Overview and Context

Race Equality in the Workplace in Ireland


It is well documented that during the past two decades Ireland has become increasingly diverse and has earned the right to be described as a multicultural society, with over 18% of people from migrant descent. Today, Ireland is a beautiful and rich mixture of backgrounds, faiths, skin tones, languages, and accents. However, this is not so evident, due to lack of representation and visibility at many levels in our society. Inherently, migrants bring additional values, perspectives and enterprise, however in order to actively participate in Irish society, we need visibility in all spheres of Irish life.

In 2016, 11.6% of the population of Ireland reported originating from 200 different countries[1]. Additionally, a growing population of young Irish people have parents and grandparents of different nationalities[2]. The 2016 Census reported 347,233 (15%) of the workforce in Ireland is from a migrant background.

We have an opportunity to create a culture and a society where all people feel they are welcome, they can participate and they belong— these needs are central to the human experience.

People from a migrant background are a permanent feature in Irish society and they want to participate. Those in positions of privilege and power can remove the barriers for migrants by designing targeted, effective interventions that support participation and integration. Removing these barriers will lead to a stronger, more diverse and ultimately more reflective society.

National Focus

At a national level improving integration is a core focus for the government with ‘employment and pathways to work’ one of ten key priorities for the Department of Justice through the 2017-2020 National Migrant Integration Strategy. In July 2020, the Department of Justice and Equality announced a new independent Anti-Racism Committee tasked with drawing up an Action Plan Against Racism for Ireland[3] which is expected to be ready in 2021.

In 2019, the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) published an independent report about Ireland’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)[4].The report assesses Ireland’s performance to date on combatting racial discrimination across all aspects of Irish society, including within the labour market. It outlines the barriers that impede access to and participation in the workplace for minority ethnic groups, making recommendations for State action.

The Opportunity

Over the last 30 years Ireland has become a melting pot of cultures from around the world, developing rapidly from a mono-cultural society.[5]  Large scale immigration during the Celtic Tiger period from 1993 – 2005, followed by an influx more recently of people from different countries to support Ireland’s recent fast growing economy, has resulted in a more diverse population. While the technology industry has largely been the driver of a more diverse workforce in Dublin, many first generation Irish-born children of immigrants, who stayed and built lives in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger, are now entering the workforce.

Racial Inequality in the Workplace

Equal and equitable access to the workplace and opportunities must be available for everyone, however, the reality is different for migrant workers who experience many barriers. More than ever, the need for equality, diversity and inclusion in workplaces across Ireland is crucial. Research examining experiences of underrepresented groups in Ireland in the workplace from different ethnicities and nationalities including White Irish, White Non-Irish, Black, Asian, other, and Irish Traveller found that Black people are three times more likely than White Irish to report discrimination in the workplace[6] and this is the same whether the Black person is an Irish citizen or not[7]. Additionally, Asian respondents reported more discrimination than White Irish in private services[8]. Separate studies examine what is called the ‘racial order’ revealing racial hierarchies in workplaces in Ireland, where Black people are more disadvantaged and consistently on the lower order of the labour supply chain[9].

Discrimination can also occur before a person from an underrepresented group even joins an organisation. A 2009 experiment conducted to measure bias in the Irish labour market[10] found when CVs were submitted with non-Irish sounding names of African, Asian or German origin,  their likelihood of being called to interview was halved compared to candidates with Irish names. The outcomes of these studies are further supported by research carried out by the European Fundamental Rights Agency which found that 32 per cent of Black people from sub-Saharan Africa living in Ireland report having experienced discrimination in the labour market, based on the colour of their skin with a further 28 per cent experiencing discrimination as a result of their ethnic origin[11]. These findings are higher than those experienced in 12 other European countries included in the study.

Recent research in Ireland examined the gap between what people say in public about minorities in Ireland, versus what they say when given full anonymity, and found people conceal or suppress negative attitudes in order to deliver more socially desirable responses publicly or in surveys[12]. The study posits that hidden negative views may affect the decisions made in relation to underrepresented groups ‘behind closed doors’ or during the hiring process.

The Language Used in this Guide

In consultation with the participants of The Race Equality Forum, an agreement was reached to use the term under-represented people for the purpose of this guide.

Terms are not set in stone or fixed in meaning and evolve over time. The changes in meaning of language meanings and interpretations, and the need to explore the issues around language, reflect the fact that the debate about ‘race’ and culture in ongoing as we learn and engage collectively.

Employers have an opportunity to create safe spaces for people to engage with one another in an authentic and respectful way. This will provide people with the confidence to become familiar with language and to use their knowledge as part of a commitment to anti-discrimination.

Driving change

Race can be a topic that is often avoided in the workplace as people feel uncomfortable engaging in conversations around race. This was evident through our discussions in the Race Equality Forum and from other studies[13]. There are many reasons for this including a lack of understanding or a nervousness around not being ‘socially correct’, or a fear of causing offence if using incorrect terms or language.

There is also an issue in relation to the systemic discrimination that exists within policies, practices and processes in many organisations in Ireland which has negative outcomes for many underrepresented groups and contributes to more widespread racial inequality. There is a need to address and drive attitudinal awareness among the majority population in the workforce[14]. Steps are required to build knowledge, enhance education and broaden awareness around the subject of race equality.

Employers in Ireland have an opportunity to embrace new approaches and make race equality a priority and to create workplaces were people feel welcome, respected and valued for their individual differences.


[1] 2016 CSO census

[2]  https://www.ihrec.ie/app/uploads/2019/11/IHREC_CERD_UN_Submission_Oct_19.pdf

[3] http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PR20000115

[4] https://www.ihrec.ie/app/uploads/2019/11/IHREC_CERD_UN_Submission_Oct_19.pdf

[5] Connick, Kim, (2020), Race Equality Whitepaper, DCU Centre of Excellence for Diversity and Inclusion, available https://dcucentreofexcellence.ie/resources/race-equality-hub/#_

[6] McGinnity, F., R. Grotti, O. Kenny and H. Russell (2017). Who experiences discrimination in Ireland? Evidence from the QNHS Equality Modules. ESRI/IHREC, Research Series.

[7] McGinnity, F., R. Grotti, H. Russell and E. Fahey (2018a). Attitudes to Diversity in Ireland. Dublin: ESRI/IHREC, Research Series.

[8] McGinnity, F., R. Grotti, O. Kenny and H. Russell (2017). Who experiences discrimination in Ireland? Evidence from the QNHS Equality Modules. ESRI/IHREC, Research Series

[9] Joseph, E., (2017) ‘Whiteness and racism: Examining the racial order in Ireland’, Irish Journal of Sociology.

[10] McGinnity, F. and Lunn, P. (2011) Measuring discrimination facing ethnic minority job applicants: an Irish experiment. Work, Employment and Society, [online] 25(4), pp.693-708. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017011419722

[11]  FRA (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) (2018). Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey: Being Black in the EU. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

[12] McGinnity, F., Creighton,M, and Fahey, E (2020), ‘Hidden versus Revealed Attitudes: A List Experiment on Support for Minorities in Ireland,’ IHRC/ESRI

[13] Joseph, E., (2020), ‘The centrality of race and whiteness in the Irish labour market.’ Irish Networks Against Racism.

[14] Gachter, A. and Taran, P. ‘Achieving Equality in Intercultural Workplaces’, An Agenda for Action, available: https://www.ihrec.ie/download/pdf/achieving_equality_in_intercultural_workplaces.pdf