Racial discrimination within United Nations offices in Geneva: Results from an online survey

Hannah Strohmeier, Ronald Musizvingoza, Nisha Sajnani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Racial discrimination adversely impacts health and well-being, and interferes with organizational functioning, including United Nations offices where limited systematic research exists. This article presents and discusses a secondary analysis of data from the ‘Survey on Racial Discrimination’ issued by the United Nations Staff Union Geneva in 2020. The survey produced quantitative and qualitative data and was completed by 1251 staff, consultants, and interns (response rate: 14.7%). Descriptive statistics were computed for key findings. More than one third (34.4%) of participants reported having personally experienced racial discrimination. Most reported national origin as basis (61.8%), stated that this experience had affected their opportunities for career advancement (66.2%), and took no action as response (57.4%), mainly due to a lack of trust in the organization’s recourse mechanism. In addition, more than one third (34.3%) of survey participants had witnessed colleagues being racially discriminated against. Chi-square tests to assess differences between groups showed that those belonging to a racial, ethnic, and/or national minority or group reported higher rates of personally experienced and witnessed incidents of racial discrimination compared to those who did not identify as such. Furthermore, participants who reported having experienced racial discrimination had a higher proportion of witnessing racial discrimination. The qualitative survey data on suggested measures to address racial discrimination in the workplace were examined through thematic analysis and rendered three overarching themes: Understanding racial discrimination; revising practices of recruitment, promotion, and appointment; and restructuring case management processes. Our results suggest that racial discrimination poses a significant issue within United Nations offices in Geneva and call for educational initiatives and significant structural changes. We recommend tailored research to inform these measures and highlight that committed leadership and the participation and vigilance of all involved in shaping the culture of the organization is needed to address racial discrimination in the workplace.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0295715
JournalPloS one
Issue number1 JANUARY
StatePublished - Jan 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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