Workplaces ‘vital’ to ethnic and faith cohesion

Workplaces can be a positive source of cohesion between colleagues of different faiths and ethnicities, the report says

Workers could end up in ‘isolated silos’ and there could be an increase in racism and prejudice with prolonged working from home, according to an inter-faith research organisation.

The Woolf Institute’s Diversity Study of England and Wales surveyed almost 12,000 people and found that 76% of employees work in a shared office that is ethnically diverse.

Workers in the North East, North West and Wales are 70% more likely than those in London to work only with British colleagues.

Institute founder Ed Kessler warned that an increase in working from home due to the pandemic could mean that the workplace friendships that can break down misconceptions between faiths and nationalities have suffered, and urged ministers to focus on offices and workplaces as a “vital” area for improving community relations.

It recommends that policies should be considerate of how people from different ethnic and faith groups represent their identities at work, recommending that “there should be a shift in the focus in workplaces tackling inequality towards promoting diversity”.

“Policymakers and employers should consider ‘workplace solos’ more often. More broadly, all workers are a ‘safe bet’ for integration and cohesion strategies,” it adds.

“As potential ‘ambassadors’ of their own ethnic, national or religious group, they are well-placed to challenge stereotypes and establish new norms of social mixing.”

Where people are the only representative of their ethnic, national or religious group at work, the Institute describes them as “workplace solos”.

According to its research, one in five white workers work with no other ethnic groups; one in 12 British Asians work only with other Asian workers; and one in five British Asians work with no-one from their own ethnic background. One in eight Muslim workers are “workplace solos”.

Women are also more likely to be “workplace ethnic solos” – women were 54% more likely than men to be the only representative of their ethnic group.

Diversity at work is also important for wider social cohesion. Those without work were twice as likely to have no friends from outside their own ethnic, national and religious groups, the Institute found.

Working people are also more likely to have nationally diverse friendships; unemployed or economically inactive respondents were 44% and 28% more likely respectively to only have British friends.

The Institute also found that education levels had an impact on whether someone was more likely to work in an ethnically diverse environment: workers without qualifications or qualifications below degree level were 37% more likely to only work with colleagues from their own ethnic group.

The same applied for pay: those earning less than £20,000 were 43% more likely to work with colleagues only from their own ethnic group.

Working in a semiskilled or unskilled position, in an intermediate managerial position, or the public sector made it less likely that someone would only work with British colleagues.

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