Workplace Racism is Rampant, Says New Research

Workplace Racism is Rampant, Says New Research
  • Half of women from marginalized racial and ethnic groups in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and South Africa—especially darker-skinned, queer, and transgender women— experience racism at work.
  • One in four says a senior leader would discriminate against an employee based on race, ethnicity, or culture.
  • Research reveals steps senior leaders should take to combat racism. 

New York, New York, February 2, 2023 —Three years after many global CEOs pledged to fight racism following the 2020 murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, a new report from Catalyst reveals that half (51%) of women from marginalized racial and ethnic groups experience racism at work.

The report, Exposé of Women’s Workplace Experiences Challenges Antiracist Leaders to Step Up, which includes data from a study of 2,734 women from marginalized racial and ethnic groups in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and South Africa, finds that women with darker skin tones, as well as queer (63%) and transgender (67%) women are particularly likely to experience racism at work, compared with cisgender heterosexual women (49%). A quarter (25%) also believe that senior leaders in their organization would discriminate against an employee based on their ethnicity, race, or culture.

Survey respondents report a wide range of overt and covert forms of racism, including negative assumptions, belittling insults, disparaging remarks, discriminatory actions, and outright racial slurs. The emotional weight of these episodes contributes to enduring racial trauma, a form of psychological injury. It also contributes to the “emotional tax” that many women from marginalized racial and ethnic groups pay in the workplace, whereby they are on guard to protect against bias and discrimination.

“These findings show that racism is an ongoing and pervasive part of the workplace experience for women from marginalized racial and ethnic groups,” said report author Kathrina Robotham, PhD. “This report demonstrates the compound disadvantage that women from marginalized racial and ethnic groups face when they belong to multiple marginalized groups. It goes beyond talking about women’s experiences as a monolith and highlights the effects of skin tone and hair texture, two aspects of identity that do not receive much attention, on women’s experiences of racism. It’s time to end the blatant racism that occurs around the globe for women from marginalized racial and ethnic groups and create accountability for nurturing antiracist workplaces.”

An Organization’s Culture is Key

The data show that an organization’s “climate of silence”—i.e., when employees do not feel safe or are discouraged from speaking up about work-related problems or concerns—is linked to an increased likelihood of experiencing racism at work. A climate of silence can allow sexist and racist behaviors to flourish. Sixty-seven percent of women from marginalized racial and ethnic groups who work in a climate of silence experience racism at work, compared to 46% of those who do not.

In contrast, employees working in “diversity climates”—where individual differences are valued and people from marginalized groups are able to advance—are less likely to experience racism at work (61% vs. 43%). Diversity climates are also linked to increased job satisfaction and engagement and decreased employee withdrawal.

CEOs and Seniors Leaders Need to Combat Racism

Senior leaders play a critical role in whether or not racism occurs in their workplace. CEOs and senior leaders set the tone for organizational climate, and they can interrupt racism with allyship and curiosity, i.e., actively speaking out against racism, calling out biases, and inviting and listening to new perspectives. When senior leaders do not demonstrate allyship and curiosity, over half (56%) of respondents experience racism, compared to 46% when senior leaders do exhibit these behaviors. However, 49% say their senior leaders do not engage in allyship, and 43% say they do not exhibit curiosity.

Lorraine Hariton, President and CEO of Catalyst, added: “The days when organizations and CEOs could turn a blind eye to racism in the workplace are over. Senior leaders must cultivate open, diverse cultures where incidences of racism are swiftly dealt with and fairness and accountability are at the heart of an organization’s processes and procedures.”

What Advice Does This Report Have for Senior Leaders?

  1. Use allyship and curiosity to prevent experiences of racism. Educate yourself about the barriers that people from marginalized groups face in the workplace; cultivate empathy by listening; and speak up when you witness racism.
  2. Strengthen the organizational climate. Lift the silence that hides experiences of racism at work by speaking out. Demonstrate that you value diversity by critically evaluating your policies for fairness.
  3. Create accountability programs. Develop feedback systems to measure and track experiences of racism. Hold employees who act counter to the organization’s values accountable by taking swift action.

Methodology / About the World of Voices Series

Catalyst surveyed 2,734 women from marginalized ethnic and racial groups in Australia, Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. A number of gender options were presented to participants, and this report draws on data for those who identified as a woman or as a trans woman, specifically.These countries were selected because of the ability to collect sufficient racial and/or ethnic demographic data from survey respondents.

This study is part of Catalyst’s World of Voices research series, which aims to amplify the voices of employees from marginalized racial, ethnic, and cultural groups; provide global business leaders with data-driven, intersectional insights; and help organizations not only drive positive change, but also illuminate a path forward for equity and inclusion. The first report in the World of Voices series drew on qualitative interviews from expert business leaders and scholars around the world. This new report draws on mixed-methods data to center the experiences of women from marginalized racial and ethnic groups in racism research.



About Catalyst

Catalyst is a global non-profit supported by many of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women. Founded in 1962, Catalyst drives change with preeminent thought leadership, actionable solutions, and a galvanized community of multinational corporations to accelerate and advance women into leadership—because progress for women is progress for everyone.

About The Author


WORKSMARTPA – NEW IDEAS, NEW FRONTIERS The year 2021 sees our business celebrate 21 years of - a community supporting office professionals since our very first newsletter way back in May 2000. As we look forward to greet a new world of change beyond the pandemic, we are extremely excited to announce a new brand; a new look; and some new directions for our much loved, long-standing web site and communities to explore. It is time for change. To better reflect now what we do best for you, we have a new brand, web site and activities – a new name and web site that will be full of new ideas for a new business age and new working trends as we all seek to grow, expand and explore new frontiers.

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