Tania Vas MSc International Human Resource Management
While the Covid-19 pandemic had many implications for organisations, the Black Lives Matter movement[1] also heavily impacted organisations’ policies and practices. These social justice movements highlighted the need for change within diversity training programmes in organisations across the world.

Racial discrimination, although persistent, has taken on different forms within corporations, with most company policies not protecting their employees against subtle discrimination in the workplace.[2] Subtle discrimination was the leading form of racial discrimination within multinational corporations (MNCs) in the United States in the 90s.[3] Not much has changed since then as it is still one of the leading causes of racial discrimination in the workplace.[4]

Subtle discrimination can be defined as behaviours and actions that are not easily recognisable but still demoralise the individual and is usually based on their racial background.[5] This could be in the form of jokes or snide remarks made at the individual with ambiguous intent.[6]

While there are many types of diversity training programmes, it is often conducted in the form of unconscious bias training. This is a method of addressing the unconscious biases that exist within an individual that happen to be expressed in subtle and overt ways, but is not done deliberately.[7] Unfortunately, as brought up by Noon[8], being educated about one’s unconscious biases does not lead to its eradication.

In fact, diversity training has been shown to be ineffective due to its archaic design.[9] Research has shown that unconscious bias training often ends up triggering negative outcomes like denial and even ends up activating an individual’s biases in some circumstances[10]. Unconscious bias training is often only conducted once and it has been found that short-term interventions do not lead to long-term change within participants’ attitudes and beliefs.[11]

An organisation’s attitude towards their staff who identified as racial minorities heavily mediated the relationship between them and employees who identified themselves as being part of the racial majority group.[12] So, organisational culture and conflict management also need to be addressed during diversity training to create a harmonious environment.

These findings have major connotations for organisations. In order to create an environment where everyone feels welcomed, the equal treatment of racial minority staff needs to be prioritised. Tackling racism within an organisation is often influenced by its diversity training programme as this brings about tangible change in existing structures within the organisation. It also provides employees with the tools and strategies to identify, combat and respond to discrimination within the organisation, should it occur.

The Social Work profession takes on an active approach to addressing racism within their education and practice. According to the International Federation of Social Workers (2014), “Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work.” (para. 2) An integral part of social workers’ training and practice is anti-racism education.[13] Racial equality is at the very heart of the Social Work profession.[14]

As defined by social workers, anti-racism is the deliberate and intentional dismantling of systemic structures in society that keeps individuals from succeeding due to their racial identity.[15] This is done by actively advocating for those who are experiencing oppression within society by giving them the tools such as the language to talk about race and creating space to empower them.[16] Empowering clients is a core tenet of Social Work practice.[17]

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has emphasised the importance of anti-racism strategies within organisations to make every workplace within the UK welcoming to all (CIPD, 2021). This is also required by law under the Equality Act of 2010 which states that racial discrimination is illegal.[18]

Aims and objectives

The aim of this study is to provide Human Resource (HR) practitioners with suggestions to create a diversity training programme informed by anti-racism education and practice within the field of Social Work. It draws from anti-racism resources and Social Work literature to provide a background and then suggestions for how current diversity training programmes can be improved. This is done through interviewing social workers in a variety of different fields from healthcare to criminal justice.

This study bridges the gap between anti-racism literature and diversity training programmes- a field that has never been studied before. It provides organisations with the tools to refine their diversity training initiatives to actively advocate for the equal treatment of racial minority groups within the workplace. This study is the first of its kind as it proposes a diversity training model that encourages employees to continue educating themselves about the implications of racism; it is a joint effort between employees and the organisation. This is unlike any other diversity training programme that usually focuses on one-time education, which has been found to be ineffective.[19]

The main research question of this study is:

How can Human Resource professionals implement a diversity training programme that is informed by anti-racism education and practices within Social Work?


As organisations expand their reach, they may want to adapt their diversity training to meet the needs of the company and to be more inclusive. The main aim of this study was to design a diversity training programme that was based on anti-racism education and practice within the Social Work profession. This was done by conducting seven virtual interviews with social workers who were actively practising.

This study suggested a unique model that encouraged employees and management to continue educating themselves on the impact of racism within and outside the institution through self-introspection. However, the culture of the company influenced this process by providing employees and management with the language and environment to safely explore and learn more about racial discrimination.


[1] Black Lives Matter. (2022). About. [online]

[2] Jones, K.P. et al., (2016). 'Not so subtle'. Journal of Management, 42(6), pp.1588–1613.

[3] Rowe, M.P., (1990). 'Barriers to equality: The power of subtle discrimination to maintain unequal opportunity'. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 3(2), pp.153–163.

[4] Storrs, C., (2020). 'Exploring the cause and effects of subtle discrimination. Monitor on Psychology.

[5] Ozier, E.M., Taylor, V.J. and Murphy, M.C., (2019). 'The cognitive effects of experiencing and observing subtle racial discrimination'. Journal of Social Issues, 75(4), pp.1087–1115.

[6] Dovidio, J.F., Gaertner, S.L. and Abad-Merino, S., (2017). 'Helping behaviour and subtle discrimination'. Intergroup Helping, pp.3–22.

[7] Oberai, H. and Anand, I.M., (2018). 'Unconscious bias: Thinking without thinking'. Human Resource Management International Digest, 26(6), pp.14–17.

[8] Noon, M., (2017). 'Pointless diversity training: Unconscious bias, new racism and agency'. Work, Employment and Society, 32(1), pp.198–209.

[9] Dobbin, F. and Kalev, A., (2018). Why doesn't diversity training work? The challenge for industry and academia. Anthropology Now, 10(2), pp.48-55.

[10] Ogunyemi, D., (2021). Defeating unconscious bias: The role of a structured, reflective, and interactive workshop. Journal of Graduate Medical Education, 13(2), pp.189–194.

[11] Nathoo, Z., (2021). Why ineffective diversity training won't go away. BBC.

[12] Offermann, L.R. et al., (2014). 'See no evil: Color blindness and perceptions of subtle racial discrimination in the workplace'. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 20(4), pp.499–507.

[13] Strier, R., (2006). 'Anti-oppressive research in Social Work: A preliminary definition'. British Journal of Social Work, 37(5), pp.857–871.

[14] Beasley, C.C., Singh, M.I. and Drechsler, K., (2021). 'Anti-racism and equity-mindedness in social work field education: A systematic review'. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Social Work, pp.1–13.

[15] Basham, K., (2004). 'Weaving a tapestry: Anti-racism and the Pedagogy of Clinical Social Work Practice'. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 74(2), pp.289–314.

[16] Corneau, S. and Stergiopoulos, V., 2012. 'More than being against it: Anti-racism and anti-oppression in Mental Health Services'. Transcultural Psychiatry, 49(2), pp.261–282.

[17] Guo, W.-he and Tsui, M.-sum, (2010). 'From resilience to resistance: A reconstruction of the strengths perspective in Social Work Practice'. International Social Work, 53(2), pp.233–245.

[18] Hepple, B., (2010). 'The new single equality act in Britan'. The Equal Rights Review, 5(1), pp. 11-24.

[19] Nathoo (2021).

10 November 2022