Discrimination should play no role in a healthy company. But everyday discrimination from managers to employees, or between coworkers, makes the workplace uncomfortable, unsafe, and, for those who leave because of ongoing discrimination, unsustainable.
Anti-discrimination laws have been in place since the Civil Rights Act, and with company after company making the nightly news for their discriminatory practices, it makes sense that organizations would want to jump on fixing this pervasive problem in their workforce. So why, still, does discrimination keep happening?
In order to know how to address the problem, you first need to know how big the problem is. If employees don’t feel safe telling you about the issues they’re facing when they go to work, or feel that they won’t be taken seriously, then how will you know where to begin?
At AllVoices, our mission is to help build safe and happy workplaces for both the employee and the employer, and we want to encourage and support companies in their efforts to hear, learn, respond, and grow in a way that prioritizes inclusivity, trust and safety.
That’s why we’ve embarked upon a series of reports to uncover what’s really going on in workplaces. This report on “The State of Workplace Discrimination 2021” will give you tangible data to see what you may not yet be noticing in your own workplace culture, and actionable steps to begin to reduce discrimination and encourage everyone to speak up.
- Claire Schmidt, CEO and Founder of AllVoices
Here are some of the insights we discovered when surveying workers about discrimination:
55% have experienced discrimination at their current company. They’ve mostly been discriminated against because of gender, religion, and race.
80% experienced it while working remotely. Of those who have experienced discrimination, over three-quarters have experienced it through video conferencing, chat apps, or over the phone.
61% have witnessed discrimination at some point. The majority of respondents have seen discrimination happen in their workplaces, both past and present, and they’ve mostly witnessed it from managers directed at employees.
Only 54% who reported have had their matter fully resolved. Additionally, 43% say they’ve left a job in the past due to unaddressed discrimination.
32% didn’t report because they weren’t sure it was a big enough deal. Other reasons for not reporting include fear of retaliation and not believing it would be addressed.
90% are more likely to report through anonymous channels. Nearly all of our respondents would be more willing to report discrimination if their risk for doing so could be reduced.
85% believe their company has proper measures in place to prevent discrimination. However, discrimination still continues, which means that what workplaces are doing isn’t effective.
On October 14, 2021, we surveyed 809 full time employees in the US, 60% of who work for hourly wages, and 40% who are salaried.
57% of our respondents are male, and 43% are female.
The majority (38.4%) are between the ages of 35 and 44. 9.5% are between the ages of 18 and 24, 31.5% are between the ages of 25 and 34, 11.6% are between the ages of 45 and 54, and 8.9% are 54 or older.
23.9% work at small businesses with 1-100 employees, 39.1% work at medium-sized businesses with 100-999, and 37.1% work at large corporations with 1000+ employees.
The majority of our respondents (18.9%) work in IT/computer software. Our respondents also work in healthcare (13.7%), construction (7.9%), financial services (7.8%), educational services (6.3%), and a number of other sectors.
17.9% are entry-level employees, 32.4% are mid-level employees, and 45.6% are senior-level employees. 4.1% have other roles.
The majority of our respondents have either worked at their company for one to five years (35.8%), or over five years (35.7%). 15.2% have worked there less than six months, and 13.2% have worked there between six months and one year.
This breakdown simply shows that our respondents have a variety of roles in a variety of industries, and have experienced different lengths of longevity there. This means that we’re able to see the presence of discrimination and organizational response across industries and roles.
Discrimination is any unfair treatment an individual receives based on aspects of who they are, like their race, gender, age, religion, or sexual orientation. As the past few years have shown us through movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, discrimination is unfortunately very much a part of workplace culture. But how prevalent is it?
When asked if they have experienced any kind of discrimination at their current company, 54.9% said yes they have. 45.1% said they have not.
Unfortunately, our respondents have experienced all different types of discrimination. We asked our respondents to choose all that they’ve experienced, which may include more than one. Here they are, ranked by frequency:
With the majority of the workforce moving to remote options this past year, the assumption may be that discrimination — stopped or slowed. However, 80.4% of those who replied that they have experienced discrimination said yes, they experienced discrimination through remote platforms like video conferencing, chat apps, or over the phone. This could also be in addition to in-person discrimination, if and when they were in the workplace as well.
13.7% said they have not experienced discrimination through remote tools. 5.9% did not work remotely.
When asking all of our respondents in what ways did they believe discrimination changed while working remotely, many thought it decreased or stopped. For 39.2%, they believe discrimination lessened through remote work, and for 25%, they believe it stopped. 12.4% believe that discrimination increased through remote channels, and 23.5% believe it continue as it had in person.
However, when comparing this to the response above, where 80% of those who had experienced discrimination in their workplace experienced it remotely, there seems to be a misperception of how much discrimination is still continuing through remote channels.
Have our respondents witnessed others experiencing discrimination, either in their current work environment, or at a previous workplace? 61.2% replied that they have, while 38.8% have not.
Those who witnessed discrimination saw it mainly happening from managers to employees (40.8%). However, discrimination between coworkers (33.4%) was still prolific, and for 25.8%, they’ve witnessed both discrimination from managers to employees and between coworkers.
Is discrimination pervasive in today’s workplace? The answer is yes, most certainly. Over half of workers have experienced some kind of discrimination, with the most common occurrence being gender, religious, and racial discrimination. And it’s not just happening in person, as 80% of those who have experienced discrimination say that those who discriminated against them used remote tools to do so. Discrimination is also happening not just from managers to employees, but between coworkers as well. Employees definitely know it’s happening, but are organizations aware of what’s going on in their work environment?
With discrimination being so present in the workplace and through remote work channels, employees should ideally be alerting their organization to what they see, and organizations should be taking action to end discriminatory behaviors. But that’s not necessarily the case, as we saw when we asked our respondents.
If our respondents experienced or witnessed discrimination, who did they report it to? We asked them to choose all that apply, which means some respondents may have reported to just one entity, two, or all three.
Reporting to their manager is by far the most common approach, as 51.1% did so. 37.2% reported issues to HR, and 21.1% reported issues to a third party, like an ombudsperson.
14.5% say they did not report their issue at all, not to a manager, HR, or a third party.
23.2% replied that they have not experienced or witnessed discrimination.
Of those who did report their discrimination, a little over half (54.2%) said their issue was fully resolved by their organization. 24% say their issue was acknowledged, but only partially resolved. 5.4% say their issue hasn’t been resolved yet, but their organization is working on it.
However, 14.2% say their issue was not resolved, and no action was taken to resolve it, and 2.2% said reporting made the matter worse.
For those who didn’t report their issue, the biggest reason was that they weren’t sure whether it was a big enough deal to report (31.6%). 20.3% say they didn’t report for fear of retaliation. 19.5% didn’t report because they thought reporting wouldn’t do anything, or that they wouldn’t be believed. 14.7% didn’t report believing that someone else would do it. 13.9% kept silent because they saw how others who spoke up were negatively treated for doing so.
Could unresolved discrimination be so bad that workers leave workplaces? Yes they can, as 42.6% replied that they have left a previous job because of unresolved discrimination issues. 28.2% replied that they did not leave, even though issues were not addressed. 29.2% said they didn’t see discrimination in a past workplace.
In terms of increasing reporting, 90.2% said they would be more inclined to report if they had a truly anonymous channel through which to do so. 9.8% said they would not be more likely.
Of those who wouldn’t use an anonymous channel, the majority (48.1%) wouldn’t use it because they don’t believe it would be truly anonymous. 27.8% would use another way to report than an anonymous channel. 24.1% say they still wouldn’t report the issue anyhow, whatever channel was offered.
When it comes to resolving issues in the workplace, leadership only knows about it by having employees report those issues. However, employees do so trusting that their organization will take steps to address and resolve the issue. As we’ve seen in this section, that process breaks down frequently. Only 54% of employees who reported issues of discrimination say their organization fully resolved it. This leaves 46% of employees waiting for some kind of resolution, perhaps while continuing to experience the discrimination they reported.
There are also a number of employees who aren’t reporting issues at all, because they’re not sure the issue is “big enough” to report, which can signal either a lack of education around what constitutes discrimination, or employees feeling that their discomfort level hasn’t met the right threshold (but if any employee feels uncomfortable in any way, they should speak up). They also aren’t reporting for fear of retaliation, like losing job duties or not being considered a team player, or they’re not reporting because they don’t think anything would be done about it — which, as we’ve seen, is a valid reason, since many organizations aren’t taking action.
Ultimately, these issues will become retention issues, as 43% of respondents have quit a job in the past due to unresolved discrimination.
However, 90% — nearly all of our respondents — would be more inclined to report discrimination if their organization offered a truly anonymous channel through which to do so.
Outside of addressing each submitted report, what are organizations doing to get ahead of the conversation and publicly address discrimination with their employees? Are organizations being active in leading the initiatives and work that needs to be done, or are they simply taking action only after an issue arises?
85.3% replied that they believe their organization has proper measures in place to prevent discrimination, which could include education, reporting and feedback tools, resolution protocols, and more. 14.7% say they believe their organization does not have measures in place.
Having proper measures in place is one thing, but are organizations actively addressing discrimination, acting on those measures, and leading the conversation? 64.2% say yes, that their organization actively talks about discrimination, and that they see initiatives being implemented to address discrimination. However, 21.1% say their organization actively talks about it, but they don’t see initiatives being implemented. 14.7% say their organization doesn’t actively talk about it at all.
Our respondents have some suggestions on what would make the greatest impact on encouraging more reporting in the workplace (we asked them to choose all that apply). Those initiatives include:
Ensure reporting is anonymous (57.9%): As we saw above, 90.2% of employees would be more likely to report issues of discrimination if they had an anonymous channel through which to do so.
More user-friendly reporting platform (57.4%): Employees want an easy-to-use resource through which to report issues they see in the workplace — which means they don’t already have one as part of their organization’s plan to prevent discrimination.
Encouragement from leadership (49.1%): Despite 85.3% saying their organization actively talks about discrimination prevention, it seems that the messaging may not be coming from the top.
More awareness around what discrimination is and how to recognize it (44.5%): If employees are not reporting discrimination because they didn’t think it was a big enough deal, then organizations need to better clarify what discrimination is and when they want it reported.
Normalizing the conversation at work around reporting discrimination (37.2%): Again, if organizations are indeed talking about it, yet employees want more normalization around reporting, then it seems that the conversations happening aren’t the right conversations.
My company committing not to retaliate against employees for reporting discrimination (33.8%): The second most noted reason for not reporting is the fear of retaliation, so employees want to know that they’ll be safeguarded against punishment for doing the right thing.
Having a bystander intervention training (27.7%): Lower on the list is having bystander intervention training, which, if 61% have witnessed discrimination happening to others, would be a good and necessary initiative.
Other (6.2%): A small number saw other measures as necessary to increase reporting as well.
Finally, we wanted to know how they thought their organization did in addressing recent movements centered around discrimination and equality in the workplace, like the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, and others.
50.7% thought their organization did a great job, in that their workplace made a public statement of solidarity, made a private statement around change, put in place initiatives to address structural racism and sexism, and took other steps as well.
23.9% thought their organization did an okay job, in that their workplace made a public statement but no private statement, put some initiatives in place, and held some town halls/conversations.
7.8% thought their organization didn’t do a great job, in that their workplace may have made a public statement, or sent an internal memo, or had one meeting, but took no further action.
7.2% thought they did poorly, in that their workplace didn’t address the issues at all.
10.5% weren’t sure how they felt about their workplace’s response.
However, for different demographics, the response changes — and generally skews more unfavorably.
For Black respondents, 50% said their workplace did a great job, with 16.7% saying they did an Ok job, 12.8% saying they didn’t do a great job, and 6.4% saying they did poorly.
For all non-white respondents, the results are less favorable: 43.1% said their workplace did a great job, with 20.2% saying they did an Ok job, 12.8% saying they didn’t do a great job, and 10.6% saying they did poorly.
For women, only 36% thought their workplace did a great job, with 26.2% saying they did an Ok job, 9.8% saying they didn’t do a great job, and 12.1% saying they did poorly.
However, those in senior-level roles were more positive, perhaps because they were leading the response. 62.9% said their workplace did a great job, with 19.5% saying they did an Ok job, 6.8% saying they didn’t do a great job, and 4.9% saying they did poorly.
85% of respondents saying that they believe their organization has proper measures in place to prevent discrimination is pretty positive. Yet 55% of those same respondents have still experienced discrimination at that same workplace, meaning that while measure may be in place, they’re not being properly utilized. Similarly, 64% say their organization actively talks about preventing discrimination and puts initiatives in place to do so, yet discrimination not only still continues, both in person and remotely, only 54% of reported issues are being fully resolved.
However, employees themselves say that by providing anonymous channels through which to report, having a more user-friendly platform, and having more encouragement from leadership, employees would be more inclined to report these issues. Organizations may be leading the conversation on preventing discrimination, but are they listening to their employees, and putting in place initiatives that workers will actually use?
As we’ve discovered in this report, discrimination in the workplace is widespread and ongoing, despite the move to remote work and perhaps some companies’ best efforts. It seems that while some employees are finding accessible ways to report their issues and seeing them resolved, many are not: Employees aren’t encouraged to report, aren’t sure they would be safe enough to report, and aren’t seeing their issues resolved.
For example, many employees say they’ve reported issues of discrimination to their manager, yet employees have also mostly seen discrimination happening from managers to employees. So are organizational reporting channels requiring employees to essentially confront their manager on their discrimination?
If that’s the case, then it’s no wonder 90.2% of employees want to report through anonymous channels. In fact, when compared to our other reports, where we found 84.5% are more willing to report harassment anonymously, 73.6% are more willing to report unsafe working conditions anonymously, and 70.1% are more willing to report workplace wrongdoing in general anonymously, 90.2% is the highest number of employees saying they’d more likely report their issue through anonymous channels. This must signal that there’s something especially concerning about the risk of being known for reporting discrimination over harassment, unsafe working conditions, and wrongdoing in general.
As we saw above, too, organizations are actively talking about discrimination, but employees wanted more encouragement from leadership to report, and more action to normalize the conversation around reporting in the workplace. This means that while organizations are talking about it, they’re not necessarily having the right conversations about it.
Additionally, 85.3% of respondents believe that their organization has measures in place to prevent discrimination — yet why does it keep happening?
So, what’s the next step? Organizations looking to improve their employee feedback program need to first start listening to their employees to find out what their blind spots might be, which initiatives they really need, and what conversations the organization should be having. It’s also important to implement channels for anonymous feedback, and shore up internal processes to ensure that reports are being tracked and resolved.
These aren’t just nice-to-haves but need-to-haves if companies want to have a healthy culture, retain their employees, and stay out of the next news cycle.