Gender, race, age and sex bias still pervades UK working life

Gender, race, age and sex bias still pervades UK working life

One in four (27 percent) women have been victims of sexism in the workplace and ageism, racism and homophobia continue to mar the working lives of minority groups claims new research. With high-profile reports of sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment industry dominating headlines, the Office Culture report, from Opinium Research, examined gender, race, age and sex biases that pervade modern UK working life and found that over 2.5 million women (20 percent) report being a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, yet two thirds (67 percent) of women who have experienced this have not reported it to their company. Similarly, despite a perceived cultural improvement in race relations, only half (55 percent) of those subjected to racial discrimination have reported such incidents to somebody in their company. However, ageism is the least reported of all with almost three-quarters (72 percent) of incidents going unnoticed; of those that did report ageism, a quarter (25 percent) of cases were not acknowledged. Action taken on incidents of homophobia were also low; with over a third (43 percent) of cases not being dealt with after the acknowledgement.

Of those women who have reported harassment, a third (33 percent) say their cases were never acted upon by senior management, while a fifth (18 percent) were not even acknowledged. The lack of reported cases could perhaps be explained by the fact that 57 percent of women who have suffered sexual harassment in the workplace have felt intimidated by the way they have been spoken to at work.

The glass ceiling

Access to opportunities for women also appeared to be stifled, with 1 in 10 (12 percent) stating they that they had been denied a job or interview due to workplace sexism. Once in employment, less than half (48 percent) of women feel equal pay exists between the sexes in their company.

Opinium’s Multicultural Britain report revealed many ethnic minorities felt this glass ceiling too, with two-thirds (63 percent) feeling that professional roles were closed off to them. Further, there were professions that they felt were not available to them including roles in the police (18 percent), law (16 percent) and banking (15 percent) sectors.

A positive indication of change is that people felt discrimination at work has improved over the past decade, as the table below shows:

Sexism 22 percent 5 percent 32 percent
Racism 17 percent 8 percent 33 percent
Homophobia 15 percent 5 percent 38 percent
Disability discrimination 18 percent 4 percent 34 percent
Age discrimination 24 percent 10 percent 25 percent
Religious discrimination 19 percent 8 percent 25 percent
Sexual harassment 20 percent 6 percent 30 percent


However, progress on ageism still needs to be made with 1 in 10 feeling discrimination has increased. Further, a quarter (24 percent) feel prejudices have not abated over the decade.

James Endersby, Managing Director of Opinium comments: “The UK has made great steps to ensure everyone has basic rights and freedoms, however our report highlights we have still have some way to go. The stark reality of sexual harassment in the workplace needs to be addressed to prevent such acts occurring in the future, but to also encourage those affected to come forward and have their voices heard.

“There also needs to be a significant attempt to tackle prejudicial workplace cultures; over a third (37 percent) of UK workers believe their fellow employees still hold discriminatory views but don’t voice them openly. Businesses should take a zero-tolerance stance to discrimination of any kind, but also encourage greater integration and debate if they are to effectively challenge these issues.”