How Managers and Coworkers Contribute to Workplace Inequities

How Managers and Coworkers Contribute to Workplace Inequities

Having a more inclusive manager can improve both co-worker behavior toward marginalized colleagues and employee retention for those from diverse backgrounds.
employee and manager in a meeting

Amidst what's been termed the "Great Recession," employers are scrambling to retain staff. Pay has been spotlighted as one primary cause for turnover — however, manager and coworker behavior may also be a key factor when it comes to the loss of diverse talent across race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, in particular.

In a series of studies on workplace equity by nonprofit think tank Coqual, employees in marginalized groups reported experiencing higher levels of several types of unfair treatment from their managers. The report highlights professionals' struggles, and offers suggestions for managers and coworkers to remedy inequitable behavior.

Unfairness in the workplace

According to another set of findings from, some 15% of employees are still planning to quit their jobs by the end of 2021. It can be difficult or even impossible to measure the full impact of inequitable practices in the workplace, but Coqual finds that perceived unfairness can affect employee retention. Their research suggests that employees often leave because of a manager or a team, not necessarily the company as a whole.

Here's what respondents had to say about their treatment in the workplace:

  • 30% of Black professionals report experiencing unfair treatment at work based on their race or ethnicity, versus 17% of both Asian and Latinx professionals and 3% of white respondents.
  • 21% of women report unfair treatment based on gender versus 7% of men.
  • 17% of LQBTQ-identifying professionals reported unfair treatment versus 2% of non-LGBTQ professionals.
  • 29% of Black and 22% of Latinx professionals are more likely to worry about how their mistakes might reflect on others in their group, compared to 13% of white respondents.

The study also highlights specific, inequitable manager behaviors that impact employees by demographic group. When asked if their work assignments are appropriate for their level, white men were most likely to agree (62%), versus Black (39%) and Latinx men (38%).

When it came to micromanaging, 32% percent of Black men and 28% of Black women reported experiencing behaviors of excessive control or attention to details from their manager, compared to 17% of white men.

Recommendations for managers and coworkers

The report points out how companies are failing when it comes to diversity and inclusion measures, but also outlines steps to take for improvement.

Coqual’s research finds that managers have the opportunity to model inclusive behaviors in a way that meaningfully impacts a variety of outcomes, including the behavior of colleagues. For example, having a more inclusive manager is associated with an 18% increase in perceptions of fairness at work, and having more inclusive colleagues is associated with a 21% increase.

Coqual says colleagues can influence company culture from the ground-up, too, by engaging in these types of inclusive behaviors:

  • Collaborate. Show respect for, support and value colleagues' contributions.
  • Advance. Share career opportunities and encourage connections with co-workers.
  • Speak up. Challenge exclusive and inequitable behaviors and biases, and encourage employees to share their thoughts about any workplace inequities.

Methodology: On behalf of Coqual, Insights In-Depth conducted interviews with over 300 employees and one-on-one interviews with more than 40 people. In addition, a national survey of 4,410 respondents was conducted online in April and May 2021. All survey respondents were at least 21, employed full time in white-collar professions and held at least a bachelor's degree.