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DONT BE AFRAID

1. Why is race equality so critical in the British workplace?

We live in a social environment in which many people have certain prejudices against specific ‘others' and are constantly tempted to use markers of difference, including skin colour and appearance, as a tool to deny others opportunities and to downgrade certain competitors. While I see the expectation of absolute equality as an ultimately unreachable ideal (similar to justice), creating a system in which manifest discriminations are not permissible seems a good method to manage diversity.

2. What is your impression of the quality and capabilities of ethnic professionals in this country?

The question is wrongly put because we are all ‘ethnic'. Professionals of all backgrounds are not good or bad because of their skin colour or ethnicity, but because of who they are as persons and what they can/cannot do. So I am writing about ‘dodgy Asians', but am equally aware that ‘white' professionals and the law itself can be ‘dodgy'. Apart from that I see no differences in professional quality and capabilities.

3. What is your advice to blue chip British employers about opening up their organisations at every level? Are there institutional barriers to progress for ethnic people?

As a Careers Tutor, I have seen in the past twenty years that law firms, in particular, are increasingly no longer selecting people on the basis of ethnicity but have learnt to go for the best candidate in terms of potential and competence. At the same time, there are certainly many glass ceilings, and constant vigilance and monitoring is required to identify specific bottlenecks or problems, also related to gender.

4. How can we remove the fear of difference that lies among so many managers and leaders in Britain today?

If our manifestly plural society remains so fearful of difference, we probably need to learn that difference is neither new nor a threat, but actually a challenge for better management at interpersonal and institutional level. We simply need to become more plurality-conscious instead of hiding behind ‘mainstream' labels. Unfortunately, even top leaders do not offer sufficient encouragement to the public to be more comfortable with ethnic and value difference.

5. What is your opinion of the British legal system, in terms of race equality. Do you think employees who suffer discrimination get fair redress and compensation for their problems?

As a specialist teacher of this subject, I am appalled with lack of honesty in this field and continuing fussing over discrimination issues, which encourages litigation rather than teaching people to work together. The existing race relations law is a mess, since in the effort to achieve equality, we have ended up discriminating between different racial groups. The new focus on equality may bring better results, but I doubt it.

6. The term BME is used generically and loosely. There is a lot of variety among the peoples and difference in backgrounds, cultures and capabilities. How can employers awake to this reality?

I emphasised the need to become more plurality-conscious and more accepting of difference per se. Employers should not look primarily to an applicant's specific BME status, but job-related capabilities. But if, subject to monitoring, one feels forced to take certain people for ‘political correctness', someone will have to pay the bill of inefficiency; it may well be the employer. Since often the employer is the state, we all end up paying.

7. What should ethnic professionals do to open up the careers and prospects of those who are junior?

I find that mentoring is an excellent way of giving more self-confidence and practical experience to juniors. Again, this is not an issue of ethnicity. As an academic teacher I find students from all backgrounds who are simply failing to work hard. Those people maybe do not deserve support. But if someone wants to succeed, and is remaining realistic at the same time, targeted mentoring can indeed work miracles.

8. It is upsetting when race equality is interpreted as doing something for ‘poor black people who are uneducated and lack opportunities'. This is very patronising and unrepresentative, and perpetuates discrimination and stereotyping. Do you agree?

I agree in principle. But the real problem in Britain is now different. The stereotypes of ‘ethnic disadvantage' do not match reality. While we often remain tempted to be patronising, many people now resent that ‘others' are successful, taking jobs, houses, everything. Since migrants often work much harder than those who are taught to feel safe and are basically pampered, maybe the education system needs to encourage more hard work.

Article added on 11th January 2010 at 9:56am
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Related Articles

DO NOT BE DIVIDED AND RULED - Membership of ethnic minorities among professional bodies in the UK is way above their relative population.

Related Resources

EQUALITY ACT 2010 - This is a very useful practical guide on the implications of the Act.

Diane Bebbington - A research report by Leadership Foundation on Diversity and Equality in Higher Education in the UK