Anti-racist employment strategy - A Fairer Scotland for All

The strategy is a call for action and a guide to address the issues and disadvantage experienced by people from racialised minorities in the labour market in Scotland. It is a key component in achieving our ambition to become a leading Fair Work Nation by 2025.

Section 3: Driving Cultural and Attitudinal Change

Racism is a sensitive and complex issue. For many, it is a difficult topic to discuss. Institutional racism is a term that can generate a visceral reaction when the topic is broached or, as we have seen through the Scottish Parliament Equalities and Human Rights Committee's inquiry, it can be dismissed as not being an issue in a workplace.

The Scottish Government uses the following definition of institutional racism from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report:

"The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people"[25]

It is the unwitting behaviour that makes the issue problematic to discuss and we need to move towards being aware of the ways in which actions, values, and beliefs can perpetuate institutional racism. It can be confused with deliberate and intentional individual racist behaviour, but it is more about the policies and processes in organisations that lead to unintended consequences and disadvantage for racialised minorities.

At a national level institutional racism is evidenced by inequalities in employment and pay gaps and other employment outcomes such as over and under-representation across the labour market.

One of the key messages for this strategy is that everyone has a part to play, and that includes understanding what institutional racism is. Senior leaders have a key role in this as they are in positions of power and can make decisions that could lead to changing workplace culture and attitudes. Senior leaders that understand how institutional racism operates and how it impacts on racially minoritised people, will proactively challenge and interrogate their organisation's processes and practices.

As part of the Fair Work Action Plan, we have committed to establishing senior leadership networks to build capability and understanding of racism and racial inequality in the workplace whilst also considering how other characteristics such as gender, age, disability, and religion can worsen inequality.

Organisations that understand how institutional racism operates will:

  • Work to ensure that policies and processes are impact assessed and considered in terms of the impact on racially minoritised staff and service users.
  • Work to ensure that their workforces are representative of the population they serve.
  • Invest in the work to make their workplaces inclusive and trauma-informed.
  • Focus on addressing occupational segregation where there is high representation of racialised minorities in entry level jobs.
  • Call out racism and racist behaviours in the workplace including microaggressions and casual remarks that may go unchecked.
  • Consider ways to support racially minoritised staff so that they can share and voice their concerns and experiences and be confident that something will be done about it.

Employers looking at addressing racial inequality and institutional racism are likely to ask key questions of themselves such as:

  • Is my organisation diverse and inclusive? How do I know this? Is it representative of the local population?
  • Are all policies and practices across the organisation assessed for the impact they have on all current and future employees and service users? What is the impact on racialised minorities? How do I find this out?
  • Do I know what the experiences of racialised minorities are like in the organisation? Is there bullying and harassment? How do I know this? What action has been taken to address it and how do I know the action is leading to a reduction?

There is a unique role for senior leaders to lead on changing workplace culture and attitudes. Leaders can use their power to influence and act as a driver to shape the culture of an organisation.

The Scottish Government has a responsibility to lead employers to address racial inequality in the workplace. We recognise that as an organisation we are not immune to the processes and policies that enable and embed it. In the Scottish Government, we want senior leaders to have confident and anti-racist mindsets to be able to change systems, culture and attitudes and we recognise that this capability needs to be built.

The Scottish Government has two published Employer Equality Outcomes in its Equality Outcomes and Mainstreaming report 2021: Mainstreaming Report:

  • Outcome 1: By 2025, our workforce will have increased in diversity to reflect the general Scottish population.
  • Outcome 2: By 2025, workforce culture will be more inclusive with employees from all backgrounds and characteristics and experiences reporting they feel increasingly valued.

What we have learned so far:

  • Identifying actions is the easy part. Measuring the impact of these actions is much harder.
  • Decisions as to whether to stick with actions that are not showing notable impact in timescales anticipated can be difficult.
  • This is a journey; it is not about the quantity of actions but the impact they have. Some actions may be more slow burning and not evident until further passage of time. But the fact of their existence is both positive in itself and an indicator of attempts to deliver positive change.

With each equality issue, consideration is given to other equality issues. Intersectionality is a term used to describe how ethnicity, socio-economic background, gender, and other characteristics intersect with one another and overlap. A single individual may have more than one protected characteristic that affects their experience of work.

"It is not just about one barrier, there could be others such as disability and age. This can make it really difficult. It's important that the work environment enables concerns to be addressed." (Member of the Minority Ethnic Disability Network, Glasgow Disability Alliance)

An intersectional approach "requires thinking about the lived experience of those experiencing compounding, multiple discriminations, it collects and analyses disaggregated data about those experiences; and designs and delivers systems which are non-hierarchical and respond to the needs of those often ignored." (Talat Yaqoob, Independent Consultant)

Employers with an awareness and understanding of intersectionality will be more informed in developing more diverse and inclusive workplaces that acknowledge the diverse characteristics and traits that one person will bring to their workplace. They will also have an understanding of the impact that the experience of trauma, including discrimination, may potentially have on their day-to-day lives.

The Scottish Government's Race Recruitment and Retention Action Plan, for example, aims to address barriers, including intersectional barriers, facing racialised minority groups. Where the data allows, we conduct intersectional analysis and we take an intersectional approach to the delivery of the Plan.

Figure 1: The Diversity Wheel demonstrates how personal characteristics intersect with systems and structures to shape a person's experience.[26] (For more information on the terms within the diagram, please refer to the report footnoted below.)


  • Seniority
  • Union Affiliation
  • Work Content/Field
  • Functional Level/Classification
  • Title
  • Division/Unit/Group
  • Work Location
  • Management Status


  • Education
  • Language
  • Personal Habits
  • Income
  • Appearance
  • Nationality
  • Religious Beliefs
  • Parental Status
  • Work Style
  • Recreational Activities
  • Work Background
  • Geographical Location
  • Socio-Economic Background
  • Marital Status
  • Military Experience


  • Ethnicity
  • Thinking Style
  • Age
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender
  • Personality
  • Neurodiversity
  • Disability

As part of the Fair Work Action Plan, we will:

  • Work with partners to establish senior leadership networks to build capability and understanding of institutional racism and racial inequality in the workplace, whilst also considering how other characteristics such as gender, age, disability, and religion can also affect inequality.
  • Work with equality organisations and employers to develop an intersectional and anti-racist workplace training framework for employers by which to assess their training needs.

What employers can do to change workplace culture and attitudes:

  • Consider every decision taken and check how it will affect different people with particular protected characteristics (race, sex, age, disability for example) and where these might overlap.
  • Enable space for senior leaders to talk about issues and issues that are seen as taboo.
  • Support the establishment of staff support networks (such as an allies network) or networks of organisations for learning and sharing.
  • Establish mutual and reverse mentoring schemes between senior leaders and racially minoritised staff to build knowledge and understanding.
  • Break down any data collected as far as possible. If it is limited, consider at least one intersection e.g. ethnicity and gender. Once broken down, see what the data is telling you about your workforce and its composition (numbers and roles/responsibilities) in terms of race and where it overlaps with other characteristics.
  • Take action to address under-representation and over-representation.
  • Undertake focus group sessions with staff and consider how the evidence will inform policies and practices to address racial and other inequalities that are experienced.

More information including case studies can be found in the Driving Cultural and Attitudinal Change Appendix.



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