I have come across very few racists in Local Government but both at work and socially I have heard racist comments and inappropriate “jokes”. I explain this by the fact that people with limited contact with others from different cultures can be insensitive and ill informed getting most of their knowledge from the negative stereotypes to be found in the media
If people are not racist how do I explain the fact that despite years of equal opportunity awareness training and recruitment targets black people are so underrepresented in senior management posts across the public sector?
Just as you don’t have to be a racist to fall into the trap of making an assumption based on a racial stereotype, organisations don’t have to overtly discriminatory to perpetuate an unrepresentative workforce. I am talking here about the distinction between overt racism and institutional racism.
Racism is about hate, violent assaults, verbal abuse and overt discrimination against an individual because of their ethnicity. It is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment, of course no organisation would tolerate such behaviour. An organisations policies and procedures will no doubt make this very clear and will be backed up by management training. Institutional racism recognises that what goes on in the workplace is not this type of crude behaviour but a much subtler form intentional and unintentional discrimination.
People may be more careful in their language but their actions may still be informed by the negative stereotypes, myths and ignorance they are caring around in their head. Stereotypes that are constantly reinforce by stories in the media rather than people’s own experience of black people.
The recruitment process in most public sector organisations has been adjusted to try and eliminate the scope for overt discrimination. Candidates are shortlisted bases on their application form, some forms have personal details removed so the decision is strictly on experience and qualifications, interviews are conducted by panels rather than an individual and everyone is asked the same questions, answers and a scoring system having been agreed beforehand. However a black candidate is still likely to be faced with an all white interview panel. A scoring system may seem impartial and scientific but can easily be adjusted to benefit a preferred candidate. The panel members bring to the process a view of what type of person will fit into the team/organisation and will identify which candidate they feel they could work with. This is most likely to be the one most like them.
Some very able candidates won’t even make it to the interview because the criteria for experience and qualifications will exclude them. This may seem perfectly fair unless of course these criteria are not essential requirements to do the job but reflect the background of those making the appointment. For example a requirement to have an MBA rather than evidence of management training, specific experience in an organisation just like this one or experience of this service rather than acknowledging that management skills are transferable.
It’s not difficult to see how without being a racist people never the less could be participating in racism.
Blair McPherson author of An Elephant in the Room-an Equality and Diversity training manual published by Russell House www.blairmcpherson.co.uk