Does Systemic Racism Still Exist in the Workplace?

Leo Taylor-Jannati
4 min readJan 11, 2023
Photo by Clay Banks

I’ll start at the beginning; years ago, when I was living in Manchester, I worked in a telesales office selling sports advertising space to companies around Europe. It was the done thing in that company to use a ‘pitching name’ when speaking to clients.

Manchester, UK Photo by Mangopear creative on Unsplash

I was only nineteen years old and it was my first job. The bosses explained that using a ‘pitching name’ (a pseudonym) helped sales people gain confidence speaking to clients — it was like playing a character.

Looking back on it now it all seems quite backward. Back in the early 2010s, the concept of a startup company didn’t really exist. You were either established or fly-by-night.

We didn’t have our own emails. We were never permitted to meet clients face-to-face.

A few years later, I had my own sports marketing company and I started to hire and manage sales people myself.

I allowed them to have emails, of course, but then I gave them the choice about whether or not they wanted to use a pseudonym.

It just so happened that the staff that had non-English, non-white names, immediately started using pseudonyms when speaking to clients.

Did I advise them to do this? Maybe.

I myself have had my own insecurities around my name. Most of my professional career I have cut off the Iranian part of my surname — so I was just known as Leo Taylor or Leo James.

For a long time, I always wanted to come across as a proper English businessman — especially amongst foreigners. This may have rubbed off on my staff. I did say that it would be ‘easier’ to connect with clients using a white/ European name — and, my staff agreed with me!

I feel bad looking back. What I was doing was essentially adding to the systemic racism problem in the workplace. Who cares if a client doesn’t feel comfortable working with a person named Mohammed? That’s surely their problem — not mine or my company’s.

Photo by cytonn_photography

This leads me to the question of this article. Does systemic racism still exist in the workplace?

I think that the days of ‘in your face’ racist behaviour have gone. What we are dealing with now is greatly nuanced.

One of these nuanced ways that systemic racism manifests in the workplace is through hiring discrimination.

Firsthand I have seen past managers dispose of CVs from individuals with foreign names.

Studies have shown that this is extremely common and that job applicants with ‘ethnic-sounding’ names are less likely to be called back for interviews.

In the US, candidates of colour are more likely to be asked about their criminal records during the hiring process, even if they have no criminal history.

Another way that systemic racism can manifest in the workplace is through pay disparities.

Again, I have had experience of this from a hiring perspective. As controversial as this sounds, people from ethnic backgrounds cost a lot less to hire than their non-ethnic counterparts.

I’m really not sure why this is. It’s almost as if candidates are subconsciously thinking; ‘I’m not white so how can I ask for £XXXXX?’

Research confirms that people of colour tend to be paid less than their white counterparts for the same work. This can have a long-term impact on an individual’s financial well-being and can also contribute to the creation of a racial wealth gap.

I don’t really have experience working in large organisations but I can imagine that discrimination and bias from coworkers and managers also shape the experience of people of colour in the workplace.

I can imagine microaggressions, demotions, isolation, lack of support and disproportionately negative performance evaluations in comparison to white peers. This can lead to a hostile and unwelcoming work environment, causing loss of morale and productivity. The never ending cycle.

In addition to these issues, people of colour are also more likely to be overrepresented in low-paying jobs, which can limit their upward mobility and access to benefits such as healthcare, retirement savings, and paid time off.

So, how do we change this? Any real societal change will take time and a few generations.

To combat systemic racism in the workplace today, I would recommend that organisations take a number of steps:

  • Implementing diversity and inclusion training for all employees.
  • Creating hiring practices that focus on skills rather than demographic information.
  • Conducting regular audits to identify and address pay disparities.
  • Create a respectful, safe and bias free culture for all employees.
  • Creating a zero-tolerance policy for racist and discriminatory behaviour.
  • Encouraging and fostering a climate of open dialogue, and promoting fair policies and practices.
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

In the end, eradicating systemic racism in the workplace is an ongoing effort that requires constant attention, monitoring and adjustment.

Taking concrete steps to address these issues, organisations can create a more equitable and inclusive workplace for everyone.

I will stress though that we have come a long way since the last century and we should ultimately be very positive.

Let’s hope we can continue this trend.

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Leo Taylor-Jannati
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Stories about identity, self discovery, purpose and relationships. leo@xanadupictures.com