How do we challenge institutionalised racism if the system is not in our favour?

The term institutionalised racism has re-emerged but for many of us it never actually disappeared. The truth is that institutionalised racism is still, as it ever was, a growing issue in British private and public sectors, and is submerged in many of our working lives.

When the former NHS director, Elliot Browne, won his tribunal case for nearly £1million in damages for discrimination he faced by his employers, it was a gentle reminder that many of us are still being discriminated against in own work forces. And I use the word gentle because nothing can compare to the years of intimidation and discrimination he experienced.

The numerous stories we hear of people being  discriminated against and denied opportunities for training, personal development and opportunities to progress within their respective fields is compounded by the fact that the number of black and minority ethnics in senior positions within politics, media, the police force, health and social care is still not representative or visually seen. I wonder whether equality in the work force means anything today, particularly in a society driven by a government that is dictated with an individualised agenda.

I am sure that many of you have seen or read the number of equality guidelines and policies that are hashed out in your organisations, and perhaps even realise that to be honest there is no guarantee that any complaint procedure you make will be followed or actioned upon. We all see policies stuck on to walls or placed in a folder of other policies hidden away until an allegation of discrimination comes to light. But shouldn’t there be a customary guidance on the use of discrimination policies and regular equality training? Why is equality training pushed down to the bottom of a barrel in an organisation’s list of priorities irrespective of budget cuts?

To be honest it was not budget cuts which failed Elliot Browne. The policies and procedures put in place in the allegations of his discrimination case failed for many reasons; one being it was one individual against a management. This is why robust systems need to be put in place and monitored to ensure an effective and fair procedure.

A change in organisational practice is needed but also for those who communicate and advocate on issues of equality. I recently read a document produced by the trade union Amicus, entitled ‘Combating racism and achieving race equality at work – a negotiators guide’. The use of language with words such as “negotiator” unconsciously reveals an intention regarding an approach to combating race equality at work; basically the underlining message is that managers need to negotiate equality in their work settings. In a sense, why do we need to negotiate for equality in our offices? The question we all need to ask is how do we ensure that equality policies work for us so that we are not denied training or career progression? Will more of us have to take cases of institutionalised racism to tribunals?

Central Manchester NHS Trust’s decision to challenge the tribunal decision made in Elliot Browne’s favour shows a distinct lack of acknowledgement of issues present within the trust despite the evidence in front of them. I would be keen to look at how thorough the trust conducted their internal investigation on the case.

I would agree to some extent that things have changed but institutionalised racism is still visibly here. In a “fair” society Elliot Browne should not have needed to go as far as he did to be heard. We can go on and on, year after year and we may still have the same conversation that we have had three decades ago. In the next decade I want to discuss how we are challenging the system and how it is working for us all.

So what is the solution? We become more vocal in our organisations. Many of us still talk with friends and family regarding the discrimination we face in our working life but some of us find it difficult to broach the issue to employers for fear of losing our jobs and yet is that not the reason why policies are put there in the first place. If policies are not working as they should be then perhaps we should all be following in the same vein as Elliot Browne to ensure our voices are heard.

By Samantha Watson,
Online Editor for The Afiya Trust