Discrimination in the workplace has a significant impact on the lives of many, causing some to quit their jobs, feel isolated or even be turned away from a role. Although it’s clear that workplace discrimination is still an issue today, we wanted to find out just how many people in the UK believe they have been discriminated against and what types of discrimination they report experiencing.
We conducted an investigation into workplace discrimination, consisting of a survey of 2,000 UK adults, an analysis of online search trends and an examination of employment tribunals.
Discrimination in the workplace – summary
Here’s a summary of our main findings:
- More than a third (36%) of UK adults report experiencing workplace discrimination.
- The most common form of workplace discrimination reported is age discrimination, with more than 1 in 10 adults in the UK saying that they think their age has been a factor in not getting jobs they’ve applied for (11%) and more than 1 in 20 (5.7%) saying that they’ve experienced workplace discrimination based on their age
- Those working in HR are the most likely to feel that they’ve been discriminated against, with almost 79% of people working in an HR function saying they’ve experienced workplace discrimination of some kind
- Londoners are more likely to say they have been discriminated against in the workplace than people from any other UK city
- 66% of students say they have been discriminated against either whilst in a job or when applying for one
How many UK adults have experienced workplace discrimination?
To discover how many people in the UK feel they’ve been discriminated against in the workplace, we surveyed a representative sample of 2,000 UK adults using the market research company Censuswide.
The survey was conducted in August 2021 and asked respondents the following question: Which of the following statements, if any, apply to you? (Tick all that apply)
Providing them with a list of the following options:
- I feel my age has been a factor in my not getting jobs I’ve applied for
- I have been discriminated against at work on the basis of my age
- I have been discriminated against at work on the basis of my gender
- I feel my gender has been a factor in my not getting jobs I’ve applied for
- I feel my race has been a factor in my not getting jobs I’ve applied for
- I have been discriminated against at work on the basis of my race
- I feel my sexuality has been a factor in my not getting jobs I’ve applied for
- I have been discriminated against at work on the basis of my sexuality
- I feel being at higher risk of serious illness has been a factor in me not getting jobs I’ve applied for during the pandemic
- I have been discriminated against at work during the pandemic because I’m at high risk
- I have been discriminated against at work during the pandemic because I fear working in the office/workplace
- I feel my disability has been a factor in my not getting jobs I’ve applied for
- I have been discriminated against at work on the basis of a disability
- None of the above
- Prefer not to say
Our survey found that:
- More than a third (36%) of UK adults feel they’ve been subject to discrimination in the workplace or when applying for a job
- Over a third of people (34%) feel they’ve been turned down from a job due to discrimination of some kind
Proportion of UK adults who report experiencing discrimination whilst applying for a job or in a workplace
What is the biggest reason for discrimination in the workplace in 2021?
Next, we looked at the reasons for discrimination in UK workplaces and our survey found:
- The most common discriminating factor reported by survey respondents was age. More than 1 in 10 adults in the UK (11%) say they feel that their age has been a discriminating factor in the workplace and more than 1 in 20 (5.7%) believe they’ve suffered workplace discrimination based on their age
- The second most common reason reported for discrimination in the workplace is gender, with more than 1 in 20 UK adults (5.3%) saying they’ve experienced discrimination at work on the basis of their gender and 4.7% reporting that they’ve been refused a job due to gender discrimination
- This is closely followed by those who are at high risk of becoming seriously ill due to coronavirus. 4% of people in the UK say they feel they’ve been subject to some kind of workplace discrimination as a result of this, and 5.3% think they’ve been refused a job due to being in an at-risk category
Table showing the percentage of UK adults (by age) who say they’ve experienced some form of discrimination during the pandemic:
Employment status and workplace discrimination
We also wanted to discover what impact an individual’s employment status can potentially have on their likelihood of being discriminated against at previous, prospective or current workplaces.
Our survey revealed that:
- A staggering 66% of students in the UK say they’ve experienced discrimination either whilst in a job or when applying for one
- 40% of individuals who are employed full time in the UK say they have experienced workplace discrimination of some kind
- 45% of part-time workers say they have experienced discrimination in relation to work
Which industries report the most workplace discrimination?
Our survey also asked respondents which industry / profession they work in. This enabled us to discover which industries report the highest instances of discrimination in the workplace.
The survey found that:
- People working in HR are most likely to report experiencing discrimination of some kind, as 79% say they’ve been discriminated against either whilst in a workplace or when applying for a job
- Individuals working in IT and Telecommunications are also more likely to say that they’ve experienced discrimination at work, with 60% reporting that they’ve been subject to workplace discrimination of some kind
- 59% of people working in the legal sector also say they’ve experienced workplace discrimination at some point during their careers
Prevalence of workplace discrimination by sector (based on survey data obtained by Ciphr in August 2021)
The most common form of work-related discrimination for each industry were reported as:
According to the survey results, the industries and professions reporting the highest levels of the following forms of workplace discrimination are:
- Age discrimination: HR, Legal, and Arts & Culture (36%, 31% and 31% respectively)
- Gender discrimination: HR and Legal (both 25%)
- Race discrimination: Finance and IT & Telecommunications (both 23%)
- Disability discrimination: HR and IT & Telecommunications (21% and 17% respectively)
- Sexual orientation discrimination: Sales, Media & Marketing and Arts & Culture (21% and 19% respectively)
How about location?
We took a closer look at where our 2,000 survey respondents live to determine which parts of the UK report experiencing the most work-related discrimination.
The city where people report the highest rates of workplace discrimination is London, where a staggering 46% of adults say they’ve experienced work-related discrimination of some kind.
London is followed by Brighton, Nottingham, Manchester and Birmingham, where over a third of people feel they’ve been discriminated against in the workplace or turned down from a job due to discrimination.
Percentage of adults who say they’ve experienced discrimination of some kind in the workplace or when applying for a job (the UK average is 36%):
Where in the UK do job hunters report experiencing the most age discrimination?
Where in the UK do people report experiencing the most discrimination at work (due to their age, gender, race, sexuality or a disability)?
Over half of the adults (54%) living in Greater London – home to over nine million people – report experiencing discrimination at work or when applying for work. That’s well above the UK average of 36%.
The most common forms of discrimination – reported by over one in ten people living in Greater London, are:
- Age discrimination when job hunting (14%)
- Race discrimination in the workplace (12%)
- Race discrimination when job hunting (11%)
- Being clinically vulnerable or at higher risk of serious illness when job hunting during the pandemic (11%)
- Discrimination arising from anxiety or fear of working in the office/workplace during the pandemic (10%)
While around one in 14 adults in Greater London say they have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace and when applying for jobs (7.2% and 8.4% respectively). About the same number (7.6%) feel that their sexuality has been a factor in not getting jobs they’ve applied for.
How many employment tribunals take place as a result of workplace discrimination?
Workplace disputes can often lead to employment tribunals, where the matter is heard and a decision is made on how the dispute should be resolved. Employment tribunals take place for a wide range of reasons, such as breaches of contract, unfair dismissals and public interest disclosures.
We looked to discover how often issues related to discrimination in the workplace are brought to a tribunal. To do this we analysed data obtained from Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service from the years 2014 to 2018. This allowed us to discover which forms of discrimination were brought to employment tribunals in England and Wales the most during this period.
Our analysis found:
- The most common type of discrimination brought to employment tribunals in England and Wales in 2017/18 was disputes related to equal pay (62%)
- The second most common discrimination type within employment tribunals was those relating to age (12%)
- Issues relating to discrimination on the basis of sex (9.6%) and disability (9.6%) also occurred frequently during this time period
Proportion of employment tribunals in England and Wales in 2017/18 relating to each type of discrimination.
How many discrimination tribunals are successful?
The government’s most recent survey of Employment Tribunal Applications found that discrimination cases are some of the least successful types of hearings. Their survey revealed that:
- Only 26% of discrimination cases that went to a full tribunal hearing in 2018 were successful
- In general, discrimination cases were more likely to be withdrawn/dismissed or settled than to go to a hearing (according to 2017 data)
What’s the average payout for workplace discrimination?
One important factor to consider when making a claim for workplace discrimination is the compensation award that could be available to you.
- The form of discrimination with the highest average award in terms of compensation is age discrimination, which had an average payout of £39,000 in 2019/20
- However, in the same year, the highest maximum award was £266,000 for a claim involving disability discrimination
Compensation totals vary significantly from case to case and are based on factors such as financial loss, injury to feelings, personal injury and aggravated damages.
How has workplace discrimination changed over time?
To find out how discrimination in the workplace has changed over time, we examined data obtained from Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service for a four-year period commencing in 2014.
Our research found:
- Tribunals related to equal pay more than tripled within just four years, increasing from 9,770 instances in 2014/15 to 35,561 in 2017/18
- Tribunal disputes relating to disability discrimination increased year on year in England and Wales between 2014 and 2018
Tribunals relating to disability discrimination (graph created using data obtained from Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service)
- Discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace also appears to have increased during this period, as the graphs below illustrate
Tribunals relating to sexual orientation discrimination (graph created using data obtained from Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service)
- As did the number of instances of tribunal disputes relating to race discrimination in the workplace
Tribunals relating to race discrimination (graph created using data obtained from Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service)
Unfair dismissal statistics in the UK
All employees at UK workplaces have the right to not be dismissed unfairly. Tribunal hearings for unfair dismissals can take place for a wide variety of reasons and when successful, can result in thousands of pounds of compensation. Our research found that:
- In 2017/18 17,742 unfair dismissal tribunals took place in England and Wales
- According to the government’s most recent survey of employment tribunals, 67% of unfair dismissal cases which took place in 2018 were unsuccessful
- The average compensation award for employment tribunals involving unfair dismissals in 2019/20 was £11,000, with the maximum award being £119,000
Unfair dismissals are closely linked to discrimination, with many cases often involving discrimination of some kind. This could be due to a range of factors such as pregnancy, an individual’s request to take time off work for family reasons or even due to having been involved in whistleblowing.
To find out how many people in the UK consider making a claim due to an unfair dismissal of some kind, we analysed online search volumes for terms related to the topic. Our analysis was carried out in August 2021, using the tool Keyword Finder, and found that:
- Every month in the UK, an average of 9,200 searches are conducted for the term ‘unfair dismissal’
- More searches are conducted (per person) for ‘unfair dismissal’ in Bedford than any other UK town or city. This is then followed by Walsall, Stockport and Bury
- Online searches for the term ‘unfair dismissal claim’ are on the rise, with searches rising from an average of 11,750 in 2016 to 34,900 in 2020
Average search volumes over the last 5 years for ‘unfair dismissal claim’. Data obtained using the Keyword Finder tool.
Statistics on bullying in the workplace in 2021
To find out more about the prevalence of bullying and discrimination in UK workplaces, we also conducted a keyword analysis for terms relating to this topic. Our analysis found that:
- Every month in the UK, 1,500 people search online for ‘discrimination in the workplace’
- Another 470 monthly searches are conducted for the term ‘racism in the workplace’
Average search volumes over the last 5 years for ‘racism in the workplace’. Data obtained using the Keyword Finder tool.
(Note: Data unavailable for Jan – Apr 2016 and Aug 2017 – Mar 2018)
- Terms such as ‘age discrimination in the workplace’, ‘gender discrimination in the workplace’ and ‘disability discrimination in the workplace’ are also on the rise, having increased significantly from 2016-2020.
What can HR do?
Not only should HR teams ensure that the workplace has zero-tolerance for discrimination, they should also be actively enforcing this message.
If any form of discrimination exists within your organisation, then tackling discrimination should be at the forefront of your people strategy – a change of mentality through education and a continuous reappraisal of shared values. As shared in a recent Ciphr webinar with Amberjack on diversity and inclusion in recruitment, HR should look to address unconscious bias – otherwise, real change in workplace culture is unlikely to happen.
A few initiatives can include:
- An up-to-date equality and diversity in the workplace policy – keeping your policies up to date is not only good practice but it shows that you’re constantly reviewing cultural shifts, such as the rising popularity of personal gender pronouns
- Anti-discrimination training – increasing awareness of what may or may not be suitable to can be enlightening and help to build a positive, forward-thinking workplace. Ensure that training is not a one-off activity so that employees who have been at your organisation for a long period don’t miss out
- Invest in recruitment software and processes that anonymise candidates – using various screening and assessment tools can help remove personal prejudice. Introducing minimum gender and diversity quotas at interview stage can also promote inclusion
- A clear process for reporting discrimination – by creating a clear process for reporting discrimination, you can reassure staff that they can always raise concerns in a highly confidential manner
- Regular one-to-one catch-ups – create positive working relationships across your organisation by encouraging managers to talk openly with their employees regularly
- Promote zero tolerance to discrimination – avoid only dealing with discrimination when it’s a problem, and take positive action to promote a zero tolerance to discrimination. This could include giving talks, guidance and displaying posters in common areas. Ensure that you use this material throughout the employment lifecycle, not just at the start
- Analyse employee diversity data – use diversity, equity and inclusion analytics to help identify potential areas where you need to improve
- Clear examples of discrimination – sometimes people aren’t aware that their views can be discriminatory, so HR needs to challenge what people are thinking. Give clear examples of what is and what is discriminatory
- Workplace advocacy forums – setting up in-person or online advocacy forums will empower your people to talk about their experiences. Open communication is a great point to get across in your messaging
- Focus on the bigger picture – educate managers to not jump to conclusions and start to eliminate unconscious bias. Instead, managers should focus on the goals of your organisation and how a positive, inclusive workplace culture can help them reach their targets