Half of young people from an ethnic minority background face prejudice and discrimination as they enter the world of work

Mar 20, 2024

Research from Youth Futures Foundation has found that almost half of young people from an ethnic minority background have experienced prejudice or discrimination when seeking to enter the workplace.

The study, carried out with 3,250 young people, found seven in ten (70%) who have faced discrimination have considered moving jobs – and the majority of young people don’t think that reporting discrimination will make any difference. 

With almost a quarter of the UK’s population below the age of 25 now from an ethnic minority background, and 12% of young people not in employment, education, or training, the impact of widespread discrimination on young people, employers and society is significant.

Almost half (48%) of young people from an ethnic minority background have experienced discrimination or prejudice as they try to enter the world of work, new research from Youth Futures Foundation finds.

In the largest survey of young people from ethnic minority backgrounds carried out in Britain, interviewing 3,250 young people, Youth Futures finds that a third (33%) of young people have experienced racist remarks, jokes, or banter directed towards them in the workplace.

A further two-thirds (66%) have overheard a co-worker or supervisor say racist slurs or make racist jokes, while one in five (20%) have also been referred to in a derogatory manner by colleagues, according to the research.

The findings come as the latest Census data shows almost a quarter of the UK’s population below the age of 25 are now from an ethnic minority background, and the latest ONS figures reveal there are 851,000 people aged 16-24 who are not in education, employment or training (12%).

The study finds that almost a third (30%) of respondents who are not in education, employment, or training believe that prejudice or discrimination is the single biggest barrier preventing them from entering the workforce.

Discrimination is also having a long-term impact on young people’s careers once they enter the workforce.  Of those who have faced discrimination, seven in ten (70%) have considered changing jobs or the industry they work in.

Young people taking part in the research also reported significant challenges around how businesses tackle discrimination within the workplace, with over two-thirds (69%) of young people who experience discrimination saying they haven’t reported it as they felt it would make no difference.

Oscar, aged 22 and Chair of the Future Voices Group, said: 

“One of the most important findings of Youth Futures’ report is that discrimination comes in many forms – it doesn’t need to be outright discrimination to have a negative impact on a young person’s wellbeing. It is just as crucial that employers tackle the more subtle forms of discrimination head-on. I hope that employers listen to these findings and follow Youth Futures’ recommendations to unlock a brighter future for ethnically minoritised young people.”

Two in five (41%) young people feel that discrimination has had a negative emotional impact on their lives, with 38% stating that it led to a loss of self-confidence.

Young people who spoke with Youth Futures Foundation said that employers should take steps to tackle this issue urgently, including prioritising work experience for those from ethnic minority backgrounds, and taking a zero-tolerance approach to tackling non-inclusive behaviour in the workplace.

Youth Futures Foundation believe that policymakers need to consider mandating employers to publish ethnicity pay gaps, and that data on pay, working hours, promotion and representation in senior roles should be made public by organisations.

Lord Woolley, Board Member at Youth Futures Foundation and founder of Operation Black Vote, said: 

“Employers and policymakers must act now to break down barriers preventing young people from ethnic minority backgrounds from entering the workplace, and from thriving when they do. Failure to tackle widespread discrimination could damage young people in the most formative years of their careers. We cannot succeed as a nation if our young people are held back, but if we treat this evidence seriously, we can do better and give all young people a pathway to success.”

Sarah Yong, Director of Policy and Communications of Youth Futures Foundation, said: 

“Understanding the barriers that young people face when accessing employment is crucial to then dismantling them. Whilst our findings are shocking, our hope is that they will spur workplaces and policymakers to take action now to tackle discriminatory practices and ensure young people from ethnic minority backgrounds can access support and good opportunities.”

The full report, Discrimination and Work: Breaking down the barriers faced by ethnically minoritised young people, can be found here.

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