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Aiming for racial equality

As the UK looks towards a fair recovery for all, organisations must hold themselves accountable for building inclusive workforces that break down barriers to racial equality.


Focus on inclusion

In the final phase of our year-long research programme into driving fairness in UK society, this report reveals public perceptions of racial inequality and looks at how government, business and the education sector can come together to enact change.

Some 56% of the UK public believes racial and ethnic inequality is an issue in society, according to our polling, with almost a third agreeing that the pandemic has deepened divides. It comes as new analysis from Strategy&, PwC’s global strategy house, shows ethnicity pay gaps exist in every UK region, with significant differences between White British and many ethnic minority groups on a like-for-like basis.

This survey, of more than 4,000 members of the public, underlines the public's desire for organisations to come together to address barriers to racial equality, and emphasises the need for the collection and reporting of data on ethnicity, as well as on gender and social mobility, in order to build an inclusive workforce for the future.

Perceptions of racial inequality

56% of the public says racial and ethnic inequality is an issue in UK society

Our research shows clear divides in perceptions of racial inequality among the UK public. While 56% think racial and ethnic inequality is an issue in UK society, 28% aren't sure and 16% say it is not an issue.

Overall, 27% of the public say the pandemic has worsened racial and ethnic inequality and the feeling is more pronounced among people from minority ethnic backgrounds: 39% of whom say the pandemic has made racial and ethnic inequality worse, compared to 25% of White people. Young people are also more attune to this belief, with just 26% of those aged 18-34 disagreeing with the statement - compared with 42% of those aged 55+.

47% of the public worries about the gap in opportunity between people of different backgrounds

Almost half of those we surveyed are concerned that not all people are given the same opportunities, and there are further beliefs that people are treated differently. For example, some 60% of respondents from ethnic minorities say people from different racial or ethnic backgrounds are treated differently when applying for a job, and 42% of White people agree.

Meanwhile, roughly half the public agree people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds receive different treatment in the criminal justice system and when represented in the media. Conversely, people from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely than White people to feel they are listened to by nationally elected leaders (39% of ethnic minorities compared to 25% of White people).

56% of 18-to-34-year-olds want to do more personally to address racial and ethnic inequality

Perceptions of racial inequality differ widely depending on a person's age, race and socio-economic status. But there is a particularly strong divide along age lines - with young people far more likely than older generations to perceive inequalities. For example, although across all racial groups responses to the question of media representation are similar, among the 18-34 age group some 57% feel media representation of those from different racial and ethnic backgrounds is unequal, compared to 35% of over 55s.

Equally, young people want to do more personally to address racial and ethnic inequality – a desire expressed by 56% of 18-to-34-year-olds, compared to 29% of over 55s. Younger age groups also appear to be more hopeful that racial inequality will be eradicated in the UK, with just 14% of 18-24 year olds expecting inequality to remain indefinitely, compared with 31% of those aged 65+.

32% of people from ethnic minorities say responsibility lies with schools

Across society, there is a strong sense of personal responsibility for driving inclusion. But the public also holds a range of organisations responsible. Respondents from ethnic minority backgrounds say media and social networks are most responsible (33%) for improving equality, followed by schools and individuals (32%). White people say the responsibility lies with individuals (46%), followed by central government (38%) and parents (36%).

Overall, a striking 71% of all respondents believe social media and online platforms have a responsibility to remove and ban accounts that make racist and discriminatory comments. Plus, 42% say social media and technology companies are not doing enough to monitor and remove such comments from their platforms. But those from ethnic minorities also see these organisations as part of the solution, with 47% claiming they can have a positive impact on improving racial and ethnic equality.

“It’s heartening to see that young people, in particular, appear to be not only the most determined to tackle inequality but are the most positive about our prospects of seeing it eradicated in the future.”

Karen FinlaysonPartner and Regional Lead for Government, PwC

Driving change together

37% of the public calls for stronger legislation regarding workplace discrimination

In the last two decades, the UK's working population has become increasingly diverse, with employment rates rising across all ethnic groups. Yet research shows not only do pay barriers remain, but the public's primary call for action is around discrimination in the workplace.

White respondents and people from ethnic minority backgrounds are broadly aligned on the interventions they believe would be most effective in reducing inequality in the workplace. Aside from strengthening legisation against discrimination, they want the government to invest in better monitoring of racial and ethnic equality within society, and to mandate specific requirements to ensure open and transparent recruitment processes.

We believe that mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting would strengthen business and national accountability. Gathering disaggregated data on metrics such as pay, working hours, promotion, representation in senior roles, and attrition can help organisations diagnose specific disparities that exist, and design suitable interventions.

As things stand, only one in ten companies voluntarily publish their ethnicity pay gaps in the UK. PwC UK is among them – we’ve done so since 2016, because we believe it’s an important step towards ensuring our workforce is diverse, inclusive and fair for everyone.

Around a quarter of the public we surveyed also say the government should improve diversity within the civil service. There are a number of ways the civil service could lead by example, starting with the introduction of legislation requiring all public sector employers to publish data on racial and ethnic diversity within their workforce.

34% of people from ethnic minorities call for a focus on career development

Though few UK organisations publicly report their ethnicity data, around two thirds collect it, according to separate PwC research. Collecting data on racial and ethnicity pay gaps can help organisations understand how their structure, processes or culture may be holding back progress. Armed with this knowledge, employers can address the concerns of all, and lower the risk of polarising one group by focusing on another.

Public opinion among our respondents differs as to what employers should do to improve racial and ethnic equality. People from ethnic minorities would primarily like to see targeted career development and progression opportunities to achieve greater diversity at senior and board levels. They would also like to see processes for reporting racial bias and injustices in the workplace, alongside increased visibility of more diverse role models (both 31%).

White people favour processes for reporting racial bias and injustices too (35%) but would also like to see mandatory unconscious bias training (32%) and increased wellbeing support services for those affected by racial injustice (30%).

Creating safe spaces for people to speak up in cases of unfair treatment is clearly a primary concern. When discrimination occurs, it needs to have proper consequences – whether that’s through disciplinary proceedings or an impact on the perpetrator’s performance appraisal.

Beyond this, training programmes - such as those for unconscious bias - may have their limitations as stand-alone actions, but they are one of many things employers can do to encourage a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Employers can also look to offer targeted internships, apprenticeships and upskilling outreach programmes for people from ethnic minority backgrounds - as well as providing greater ethnic diversity on interview panels.

44% of the public calls for culturally inclusive curriculums

The UK public is in broad agreement about how educational institutions should tackle racial inequality. Firstly, 44% of people from across all backgrounds prioritise the creation of culturally inclusive curriculums with contributions from ethnic minorities. Some 41% also want schools and universities to be held to account for any racial and ethnic disparities in grade outcomes for students. Additionally, 37% of the public says that racial and ethnic inequalities should be factored into regular reviews of teaching standards.

There is a need to build greater cultural awareness of different racial and ethnic groups from an early age and responsibility for this falls not just on parents, but on wider communities and on the education sector. People from all backgrounds need to see relatable, positive role models from across different racial and ethnic groups in different jobs, positions in society and media portrayals. Driving this broader cultural awareness will, in turn, embed inclusivity into the fabric of our society and build trust - the latter of which the Ministry of Justice says is central to tackling racial disparity in the criminal justice system.

73% of 18-to-24-year-olds expect racial and ethnic inequality to be eradicated in the UK

While our research reveals some optimism among the UK public, it is particularly strong among people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Some 40% of ethnic minorities believe that inequality will be eradicated in less than 10 years, compared to 25% of White people. Younger generations also feel positive about the outlook for racial equality: some 73% of 18-to-24-year-olds expect racial and ethnic inequality to be eradicated in UK society at some point, compared to only 38% of over 65s.

We believe all organisations across society must take collective action to support this optimism and ensure current disparities are not carried forward into the future. This research, taken with the Ethnicity Pay Gap report, highlights the divides not only in the perception but the reality of ethnic and racial inequality in the UK. Strategy&'s pay gap research shows the extent to which people from ethnic minorities across the UK workforce earn less than their White counterparts even when they have the same qualifications and are working in the same jobs.

This difference between perception and reality shows that despite considerable progress on social attitudes, and the good intentions of many, structural barriers to racial equality are not being adequately addressed in the contemporary British workplace. In our view, there are three key areas in which progress must be made: mandating ethnicity pay gap reporting, compensating equal contribution at equal rates, and the roll out of effective diversity action plans in the workplace - these should set targets and outline initiatives for inclusive recruitment, promotion and representation. People should feel empowered and supported at work – regardless of their ethnicity.

“As we look toward a fair recovery, we can see that whilst many believe the pandemic has worsened racial inequality in the UK, they also are optimistic for the future. It is a sign of progress that more people believe that companies can play a part in stamping out inequality. But this optimism comes with an awareness that we cannot rely on employers alone.”

Sandra KerrRace Director at Business in the Community, CBE
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Karen Finlayson

Karen Finlayson

Risk Assurance Partner and Regional Lead for Government, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7881 805552

Lola  Ladejobi

Lola Ladejobi

Risk Markets & Services Programme Director, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7711 562241