevalent forms of discrimination in the UK, is available to view at The results include a survey of 2,000 UK adults, conducted by Censuswide on behalf of CIPHR, in August 2021.

CIPHR is a specialist provider of SaaS HR, learning, payroll and recruitment software through its HCM platform, CIPHR Connect. More than 600 organisations use CIPHR’s solutions globally across the public, private and non-profit sectors, with customers including British Museum, Cambridge Building Society, Cera Care, Claire’s Accessories UK, HH Associates (HH Global), Met Office, Pro:Direct Sport, Sport England, The Royal Society of Medicine, Thorntons Law LLP, UK Research and Innovation, and Volkswagen Group UK.  

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