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Why racial discrimination is still a problem in the workplace

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Why racial discrimination is still a problem in the workplace

​More and more regions of Asia are being described as “melting pots” as populations grow ethnically diverse. While companies have made hiring policies more inclusive of different talent, they still have a long way to go in terms of eliminating racial discrimination in the workplace.

One of the best places to start is in the multiracial Singapore. Its population is broadly divided among the Chinese, Malay, and Indian communities. Promoting harmony across these ethnicities has been the government's main goal since1965. However, racial tensions still persist until now, and talk of "Chinese privilege" still abounds in the workplace.

A study from 2019 has found that despite the overall consensus of ability being the most important factor in hiring, over half of all respondents of Malay, Indian, and other ethnicities reported that they have experienced discrimination in the workplace. In contrast, only a third of Chinese respondents responded the same. This result is not surprising knowing that Chinese Singaporeans make up the majority of the populace.

Yet, these incidents of discrimination don't always happen out of sheer malice. It can be as simple as when the majority of a group of workers communicate in a certain language that their other colleagues cannot understand. This can cause a lot of misunderstandings and discord among the whole group.

Racial discrimination in Asia is also related to skin tone, which especially affects women. Lighter-skinned workers are often seen as more favorable in hiring and more successful overall. Beyond just being a new standard for beauty, skin tone influences hiring and promotion decisions, wherein lighter-skinned workers are seen as more qualified than darker-skinned colleagues who have similar levels of experience.

Companies need to provide better policies for inclusion, especially considering that a recent report cited that 70% of Singapore-based employees believe that employers can do more to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

However, the issue of racial discrimination can be complex and even the most keen to spur change don't know where is the best place to start. According to the same study, three in five employees are only partially sure or have no idea about what steps the workplace can take to ease discrimination. Moreover, more than half of surveyed professionals doubt that employers can find a solution that can improve the situation.

Experts believe that awareness will always be the first step to tacking racial bias. As social media grows in usage, the pressure on companies to find more inclusive approaches to hiring and workplace policies only increases. Awareness is a vital step to take so that everyone can be on the same page before moving on to find solutions.

However, it's not enough that workers are exposed to the statistics of discrimination in the workplace. The experience itself is deeply personal and the high numbers don’t necessarily offer comfort when one has had a first-hand encounter of racism.

Real change must not just be about awarding a job title to more ethnicities, it must be empowering for them as well. People in the workplace must be able to handle conversations concerning race. In addition, behind the decisions that will be made by these minorities, they should also have a similar level of authority and influence as the majority does.

Like gender, racial bias can only be addressed if everyone is aware. It's easy to forget about racial bias when we're part of the majority ethnic group. Therefore, we must all recognize that deep-seated issues such as the wage gap exist not just based on gender but also on racial discrimination.

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