The Macpherson enquiry emphatically made the point that racism was not just about the extreme behaviour of a few wicked people nor was it limited to unprovoked assaults, abuse shouted in the streets or outright discrimination. It is worth reminding ourselves of this because it is clear that some people with in the Public sector have never understood the concept of institutional racism or have steadfastly refused to accept that it exists. “This organisation is not racist” they say. “I am not racist nor are any of my colleagues” they say. “Just because there aren’t any black senior managers doesn’t mean it is because of racism. We don’t care what colour someone is, we treat everyone the same.”
There have been changes since the Macpherson report was published, the casual racism in which people would make offensive jokes linking race and intelligence have become socially unacceptable. However black employees are still under represented in senior posts, a male black manager is still likely to be described as aggressive when the same behaviour from a colleague is called assertive, black staff are more likely to describe their manager as unsupportive, in many organisations black staff are disproportionately subject to disciplinary action. Perhaps as a consequence black members of staff have less faith in the organisation’s disciplinary and grievance procedures.
In response to the Macpherson report most public sector organisations focused on policy, procedures and targets but nothing much changed because they had underestimated how difficult it was to change “the way things are done round here”. Managers said the right things, followed the new procedures and attended the conferences, workshops and training courses with varying degrees of enthusiasm. No one actually disagreed with the policy, at least not publically. Some complained that the procedures were long, time consuming and unnecessary. Others said they couldn’t afford the time to go on the training courses. The targets were often described as over ambitious, the monitoring arrangements too time consuming and some argued it was counterproductive to report such a lack of progress to senior management.
After the initial energy, enthusiasm and commitment to change following the Macpherson report there is a general feeling that the reality for black staff does match the rhetoric. There is also a feeling that senior managers have moved on, that austerity has brought a new set of challenges and priorities and that whilst individual’s personal commitment remains, their time and energy is directed elsewhere.
The way managers have traditionally managed in many parts of the public sector is simply not appropriate for managing a modern diverse workforce.
The young female manager who finds herself undermined by staff much older than her who have been in the job much longer than her. The member of staff who complains to their manager that they are the butt of jokes about their sexuality. The only black member of the team who says she feels isolated and excluded as other members of the team don’t include her in their out of work activities or conversations. A manager who tackles a member of their team about frequent absences only to be accused of failing to take proper account of her disability. The manager who picks up on grumbles in the team about a colleague’s frequent requests for time off during religious festivals. The frustration of being part of a management team where every meeting starts with a chat about the weekend’s football results. The command and control traditional management style where decisions are made without real debate, questioning is discouraged even considered disloyal.
These scenarios are far to often viewed as personality conflicts rather than equality and diversity issues. How these issues are dealt with says much about the management culture in the organisation and the likely success of an equality and diversity strategy.
Blair McPherson former director and author of An Elephant in the Room an equality and diversity manual published by Russell House www.blairmcpherson.co.uk