In the spotlight: Workplace

Why companies should stand up for diversity and against racism - this is what we explain with the help of a 2020 study by Gesicht zeigen e.V., EY Deutschland and Civey.

Many are already actively doing so. Nevertheless, a lot of education and persuasion work is still needed. Because the exchange about racism and racist structures in the world of work is not yet a matter of course.

Racism - (not) a taboo subject?

The workplace is a reflection of society. It is where people meet with their perspectives, experiences, CVs and positions - and work with each other every day despite all the differences. At the same time, it is a place where people not only work but also talk about current political issues and social developments. Around 55 per cent of the employees surveyed in a representative study by Gesicht Zeigen e.V., EY Deutschland and Civey from 2020 confirmed:

"Yes, in our company we talk openly about daily politics at the workplace."

Despite all this, one topic seems to be rather left out: Racism. Yet it is not a marginal phenomenon. Many people experience it every day and are affected by it in the workplace. A few figures from the study mentioned above:   

It is true that equal opportunities for all apply by law. But the reality shows a different picture: there are (invisible) barriers for those people who are perceived as "different" in their identity characteristics. They experience that they cannot participate to the same extent in society and in working life.

They are not invited for a job interview because their name sounds "non-German". They do not get a promotion despite good performance. They hear derogatory remarks in meetings or on the way to the canteen.

Racist incidents in the workplace often remain under the radar. Because: Firstly, no one wants to be seen as racist. Secondly, most people are not always aware of their racist actions. And so, in these cases, the opposite German saying applies: Silence is golden, speech is silver.

Positive: Increased awareness of the problem

But there are also good signs. Since the wave of protests surrounding the death of George Floyd in 2020, the tide seems to be turning: We have become more attentive and mindful of the issue of racism - especially in everyday life, but also in working life. Awareness of the problem is growing. And so - according to the survey - around 57 percent of people living in Germany would like companies in Germany to take a stronger stance against racism.

Quite a few business actors are already following this wish. However, although more and more employers are taking a clear stance against racism, the mood among employees with regard to their own company is not so clear. Some employees have reservations when it comes to the active engagement of their company. They fear a loss of customers and thus a loss of turnover.

Problem identified - but not yet solved

The following result of the same survey may not come as a surprise: More than 45 per cent of the employees surveyed answered in the negative whether racism is openly discussed in their company. However, very few of them are worried about disadvantages if they speak out against racism. On the contrary, speaking out against experienced racism does not seem to be a matter of course - neither at work nor in private.

According to the study, about 37 per cent of the total population even say that it is not at all important to them to actively stand up against racism. So there is obviously not a lack of a culture of discussion at the workplace, but rather a lack of anti-racist awareness as well as discussion spaces, structures and above all support for those affected.

Racism can also show itself, for example, in inactivity or non-observance of socially important events at the workplace. Those who do not question themselves and structures and thus unconsciously experience existing power relations as "normal", reinforce inequalities. The central question is not: Are we racist? It must be: How can we prevent ourselves from copying and repeating racism again and again?

Companies have a responsibility - creating structures and offering support

Racism also remains hidden because there are no contact points. More than 28 per cent of employees say that they would not immediately inform their manager in the event of racist incidents in their company - at the same time, just under 27 per cent of employees would not know who they could turn to in the event of racist incidents. And whether they are the result of (unconscious) everyday racism or racist structures also remains uncovered.

Acknowledging and taking racist discrimination seriously is thus a first important step on the way to becoming a diverse organisation. Another important adjusting screw is measures that promote awareness of the issue. And in this regard, companies have the backing of the workforce. Around 39 per cent of the employees would like to see corresponding offers. In addition to training and empowerment, an anti-racist organisational culture also requires concrete action strategies on how decision-making processes, hiring procedures and evaluations can be made more equal opportunity.

It is clear that there is still a lot of convincing to be done. But it is also positive to see how many organisations are already on the way and admit that they are on the right track: As a company, we have a social obligation to work for diversity and against racism.



  • If you would like to read all the facts and figures of the study in more depth, you can download the complete representative survey by Gesicht Zeigen e.V., EY Deutschland and Civey (German only), which was conducted in summer 2020, free of charge.
  • You would like to participate in the discussion around racism - but you are missing important basics and terms? Then you will find what you are looking for in the Basics Wiki.