The Problem with being defined as a role model immigrant


#BioNTech, founded in 2008 by the German scientists and married couple Professor Şahin and Dr Özlem Türeci (as well as the Austrian oncologist Christoph Huber), announced good news to the world jointly with #Pfizer that it had developed its coronavirus vaccine which could end the pandemic. The couple, both children of Turkish migrants were left bristling at the suggestion that he or his partner ‘could become role models for a generation of Germans with migrant backgrounds’.

Professor Ugur Sahin Tureci (Chief Executive and co-founder of BioNTech) replied: “I am not sure I really want that. I think we need a global vision that gives everyone an equal chance. Intelligence is equally distributed across all ethnicities, that’s what all the studies show. As a society we have to ask ourselves how we can give everyone a chance to contribute to society. I am an accidental example of someone with a migration background. I could have equally been German or Spanish.” [Source:

What such an ‘innocent’ question does is reveal the deeply embedded prejudice that suggests that talent and competence is some how a product of ethnicity and race, namely driven by #WhiteSupremacy ideology and debunked ‘Race Science’ that has created a racial hierarchy so when a BAME/BIPOC (Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority or Black, Indigenous person of Colour) is recognised publicly with such capabilities they are assumed to be an exception rarely seen amongst ‘immigrants’ or people of a darker shade. This prejudiced mindset is the result of social conditioning that promotes negative stereotypes about immigrants being non-contributors in host countries they have made their home adding to the rich diversity of ideas and culture to make a positive difference. People are people the world over when given a sense of belonging so they can thrive and be celebrated rather than ‘tolerated’. Those claiming to be ‘virtuous for being ‘tolerant’ of those different to themselves on the basis of personal characteristics such as skin colour need to reflect on what it is they are having to be tolerant about.

Despite being an immigrant originally from Pakistan in the late 1960’s myself I was recently asked when I was going ‘home’ to help unlettered women like my mother given my track record of striving for equity and equality as founder of Respect at Work Ltd and with 40 year HR career. I thought after 50+ years in the UK I was ‘home’. This sense of daily lived experiences of ‘othering’ and questioning a person’s credentials and identity on the basis of their skin colour when they find themselves as the #FirstOnlyLast in a white space acts to promote white European and similarly British exceptionalism really needs to be seen for what it is and be nipped in the bud immediately it is expressed so the virus of racism does not continue to spread.

#Belonging #Equity #Justice #InstitutionallRacism #HRSoiWhite #CIPD #RaceScience #CoronaVirusPandemic #Vaccine #C19

Safia Boot – Founder Respect at Work Limited

Date: Friday 13 November 2020

Twitter: @respectatworkuk

© Respect at Work Ltd

‘Winner Takes All ‘ – The Charade of Philanthropy

Winner takes all’ – Charade of Philanthropy by Anand Giridharadas

Yes, its Valentine’s Day and I love how the author, Giridharadas eloquently challenges the ‘new religion’ that plutocrats (super-rich entrepreneurs) are the only ones who can change the world for the ‘better’, not democracy through elected, accountable governments. Such individuals “ are like the arsonists who turn up to put out the fire they started” They start by discrediting government as incompetent having starved them of tax funds so the public becomes convinced government are made up of pointless bureaucrats. Super rich Entrepreneurs then ride in like the cavalry to save the day with public already gaslighted to see them as the superhero’s and elected officials as the villains.

Tax haven counties like the Netherlands are exporting oligarchic systems to ensure all countries go in the wrong direction of making government as small as possible creating laws with no fangs such as addressing gender and ethnicity pay gap which are seen as minority rather than family and class issues. Demands for equality are re-framed in political terms as ‘left’ and ‘right’ rather than ‘top and bottom’ so as to discredit such demands as being of undesirable political persuasion.

Smaller entrepreneurs start to emulate the same behaviours as the oligarchs at a local level and hence the gaslighting seeps into the fabric of local communities quelling the rise of any serious leadership challenges amongst the marginalised and under-represented groups. For this reason it was fascinating to read the research on charities, their homogeneous (white middle-class) workers and volunteers and funding is concentrated in affluent areas and not where there are need most, namely deprived areas of the country and cities across the UK.

This system has set up the ‘rich man’s veto’ against laws to ensure they keep money extracted by the labour of the majority that should be used to fund social problems they created in the first place. They are the architects of recent scandals like the growth of food banks (a failure of government but lauded as philanthropy doing good); #Grenfell fire and #Wiindrush sagas #ClinicalNegligence cases in the #NHS and millions spent on fighting legitimate #Whistleblowers where minority voices are missing from public policy and public discourse due to bias in the media run by homogeneous groups aligned to systems of power. The lack of diversity amongst the decision makers who design our public policies, legislation and professions who help to enact these policies whether at national or organisational level ensure such policies are enacted in ways that ensure they will have little measurable impact on lived experiences of minority groups they have no proximity and empathy with. The inter-relationship between proximity, policy and empathy is missing from the equation to effect improved working lives and notions of ‘good work’. Until we have legislation to demand equality impact assessments are carried out we perpetrate the cycle of avoiding accountability and transparency in decision making and public policy enactment.

They prefer philanthropy over taxes because this gives them both credit and control. This helps enhance their reputations and clean up what they did that was bad like hurting the climate, causing the financial crisis, paying people at low levels and employing them insecurely. If they were to pay their taxes anonymously they don’t get personal credit with the photo shoot at Award Ceremonies or control over how the money is spent i.e. boring but necessary things like NI, adoption, fostering, fire services, employment rights, access to justice, roads, schools, childcare, elder care homes, hospitals etc. Instead they can invest in their pet projects like their favourite art gallery, opera house or food banks. Serious thinkers who challenge this system get invited in small numbers to these elite spaces as a pseudo attempt to add spice. They are invited to gently challenge in conversations at elite round table discussions in order to seduce them to water down their objections to a gamed system that relies on whom you know than what you know (the fallacy of meritocracy). These minority voices fall for it because they start to think if I water down demands for income and power redistribution, become grateful and congenial at a personal level  I will get invited back and this converted patronage by those in power will not be withdrawn and replaced by the next dissenter waiting in the wings.

When sitting at the devil’s table or lying with dogs you risk eventually getting fleas so must remain super vigilant to ‘snakes in suits’. The seduction process seeks to get you to take your eye of public policy and how it is being engineered to privilege the few with selected few from the masses to act as its mouthpieces in return for a few crumbs from the table while the ‘Winner takes all’ literally. So it is useful to be reminded of of the wisdom of Plato “The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men”.

Youtube link to interview with Anand :

Safia Boot – Founder Respect at Work Limited

Date: Friday 14 February 2020

Twitter: @respectatworkuk

© Respect at Work Ltd

#Inequality #SocialJustice #gaslighting #democracy #Oligarchies #EmploymentLaw #Poverty #InstitutionalRacism #EthnicityPayGap #GenderPayGap #AccessToJustice #GenderEquality #Davos #FinancialCrisis #Hubris #Tax #TaxHavens #OffShore #Banking #WhitePrivilege #Class

Love your work! – Fanning out #Racism

©Ben Smyth with Nadiya Hussain Milton Keynes c/o Respect at Work Ltd

@DeniseBranch recently posted about her delight upon seeing a car in front of her in USA displaying an anti-racism sticker and how important these small acts are appreciated in the fight against #racism.

Many BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) people individually battle daily with racism, often in pockets of isolation and sometimes in full public glare while trying to perform at the top of their game aka Black Footballer’s. It’s akin to having to work twice as hard with a big smile despite the ball and chain on your ankle. Denise’s post has prompted me to recall a photograph of a lovely young man, Ben Smythshared with me and we agreed I could share it, if the right moment came along as it’s a lovely story.

Ben was an active football player who due to a knee injury had his fledging ambitions curtailed. He is an avid football fan but also became a dedicated follower of the much-loved BBC TV series ‘Bake Off’ competition, so we have a shared interest. He loves to come over to sample the food my husband cooks and my baking. In fact, he’s coming over today so I will keep this short.

One of the most high-profile winners of the ‘Bake Off’ show (2015) was Nadiya Hussain,a young Bangladeshi mother with the most endearing smile and facial expressions that beautifully captured the hi’s and lo’s of her journey to stardom.

  • After winning in 2015 I recall Nadyia’s heart felt words that still stay with me: “I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can’t do it.”
  • “I’m never gonna say ‘maybe’. I’m never gonna say, ‘I don’t think I can.’ I can and I will.” 

So no matter what you excel at, it’s always a good confidence booster when someone let’s you know they appreciate all your hard work.

Ben had clearly not realised the effect it would have upon him seeing his hero Nadiya Hussain literally pull up alongside him whilst boringly driving along in Milton Keynes, eyes fixed on the road ahead. Suddenly, he did a double take and started hyperventilating in excitement. The traffic lights changed before he could attract Nadiya’s attention with his frantic waving at her. She either was genuinely focused elsewhere or pretended not to see this somewhat strange young white man waving and then banging on his window repeatedly: ‘was he friend or foe?’ So animated was Ben, he paid no heed to how he might be perceived in the context of the racist hate she had also experienced alongside the appreciation. Hurt can leave a lasting impression.

Either way Ben was determined not to leave her side until he had said a proper ‘Hello, love your work’ moment. He, some would say ill advisably, such was his youthful exuberance, decided to chase after her in his car for some miles, both speeding up until he finally managed to pull alongside and ask with a winning smile for a photo. Reassured he was a fan, Nadiya was met by 6’ 7” Ben who thoughtfully crouched down to Nadiya’s height so as not to inadvertently intimidate her any more than he had already done so! They had a laugh at how he must have appeared when persistently waving and following her.

So, we all need to to be able to put ourselves in other people’s boots as we don’t know what their back story is. This is a happier story than the one many BAME experience when waving for an empathetic response to their pain feeling they are saying: ‘I am drowning not waving’. So take a moment and use your smile and wave this weekend to delight someone.

Safia Boot – Founder Respect at Work Limited

Date: Saturday 17 August 2019

Twitter: @respectatworkuk

© Respect at Work Ltd

#Appreciation #SelfEsteem #SelfConfidence #Racism #Diversity #Inclusion #Smile #Love #Football #BakeOff #BBC #NadiyaHussain














©Ben Smyth with Nadiya Hussain Milton Keynes c/o Respect at Work Ltd

Race to be Superior – Myths of Race ‘Science’​

 @RespectAtWork - See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil, - A do nothing option?Race ‘science’ is so engrained in our thinking that we fail to challenge bad science. Angela Saini’s new book ‘Superior’ helps explode some enduring myths.“There is not just simply a long history of prejudice. It is also because “race”, defined in terms of skin colour or facial features, was and sometimes still is a rough-and-ready clue to culture: language, cuisine, perhaps religion and shared moral values.” 

Accordingly, no one can fail to notice how often people prefix ‘values’ with national identity as if there a hierarchy of superior values over and above another nation’s values such as: ‘British-Values’ or ‘American-Values’ compared to PTOS Trump’s sentiments “Shit-hole countrys’ values (aka countries with people with a ‘#FunnyTinge’)”; whilst forgetting national boundaries are in themselves social constructs arising from land grabs, wars, annexations, unifications, a long shared history of colonialism, slavery and indentured labour moving populations across continents. Movement of people is across land and sea is the essence of the humankind’s development across the millennia through the sharing of ideas, food, language, science, culture, art, music, etc – so you can’s simply: “Send them back!” without sending these things of value back too (wherever ‘back to’ is) or as if Western governments can dictate to non-Western countries they must take back their people when they had been moved by force in the first place or invited them to help build/re-build after world wars and other disasters. Places like New Zealand, America and Australia would empty rapidly if this sentiment was carried to its natural conclusion. Even if not practical to implement, words matter when they cause division and a sense of threat to those being marginalised for pursing the same rights to equality and fairness.

It seems beyond the reach of some to embrace the concept of simple, #UniversalValues such as respect, dignity, fairness, inclusion, humanity, kindness, friendliness, accountability, honesty, integrity, professionalism and the favourite one of ‘tolerance’. Universal values are the basis on which we should seek to connect with each other, not social constructs of race and vague notions of ‘national identity’ defined by skin colour. An example of how claiming national superiority over ‘values’ operates, is from when I was living in a little village outside Winchester, Hampshire. I got invited to a garden party held in a quintessentially English thatched cottage one June summer’s day, belonging to a neighbour with the local great and good in attendance. The local vicar came up to me and introduced himself (although I had seen him out and about before, he is likely to have considered me a visitor as did a ‘concerned’ couple who asked whilst I was out for a walk in my boots and barber jacket – “Are you lost?”.

The first question this English vicar asked in his posh accent was: “Do you find the people in this village tolerant?” (note: I had been living there c7 years of my 14 by then and this was my first garden party invite). Puzzled, by why I had been singled out for such a question, I forced him with the turn of my head to watch me scan the room (I was the only person of colour in the room as well as knowing I was the only one in 800 in the village apart from my children – my husband being white-British). I returned to look him in the eye and ask “What is it about me that has to be ‘tolerated’ by my neighbours?” he literally choked on his strawberry jam scone as the penny dropped and made a rapid exit without replying, such was the discomfort for him. His exit meant, we both missed out on an opportunity to explore his curiosity further, learn more about each other and for me to feel a sense of belonging as his other white parishioners did. The key lesson here is to question the assumption that BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) people should somehow be ‘grateful’ they are ‘tolerated’ as opposed to being celebrated for their differences in language, culture, food, music, art, resilience, vibrancy and contribution they make to evolving Britain or any new home country they move to, to create sustainable and healthy communities with shared, universal values that transcend national boundaries. It should not matter where someone came from – it’s where they are, where they are heading and life choices, they make that should be the subject of curiosity. My advice is don’t ask unless you are prepared to also explore your own inter-generational origins, since if you go back far enough most of us (especially in America, ‘the land of the free – to roam’) were immigrants somewhere along the line.

A recent Guardian article provides an excellent synopsis of some of the central themes in Saini’s race science myth busting book which helps us develop further context for why #racism persists:

Even good intentions about race science can go array be it in the NHS or USA healthcare provisions, Saini adds: “US medical researchers studying people’s responses to drugs in 2003 routinely used racial groupings to categorise and analyse their subjects – and yet none could say quite how they defined race, retreating into embarrassed laughs. Even where “race differences” in health and medicine have been identified, such as the increased risk of high blood pressure for African Americans, the default assumption has been to see this as innately biological rather than cultural and socio-economic, so that the alternatives aren’t carefully checked. The problem with scientists, Saini says, is that they too often assume they are above racism and so fail to engage with the history, politics and lived experience of race.” This makes scientists (amongst other ‘professions’) complicit in #InstitutionalRacism as it shapes how ideas, notions of what is knowledge (clearly not ‘lived experience’ and resources are prioritised, and policies are designed and enacted through a particular exclusive rather than inclusive lens.

Saini explains: “Genetics has also given racists a new place to claim validation of what they want: proof of their superiority.” By way of example, last year after I posted on Face Book two excellent BBC videos showing how casual ‘othering’ occurs when white people invariably ask a person of colour “Where are you from?”. [I will return to what happened after I posted the BBC video]. An ‘innocent’ question at face value which what could initially be interpreted as natural human curiosity and desire to connect.

However, it’s a question that has to be reflected on when it is too often posed on a selective basis of skin colour (to darker skinned people) by an invariably white questioners. In the BBC video it’s the recruitment interviewer asking this of an Asian female candidate. However, it’s when the first, second and then third answers (such as “I was born in UK, xyz hospital to be precise; or my parents were born in Yorkshire, etc)” are deemed not to be the ‘correct’ answers that the selective questioning persists so that the original neutral premise reveals an underlying racial intent to make the both the original and persistent questioning problematic. The bottom-line question is: “No, where are you and your people really from? “ . The questioner is finally satisfied with a sense of relief once the answer comes when the dark skinned person twigs or gives up trying to avoid answering the hidden question: “Oh, my grandparents were born in India, Pakistan, Uganda, etc.” [aka that’s why I am brown and here as the #FirstOnlyLast]. The sigh of relief comes because the white person was spared the discomfort of acknowledging they do after all notice skin colour of the brown person (not their own), despite assertions of ‘colour blindness’, to mask their real unasked question, namely: “Why are you, as a brown person here ( in a country of indigenously white skinned people)?”.  Of course, if they read their shared world history they would know “We are here, because you were there” as famously written by the late ‘Siva’ (Ambalavener Sivandan, Director of Institute of Race Relations – a native from Sri Lanka, formally named by the British colonial powers, as Ceylon). Siva was tireless in his pursuit to explain the connections between class, race, imperialism and colonialism. Supported by that perceived to be ‘dangerous’ concept coined 30 years ago: #Intersectionality by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw.

Regardless of intent, the effect of such selective and persistent questioning is invariably one of ‘othering’ based on the inference the darker skinned person does not naturally belong and must explain their origins and lineage so they cannot claim native belonging rights which is assumed of white skinned people who have no accent or anglicised name that gives them away.

The BBC video used a ‘light touch approach’ to illustrate the pain ‘othering’ causes to #BAME people. After posting the video, a white ex-NHS #HR colleague who had emigrated to #NZ some 18 years ago randomly shared in response to the post “I had my DNA tested and I am definitely from Europe!” (aka 100% white!) – no sharing of insights about ‘othering’ were forthcoming such was the blind privilege of not having to explain your origins repeatedly on sight or sound. She made this response having 18 years ago emigrated to New Zealand after having been embroiled for her part in a disgracefully mis-handled #NHS race discrimination case that had profound consequences for the victim and me as the appeal hearing advisor. I was curious to know how she had reflected on her part, but she refused then and now to discuss it. I asked myself what her motive was to firstly, undergo a DNA test (after leaving Europe for a former colony where brown people were decimated, and personally having historical links to Ireland). Secondly, why disclose it to me as a BAME in the context of a BBC video to illustrate the effects of ‘othering’ of people of colour (and a second video what it might be like if the boot was on the other foot – which also received no comment from her) and in the context of the race discrimination case – so it remains unfinished business, brushed under the carpet to happen again and again as we see in the NHS and other sectors who look to it as the biggest employer in Europe to be a model employer.

Make what you will of the ex-HR colleague needing to share her DNA results in the way she did and refusing to discuss her part in race discrimination case and racism per se. She like many readily agree in the abstract to the wickedness of racism but never if it is brought close to home. Answers on a post card please as I am genuinely interested to know the explanation.

I hope you have found this article has broadened your understanding, triggered your curiosity and it was not been too ‘uncomfortable’ so you still feel encouraged to continue exploring the theme of the origins of racism and why it persists. BAME have had to develop the resilience, ‘thick skin’ if you like, to talk about racism because they don’t have the luxury not to. Their skin colour is the basis for their less favourable treatment including acts of omission. This is evidenced by mountains of racial disparity data which is readily available to those who see being anti-racists as a proactive moral duty not a passive bystander who says under their breath ‘nothing to do with me’ – ‘it’s just wallpaper I walk past it’; far too busy.

My only wish is, you do not place the burden of dismantling #InstitutationalRacism on the shoulders of a few, especially BAME; that you exercise some humility in appreciating the way you experience the world and organisational policies and practices is not the way others different to you in visible and non-visible ways experience them regardless of ‘good’ intentions; that you reach out with empathy and open mindedness to have honest conversations and not run away when things get a little ‘uncomfortable’ when you are prompted to revaluate your individual and collective group memberships’ beliefs and assumptions.

Remember we are all on a journey and some of us need to take personal accountability for catching up – it’s not rocket science, but it is more complex that wading in blindly without having read and reflected that you have an automatic licence, with little or no lived experience of racism to wade into this space to tell BAME what is or what is not racism. This is something we see in the media on a ritually daily basis ask any BAME with a public profile how much resilience they have to have to continuing doing their jobs despite the constant undermining (Afua Hirsh, David Lammy, Dawn Butler, Diane Abbott, Sadiq Khan, and the multiple examples of ordinary citizens who have been effected by #BrexitRacism).

Every time one person faces racism (and many more cases go unreported), it has a psychological ripple effect on others like them. The #MentalHealth and #Wellbeing effects of racism are totally under-estimated and misunderstood – it’s like death by a thousand cuts when also faced with a culture of disbelief.

Racism de-humanises both the victim and perpetrator so we need to see this as a joint responsibility to work on it together, every day to save each other from this inherited legacy of privilege and disadvantage. Racism does not take a summer holiday. Nevertheless, enjoy the sunshine and smile at your fellow citizens as you count your blessings.

Author: Safia Boot – Founder Respect at Work Limited

Originally Published Linkedin: 25 July 2019

Re-published: 17 August 2019

Follow me on Twitter: @respectatworkuk




Former NHS trust manager awarded £1m for race discrimination – Guardian



‘Unconscious bias’ in internal inquiry led to unfair dismissal of black worker, tribunal found – Spells the need to improve the quality of Workplace Race Investigations

So, screams yet another report of a failed investigation as reported by Haroon Siddique for the Guardian


  • “The tribunal said his evidence, as a black man of Caribbean origin, was treated with unwarranted distrust and disbelief. By contrast, the tribunal found him to be an honest witness, while identifying numerous inconsistencies and flaws in the opposing evidence.” 
  • Mr. Hastings, IT Manager of Kings College hospital NHS Trust, told the Guardian: “It was very hurtful but what was even more hurtful was the treatment from the organisation I’d been with for nearly 19 years. I was devastated. Each part of the process left me even more helpless. This whole thing over three years has taken a tremendous toll on my physical and mental health. It was totally unnecessary.”

This case is just the tip of the iceberg as an example of the disparity in the treatment of BME people across all sectors. It’s only a few cases that ever make the headlines or reach the litigation stage, that is not because of lack of merit but the inherent flaws that get built into them. Many complainants report suffering in silence or being required to turn the other cheek. Over time this creates a psychological toll for BME staff, especially those who find themselves in professions and occupations where they are isolated as the one, the only and often the last of their kind to be employed in a white space. It’s hard enough to get a foot in the door to a decision maker role or a profession but easy to have the rug pulled from beneath your feet.

Our much beloved NHS is a major employer of BME staff, yet it and other organisations need to seriously up their standard of investigations into allegations of racial discrimination. The same applies to increasing the skills to deal sensitively with such concerns at the informal stage before matters escalate. Currently, there is a deficit in the capability of the homogenous HR and Leadership community to comprehend the lived experience of BME employees that is not their own experience of working in the same organisation. Whilst mediation could potentially assist such cases, the empirical evidence is lacking despite some providers treating it as a silver bullet for all employee disputes, even race discrimination without setting out the limitations of mediation. Especially in the context of 97% of mediators being white and the issue of individualising such a sensitive matter and thereby concealing the structural and systematic nature of discrimination and the collective accountability for addressing it.

As someone who has been involved in seeing racial allegations all the way from the informal to formal stages from different perspectives; I feel there is a need to review our approach with honesty, however, uncomfortable this may be. The simple truth is more HR practitioners and so called ‘inclusive’leaders need to get comfortable with discomfort, as has been demanded of their BME colleagues for decades.

Being inclusive leaders or advisors to such leaders is more than an intellectual exercise in purporting to be aligned to the Diversity and Inclusion agenda for PR purpose. You need to be mindful of both your macro and micro interventions and to listen to a perspective that is different to yours. It takes skill to listen like you are wrong. Repetitive experience of listening in this is way is the only way to build the resilience needed to have difficult conversations with resisters as well as complainants, so you can develop a momentum to change the daily lived experience of BME people.

Voluntary appeals and platitudes about being champions of Diversity and Inclusion; such as prematurely rushing to accept the numerous D&I Awards on offer while the reported lived experience of BME’s does not change except for a few exceptions is starting to ring hollow.

These cases of race discrimination do not arise without reference to a wider societal and historical context. When you have politicians like Amber Rudd on her return to the fold dismissing the recent UN report about the negative impact of austerity and levels of poverty in the UK, because she does not like the ‘tone’ of the report, you know we have a systemic problem of denial, especially in relation to people with disabilities, women and BME communities. This is despite PM Theresa May’s launch in 2017 of her racial disparity website providing statistical evidence to her own government departments to do better. Our public institutions should be beacons for the private sector.

It’s a cop out to keep referring to failures as ‘unconscious bias’ or‘complexity’ as an excuse for why solutions are not achievable ‘overnight’.The ‘overnight’ claim is frequently touted as the flag of the privileged to placate their peer group in code that the issue is being kicked into the long grass. Hence, here we are still talking about race fifty years after the original anti-discrimination legislation was enacted. The solutions to racial disparity and the inequality experienced by other groups are in fact very simple – just replicate what you are already doing for the privileged – no ‘special treatment’ is required nor being asked for as is often assumed when complaints are raised.

Ultimately, HR Advisors and leadership need to become comfortable dealing with discomfort about themselves and their organisations. Stop hiding behind the PR platitudes – people are intelligent enough to read between the lines and behind the spin. Individuals never forget the feelings generated by mistreatment related to matters of identity, long after they have tried to forget the details. That’s because it goes to the heart of their very being and belonging.

The privilege of being believed and given empathy because someone looks and sounds like you are a real advantages but a serious impediment when it is denied to those different from the norm comparator group. There is increasing doubt this is ‘unconscious’. Sadly, it is masked by learnt socially desirable responses and defensive deflection tactics. We need to recognise when we and others are deploying these tactics and call them out, so we can be actively mindful of their corrosive effect, regardless of our intentions.

Too often complainants of racial discrimination are met with a culture of disbelief rather than in a spirit of openness and curiosity. We claim we are a ‘learning organisation’ but fail to display this in times of crises when we simply default to our base ‘fight or flight’ instincts. This happens not just at an individual level but also at a collective level as evidenced by the numerous empirical studies of racial disparity in treatment researched by Professor Kalwant Bhopal in the Higher Education Sector and Dr Roger Kline in the NHS along with many other reliable sources who have given their pound of flesh to gather the data under peer scrutiny. In fact, it is surprising we are still stuck in generating more and more data that racial disparity even exists. This can only be because there is still a strong body of resistance to the idea that we are not yet living in a post-racial era. Perhaps facts will never convince some people?

Even the mild-mannered, much loved ‘one of our own’, ‘British’ comedians, Lenny Henry is finding it difficult to disguise his ‘impatience’ for change in the TV/Media and Entertainment sector with a forced smile so as not to offend his white TV interviewer or sound like the‘Angry black man or woman’. 

‘#WhiteFragility’has been aptly described by the Author, Robin DiAngelo and is worthy of a read as is ‘Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People about Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge and many other writers of this genre. Perhaps in the case of Robin DiAngela’s book, seeing privilege from someone who accepts her privilege with great honesty might resonate more than a black voice saying it and risk being dismissed with: ‘But you would say that, wouldn’t you ‘or ‘Oh no, not identity politics, again!”  When ‘identity’serves the dominant group to maintain its superior position in terms of life outcomes and access to resources it seems to be acceptable. However, when those who are marginalised by their identity (in all its multi-dimensional ways) to complain they are being treated less favourably because of their identity, it is dismissed as ‘identity politics’. This begs the question, why is the pursuit of equality of access to resources to ensure the same life chances more objectionable and offensive than the desire to protect one’s own self-interest using ‘Identity’ in reverse?

The NHS and other organisations need to seriously improve their standard of investigations into racial allegations as well as how they deal with them at the informal stage.

Here are some highlights of some of the essential ingredients for the formal stage based on my experience of being involved during the full continuum of dealing with allegations of discrimination:

  • Seeking early opportunities to neutrally assess if the concerns can be dealt with via alternative dispute resolution; but proceeding to formal investigation if it’s appropriate in the circumstances and the complainant wants to go down this route.
  • Consider the way investigations are commissioned/framed and how the organisation interfaces with the investigator subsequently to avoid interference to ensure the neutrality of the investigation.
  • Be mindful of the way the organisations commissioning an investigator via an outsourced third-party organisation can create the risk or impression of collusion behind the scenes due to back-door access to the investigator via the ‘Client/Case Manager’ who often has a sales skill set not an investigator background
  • Ensue there is a full audit trail of all communications and decisions relating to the investigation and be prepared for full disclosure in due course.
  • Assess and re-assess risks to the parties’ wellbeing and neutrality of the investigation throughout
  • Sign-post the parties to separate sources of support and counselling
  • Allow the investigator the freedom to set appropriate terms of reference to ensure proper lines of enquiry and to avoid the de-scoping and fragmentation of allegations and supporting incidents without transparent and fair criteria being applied.
  • The terms of reference should make clear the roles of the different parties and the methodology that will be used to gather relevant information to support or refute the allegations in order to make findings of fact to reach balanced conclusions.
  • Consider the suitability of who is appointed to investigate, namely someone trained/experienced specifically in investigations involving race and its intersectionality with other factors such as gender from an independent perspective. Too many delays occur because organisations claim they don’t know anyone suitable who has not already been involved in the matter or because they deem race or sex discrimination can be investigated by anyone with a managerial perspective as a badge of assumed objectivity.
  • The investigator must be able to navigate and explore beyond the formal procedures to observe the informal practices and rituals all parties engage in during such alleged treatment and the way in which they respond to allegations. Often a Complainant’s original treatment is compounded by events during the investigation and hearing process and the way policies and procedures are enacted regardless of the zero-tolerance and normative type statements contained in Dignity at Work Policies and organisational value statements. A ‘Should’ statement does not mean it ‘Is’ so.
  • Ensuring the Investigator is using a robust and transparent methodology to conduct the investigation.
  • Ensuring the investigator keeps all parties informed of progress and responds carefully to case management issues as they arise, including re-directing matters that should be for the organisation to deal with as part of maintaining the ongoing employment relationship.
  • Understanding the importance of the investigator’s role in creating an agreed Summary of Allegations (SOA) of the complex history of the supporting incidents and allegations; The SOA becomes a clear list of the alleged pattern of treatment to be investigated. This also enables any matters outside the scope to be captured in a transparent way for subsequent scrutiny.
  • Using the SOA as a guide to then gather relevant information via interviews and disclosure of documents.
  • Avoid ambushing the Respondent at interview with questions about complex and historical matters without prior disclosure of the SOA. When a process is unfair to the Respondent it becomes ultimately unfair to the Complainant, too.
  • The organisation should facilitate the investigator’s access to full disclosure of all relevant information and witnesses.
  • Understanding how to assess the quality of conflicting evidence to make fair, balanced findings of fact to enable the reaching of appropriate conclusions and inferences of racial discrimination; bias and undertone against comparator treatment (actual or hypothetical)
  • Capturing the reported impact of the alleged treatment
  • Understand the importance of subsequently conducting fair internal hearings to enable the reaching of fair and balanced outcomes based on the investigation report or further enquiries, if appropriate.
  • Managing appropriate disclosure of the investigation report and supporting documents to the parties. This should ensure fair representation of their responses, challenges and formal appeals. When appeals simply ‘rubber stamp’ an earlier decision without making transparent how either was reached it is a sure way to ensure the matter proceeds to an ET claim. Even if such a claim turns out to be misconceived, it is often due to the inclusion of elements that are essentially a breach the ‘Psychological Contract’. However, the failure to deal with such matters via internal processes is a missed opportunity given internal processes have greater scope to achieve wider resolution outcomes. Parties often fail to appreciate that litigation has its limitations as to what it can deal with.
  • Ensure there is a transparent methodology, criteria and case for assessing whether any allegations have been made maliciously or vexatiously. The standard should be high to avoid turning the tables on the Complainant or creating a victimisation claim.

Failure to follow the basic principles of fair investigations simply adds insult to injury to Complainants and Respondents. A poor investigation stops organisational learning about how to dismantle structural and cultural barriers that perpetuate racial disparity in both representation (Diversity) and treatment (Inclusion). Unless we can significantly improve the standard of investigations and skilfully deal with racial concerns at the informal stage, we will simply keep repeating costly mistakes in investigations and perpetuate less favourable treatment of any marginalised group through discrimination.

I expect levels of racial allegations and ET claims for racial discrimination to increase in this Brexit/austerity era. This is due to the failure of our politicians and leaders to provide a positive case by personal example and the failure to dismantle structural barriers that create conditions for scape-goating immigrants and foreigners to deflect attention from their own failures. The next generation of BME are increasingly more ‘woke’ to the historical and current factors that perpetuate racism; accordingly, they are less willing to be as tolerate and silent as their parents and grand-parents who arrived in the 1950’s to 1970’s.

I would urge employers to audit their processes and practices from the point of view of the lived experience of all the parties involved in such disputes to get a full 360-degree view of the dynamics, rituals and practices that get deployed. When we better understand our own and others’ contexts, we are better able to change the narrative in a meaningful way for all parties in a progressive manner.

#NHS #Racism #Mediation #FirstOnlyLast #WorkplaceInvestigations #DiversityInclusion #WhiteFragility #Immigration #Immigration #EmploymentTribunals #HR #Respect @KalwantBhopal @rogerkline @LennyHenry @renireni

Author: Safia Boot

Twitter: @respectatworkuk

© Respect at Work Limited

First published 24-27 November 2018 Linkedin





Time to Boot Out ‘bullying’ brand of #Recruitment interviews applied to Olivia Bland & BME’s for ‘Cultural Fit’


[Long Weekend Read]

This week’s experience of the way some employers approach selection interviews went bizarrely wrong when English Language Graduate, Ms. Olivia Bland met Webb Applications UK’s CEO, Mr. Craig Dean. Mr Dean decided to apply his own adaptation of ‘The Apprentice’and ‘I’m a Celebrity’ – Get me out of Here!’. Her tweet went viral with 121k+ ‘likes’.This went beyond a bad ‘GlassDoor’review. A BBC RadioLive5 interview followed.

In case you missed, it here is a link to an article, that will also take you to the twitter feed:

Is it time to reflect and ask if more employers and recruitment agencies need to approach recruitment interviews as a two-way conversation and decision making process to avoid the costly mismatch and the inherent issue of racial bias in recruitment? There are several inter-connecting themes and nuances that need to be explored. So you need to be committed to a long read.


A low, uncertain employment market post-Brexit and austerity does not give anyone the right to use humiliating, bullying tactics. It’s like knowingly abusing someone in a state of vulnerability. Whether you are a young graduate like Ms Olivia Bland trying to get a foot on the corporate ladder or a mature person seeking a career change, rejection and humiliation knows no age limit.

We don’t get enough employers sharing their equivalent of ‘Organisational CV’s’ – ‘worts and all’ with supporting facts. That way candidates can make more informed decisions about whether the organisational culture and job is a good fit for their interests, skills, ambitions, and importantly their wellbeing or are they potentially entering a highly toxic culture. No one wants to recruit toxic individuals or practices, but they do come in by the front door even if its as a result of a merger. There are so many recruiters who argue for the need to assess for ‘cultural fit’ without defining or evidencing this or seeing it from the candidate (or employee) perspective.

For me the misapplication of ‘cultural fit’ both as a term in recruitment advertising and practice is a‘red flag’for discrimination in the wrong hands.

It was a pity that when I attended the In-house Recruiters Network session on 24 January 2019 held at the BMA, London: ‘Hiring for the Organisation, Not just for the Job: the Importance of Cultural Fit’the three speakers seemed unaware or unwilling to question themselves or the audience if there were any dangers with this concept or the assumption of ‘Unconscious’ Bias. Sometimes the positivist agenda and desire to be ‘liked’ to use these platforms as a way to sell a one-trick-pony solution is just too great, especially in an audience and speaker line up that was uncharacteristically, but not surprisingly homogeneous for a city like London with it’s 55.1% BME population, it out-numbers white-British (2011 Census- 4.5 million BME’s in London, three times the national figure of 20.2%). This was an event where I was the only visible person of colour in a packed room of 99% front-line recruiters, interfacing with an overwhelming white HR and line management.

The more nuanced ‘Round Table’ discussions with some of the delegates was certainly the more rewarding part in the design of the otherwise well organised event. It was an opportunity for attendees to share their challenges and perspectives (with the missing ingredient of the ‘elephant in the room’of racial bias in recruitment and the under-representation of BME recruiters).

From my experience of conversations over the years with both candidates and recruiters across multiple sectors on a range of discriminatory practices; Recruiters could certainly do with more understanding of the actual lived experience of the cultures they are acting as the shop window for. One enlightened young recruitment consultant admitted, being puzzled more of their clients did not ask them for data on the racial diversity of its recruiters or candidates shortlisted (or not), by ethnicity or other protected characteristics as they do collect the data. However, when it was suggested to internal executives in the global recruitment agency they engage with their clients on this, it was met with ‘Don’t go there!’.

Some Recruiters work on three main assumptions. One, that there is a deficit on the part of potential candidates, not themselves or their organisations/clients. Therein lies #PrivilegeFragility the arrogance of ‘I’m OK/You’re not OK’ so I can ask you to supply full disclosure, submit you to overbearing scrutiny, assessment tests, barrage of questions, forms and various pre-employment checks, but you can’t do that to me (unless you are privileged to be extremely networked with people who will give you the ‘inside story’). And by the way, I the recruiter get to select the time, duration (to meet my information needs) and venue for us to meet so you have to find a way to be there at your own cost (including getting unpaid time off from your existing employer, if you have one and the cost of buying your interview suit). If you are from a low income family this is all a huge obstacle.

Bad recruitment processes can easily be experienced as Institutional bullying and abuse of power dressed up as ‘robust, modern selection methods’. Good intentions are irrelevant in the eyes of the law or the wounded candidate. Recruiters, could definitely do with utilising the system of the ‘Mystery Shopper’ to get meaningful feedback (depending on the diversity of the ‘shoppers’) as well as auditing their recruitment processes for bias before damage is done to candidates and existing employees in the wider interests of the duty of care. But you can’t design and deliver these processes without involving the people that are continually locked out. It’s a case of decision makers having the monopoly to say: ‘We know what is discrimination, a fair process and what is not’.

The second assumption is there exists a mono-culture throughout their organisation and one that is static (by reference to the published ‘Vision and Values’ rather than sub-cultures and changing by influences from the outside) that is delivering‘high performance’(whatever that is for them).

Thirdly, their benchmark is the existing job holders and decision makers as role models of ‘Achievers’ not ‘Losers’ or‘Under-Achievers’ (something allegedly said to Ms. Bland). This means we recruit for today’s attributes not tomorrow (adaptability, resilience, inclusiveness, innovation, etc). It also means they fail to approach candidates from a position of strengths-based interviewing. There is a further failure to acknowledge the deficit of behaviours and values within their own organisation (compared to the reciprocal authenticity demanded of candidates?). You only need to look at the numerous examples of corporate scandals to know these were previously perceived as strong employer/customer brands in public but when the mask slips it tells another story. You can also see numerous Linkedin posts and tweet feeds about ‘bad bosses’ but people rarely comment on the homogeneity of these ‘bad’ bosses lest we shatter the illusion of whom we deem to make leaders (good or bad) and what they look like.

Corporate videos have become slick propaganda machines that lack supporting evidence and 99% of the time the inherent lack of racial diversity is blatantly in your face if you are not represented by an actual employee -v- a hired model or purchased Stock Image (easy to spot). It’s also difficult for the only BME used in the photoshoot to keep the video current given the issue of often being the first, only and last to be hired. No matter the disconnect to the corporate spin about ‘we are an inclusive employer’. The irony of those statements swims past the commissioners and producers of such material, without a bat of the eye lids. A case of ‘you just have to say it for PR appeal; you don’t have to mean it (or prove it)’,unless a discrimination claim is lodged.


So, when the candidate before them is literally not a ‘lookalike’they fail to recognise the diversity of talent before them. Talent walks out of the door trying to make sense of it all as there is no feedback loop to learn from and gatekeepers act as professional bystanders to maintain the status quo as there is profit in inequality. When (rejected or successful) candidates seek developmental feedback, giving it becomes problematic when nebulous notions of ‘cultural fit’are relied upon. The reluctance to give candidate feedback, is in the context of the fear of unwanted Employment Tribunal claims especially from BME candidates (internal or external). Fear stops everyone having a learning conversation and benefiting from diversity and inclusion to create sustainable organisations. Giving no feedback won’t save you; a transparent, fair and robust system increases your chances.

When candidates have a bad experience like Ms Bland and there is no feedback loop built into the process then, you risk giving candidates in this digital age no option but to run to the comforting arms of Social Media. This is where the chances of forgiveness, resolution or remedy diminish at lightening speed. An electrical storm no one can control, not even an IT company.

The focus is increasingly on low cost automated on-line recruitment and tools, making the process, remote, impersonal, one-size fits all with a pseudo infallibility of technical objectivity. Therefore whenever a recruiter seeks to strip out activities with a perceived time/cost implication for the employer, because supposedly candidates have all the time in the world to waste, they don’t. It means recruiters also don’t get trained or exposed to developing the resilience and skills for perceived ‘difficult’conversations. This amounts to short term expediency over long-term quality, cost-effectiveness and damage to the employer brand.

There is also an assumption any candidate would accept your job offer, well why wouldn’t they? How a candidate feels treated during recruitment should be an indicator for how the organisation approaches the employment relationship and notions of organisational justice post-employment. Seeking, giving and receiving feedback is how we all grow.

There are two reason Ms Olivia Bland appeared believable to 121k+ people. Firstly, it’s not an unfamiliar experience to have been bullied at work or in public after the global #MeToo movement highlighting sexual harassment across all sectors and classes of women (and men who are also effected by it). As a result we continue to hear from alleged victims of bullying (generally) but incidentally, rarely do we get insights from the alleged respondent) and sometimes this bullying occurs in the interview process. Most candidates stay quiet for fear of ruining their chances with another employer by being ‘blacklisted’(not such a fantasy fear as you might imagine).

But there is another more nuanced reason why 121k+ people ‘liked’might also have like Ms Bland’s tweet. It’s so much easier to find a white woman who cries foul during recruitment to be more believable than a black candidate [Pause before you react]. This is despite the volumes of research to support racial bias in recruitment. However, you won’t find even a modicum of this sort of empathetic outpouring for a black candidate – regardless of their intersectionality with gender.

People find it easier to agree in the abstract that racism is a social disease long over due a cure, but not even the best minds in medicine and academia or champions of diversity and inclusion clutching there Annual Awards will rarely acknowledge their part in maintaining the status quo that privileges them. That’s just ‘too close to home’.Except if you are the likes of Robin Di Angelo who is a rare white diamond who understands white identity, is prepared to acknowledge the power of white privilege and therefore the discomfort black people spot with that single raised eye brow and side-ways glance immediately they make reference to the subject of racism or white privilege, in an effort to close them down. I have known people storm out of the room at this point.

Colour is seen by white people as a black identity ‘problem’ black people have, but not something they (white people) have because they see themselves as without ‘colour’despite the census classification of ‘White-British’. The term ‘Black Minority Ethnic’ (BME) (and ‘black’ as a short cut for ‘people of colour’) is simply a socially constructed classification that allows a group of people who haves been historically and systematically subject to the social injustice of less favourable treatment on the grounds of their skin colour compared to white people (this is setting aside limitations of ‘BME’ to encompass the full range of nuances within this definition). BME’s are the recipients of this mistreatment through racism, evidenced by racial disparity in all walks of life, including education and employment. We should be beyond the data driven arguments challenging ‘Is there really evidence of racial disparity?’; or appeals for yet more data – as if logic alone is going to win the day. Instead I will ask why are still stuck at this point? Who in organisations and their supply chains remains unconvinced? Perhaps we should be putting the data spot light on them not the usual‘goldfish‘?

An article in the Guardian on 17 January 2019 by Haroon Siddique reported that “Black Britons and those of south Asian origin face “shocking” discrimination in the labour market at levels unchanged since the late 1960’s, research has found”. []

This was based on a recent study by experts based at the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, University of Oxford. It found applicants from minority ethnic backgrounds had to send 80% more applications to get a positive response from an employer than a white person of British origin. This latest study was linked to an earlier study by the same researchers, comparing their results with similar field experiments dating back to 1969, and found discrimination against black Britons and those of south Asian origin – particularly Pakistanis – unchanged over almost 50 years. Professor Anthony Heath, co-author and emeritus fellow of Nuffield College described it as a remaining ‘burning injustice’; inviting us to question whether previous interventions are working.

I came to England from Pakistan in 1967 (my late father, a humble Carpenter much earlier having won his visa in a lottery but then not having the funds to bring his family, leading to a three-year separation from his wife and children). I was aged six upon arrival and at the age 19 I secured my first administrative level role in an all-white profession, namely Human Resources (then called ‘Personnel’) having been repeatedly rejected for the role I had actually spent two years training for within the NHS. This was at a time when South Africa still operated apartheid (until 1994), supported by the UK Government and at a time when UK HR folk and their organisations were bitterly miffed about why they had go beyond the recruitment strap-line in job adverts ‘We are an Equal Opportunities Employer’ (as if it were a statement of fact rather than faux-aspirational) to be compliant with the still to be embedded anti-discrimination laws into practice. Progress has been glacial since, being part for three generations of British-Pakistanis who arrived in the UK in the 1960’s. I am 1 of 8 siblings and a Great Aunt to 50+ children so have my own smallish data sample and lived experiences to reflect on for the last 50+ years. So if any researchers want to do a longitudinal study of the lived changes, come closer…. As a family we did not have to contend with the intersectionality of religion as much as race, gender and class – but given time that too became a challenge and we are by no means part of the monolith Pakistani-Muslims are portrayed as; progress has been made by a few of us in the family, but we are the exception not the rule. That applies to other families like us.

Black people have been talking about racism for hundreds of years and decades of living memory so they have built up the resilience to talk about the pain of humiliation that comes from unrelenting micro and macro aggressions. This is combined with suffering indifferent institutional responses through the application of systems, symbols, policies, practices and procedures that make up the living culture of any organisation. White people have not yet walked down this road. They are not wearing the right boots for the journey. They are not prepared for the stumbles and knocks; its just not their ‘cup of tea’ ‘thank you very much!’.

Everyone knows a white woman, but how many know a black woman or her everyday experience of the job market or self-employment? Hence, when black candidates complain of racial bias in recruitment, they are met with a culture of disbelief; a wall of silence and denial from all quarters. I have been told by‘friends’ “I never thought of you as ‘black’ or having a colour’.Being ‘Colour-blind’ is a misnomer. It’s OK to notice colour, it’s what you do with that information that matters. No one ever admits racism (or sexism), hence it must be inferred from the facts, within the limits of the law. White fragility kicks in as a form of abuse of power that turns the tables on the black candidate for daring to cause discomfort by the notion they or their institutional practices could possibly harbour any overt or covert racial undertone to their decision making. Calling it out becomes the ‘offence’and the myth of ‘reverse racism’ of white people comes into play.

White bystander ‘friends’/colleagues who know nothing of the actual facts that the black candidate turns to for the mistaken belief of possible solace, start to explain away their experience with, “Yeah, but…….” or ‘that was then, it does not happen any more’ – as if we are in some post-racial era with no data to support their belief. In Ms Olivia Bland’s case she is able to use her white privilege as the crushed, young, female graduate full of hope, to full advantage in being believed by thousands. She does not even have to acknowledge her privilege, let alone explain it; it simply part of her masked identity. It’s invisible because that’s the power of it – to never have to be asked to acknowledge it as a source of power. If asked about it, then the exercise of discomfort and outrage (white fragility) comes in handy. She will be fine in the end because there will be plenty of helping hands reaching out to a white damsel in distress. I certainly wish her the best for the future. This is not solely about her, but the wider issue of bullying, harassment and racial bias in the recruitment process and in the workplace to illustrate the double standards few wish to talk about.

Amongst one of my many humiliations in recruitment and other selection processes was to be shortlisted two weeks ahead by a brand employer via a global brand agency who said I was one of three candidates selected by them and the employer for a hard to fill post. Upon arrival the white Head of HR took one look at my coloured face, gave me the malfunctioning robot look, then looked down at the CV as the name did not match what was before him; no greeting offered, so I followed him into the room. I did not get invited to sit down, but decided after a few embarrassing minutes to sit anyway to await his questions.

He gave no eye contact and after a few minutes of leafing through my CV declared pompously “You are not what we are looking for!”. He showed me the door; without putting a single interview question to me – it was over in 5 minutes flat! – it must be one for the ‘Guinness Book of Record’s, surely! despite it being an often repeated experience. I walked silently in full glare of the receptionist and other white visitors I had chatted to earlier who knew the purpose of my abrupt visit.

When I reported my experience back to the white male, Recruitment Consultant (‘Tony’) at the global brand agency, that I thought it was a case of overt race discrimination the recruiter’s response was to threaten to cease to deal with me, effectively blacklisting me if I took any action against their ‘very good’ client.I was desperate for this not to happen, so took no action, but it happened anyway and the agency never contacted me again in the following years despite my approaches. They Consultant did however, continue to contact my white husband for opportunities as he rose to be HR Director of many prestigious brands, not appreciating the source of my inadvertent ‘CV Whitening’ that had got me shortlisted in the first place as a talented candidate. If things were made a little ‘better’after my married-name change, imagine what it was like before. The name change resulted in a 40% improvement in being shortlisted (but not in being selected). Whoever naively believes there is nothing in a name, needs to read the research on this, I am not alone in this experience; and sadly it continues to this day for the next generations.

In the interests of balance, my only small criticism of Ms Olivia Bland is she did not waste any time posting on twitter. Her gruelling interview was on Monday 28 January 2019, she got the job offer an hour later by telephone. She accepted it straightaway. She says it was ‘in desperation’, only to regret her decision immediately and write her letter to the Office Manager, ‘Vivienne’ setting out her experience. She asked that CEO Interviewer Mr Craig Dean should ‘not bother’ to reply to spare her feelings further. However, by the next day, Tuesday morning 29 January 2019 she was feeling ready to fight back and had posted her letter to the the company on twitter. So there was no intention to resolve this issue but to give the CEO a taste of his own medicine, be it in a disproportionately publicly humiliating way that a black candidate could only dream of risking.

Yes, it needed to be called out, but could she have waited for a reasonable time for the company to respond? Even, until the end of the week? Was her response proportionate? Was there no chance the company would/could change their practices to help other candidates (and existing employees) even if not to effect a change in Ms Bland’s decision to reject the offer. Personally, I have always believing in giving anyone a second chance. Hence I have shown openness to talk about such experiences with recruiters but rarely offered the opportunity to do so. Ultimately, it is a personal decision to walk away from a risky situation, but how you do is also something worth weighing up and attempting a dialogue after setting out your concerns, which she aptly did. Does a dosage of your own medicine have to be swallowed to feel the sense of ‘yuk!’ you never want to do it again? – possibly for some, but I would prefer not to generalise.

Is this a Win:Win, Win:Lose or Lose:Lose outcome? How will prospective employer’s/recruiters learn from this and change? How will future candidates approach a similar situation? Will anyone ever admit to being a bully or hold sexist-racist beliefs and come forward for help with a genuine desire to change? Change won’t happen in a million years unless there is an acceptance there is problem requiring change that will benefit you and others to see value in diversity and inclusion. You can either be the problem or the change – time to select!

Author: Safia Boot

© Respect at Work Limited

Twitter: @respectatworkuk

#Recruitment #CulturalFit #Bullying #AbuseOfPower #SnakesInSuits #Discrimination #Racism #RecruitmentBias #Lookalikes #CorporateScandals #Hubris #Talent #EmploymentTribunals #Sexism #DiversityInclusion #Equality @inhouseRecNet #BetterByDesign #CVWhitening #WhitePrivilege #WhiteFragility #Brexit #Austerity #DoubleStandards @RobinDiAngelo @RunnymedeTrust #FirstOnlyLast @oliviaabland

Published 2 February 2019

\First published Linkedin 1February 2019


#MeToo – Rise of Workplace Militancy, ‘Identity Politics’ or Social Justice?

Who runs the world? Beyoncé says girls do but the stats say the world is run by powerful men (largely white). So, you could say behind every ‘Great’ man stands a ‘Great’ invisible woman a few steps behind. The google worldwide walk-out on Thursday 1 November 2018 of 20,000 workers (20% of its workforce) is both a class, gender and race issue (otherwise known as ‘intersectionality’). The Tech workers are protesting lawfully under the USA National Labour Relations Act 1935 that allows for collective action “employees shall have the right to … engage in … concerted activities for the purpose of … mutual aid or protection.” Their protection is afforded under the NLRA rather than the much quoted First Amendment – ‘Right to free speech’ which would not apply unless it was treatment due to State action rather than as in this case in relation to treatment by a private USA organisation that normally has the right to dismiss ‘At Will’ for any reason.

However, this won’t be the case in other countries which have laws requiring adherence to strict procedures before withdrawing labour. In any unlawful strike it would still be a major ER (Employee Relations) and PR disaster to take or threaten disciplinary action for breach of contract. In the Google case, these are prized Tech workers of both genders, middle class and largely white. If they were a bunch of black/migrant/women cleaners in an outsourced low-waged, zero-hours transactional business there is a high risk they would simply and quickly be replaced on an individual basis and get very little media attention. So, the risk of militancy, especially outside any protective legal framework is dependent on the balance of power. Workers who wish to reverse the trend of decades by now joining unions will have greater collective power to resolve issues informally. In that sense Unions are an essential part of any effective democracy. Unions (rightly for cost and alignment with their values) don’t welcome ‘deathbed conversions’ at the point workers find themselves in a dispute with their employer: you either believe in marginalised individuals having a right to social justice via collectivism or you don’t.

However, over recent decades the decline in union membership has been accompanied by an agenda of individualism rather than collectivism. The advocates of Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘lean in’ school of thought (individual empowerment) has played its part in nudging along the ideology of individualism as has our obsession with pointing to isolated ‘heroes’ be-it ‘exceptional’ figures until they’re re-examined by the latest scandal or they simply represent ‘the first, the only and the last’ of their kind to be appointed, if from a minority group. Putting the onus on under-represented individuals to change themselves to fit the status quo fails to address the structural barriers in place. No-amount of individual positive thinking can change macro policy decisions to address significant evidence of disparity for large sections of the population. A collective, sustained and multiplicity of initiatives are required along with enabled individual actions to bring about real change to everyday lived experiences. The solutions are often very simple, we just need to change who is making the decisions and treat all people as the few privileged are being treated. [See also research by Professor Kalwant Bhopal‘White Privilege’; Research by The Runnymede Trust; Daniel Dorling’s ‘Inequality and the 1%’, to name but a few]. 

Evidence of Employee Dissatisfaction and low productivity:

Recently, I was speaking to a highly educated, talented but lowly paid young woman experiencing systematic bullying and under-utilisation by her line manager in the publishing world. She felt her only option was to continue to suffer in silence or leave as soon as her job-hunting efforts yielded a better line manager and prospects for salary and professional growth. Her sense of powerlessness and suppression of her human potential was deeply saddening.

The young woman said she did not even know how to begin to draft a grievance letter or have the confidence to raise the issue informally with anyone in a position of authority. Nor was there was any reference to independent mediation within the organisation, which can work when used appropriately and in a timely way. She was then shocked to be corrected by me on her right to join a union. A co-worker had incorrectly told her there was no point in raising a grievance unless she had the support of a union to represent her at any grievance hearing because,“They don’t recognise unions here!” and the long serving line manager would be believed over her. We have seen numerous examples of individuals who complain of sexual harassment, racial discrimination or bullying to be told at the outset it’s a case of one person’s word over another, more powerful. This is often even before any rigorous, fair, independent and transparent investigation has been commissioned.

In the case study example, being unsupported in raising her concerns was her biggest fear in case it made the bullying worse resulting in either a psychological breakdown or being dismissed for an invented case of poor performance or redundancy. She was unaware under UK employment law, there needs to be no Union Recognition Agreement in place with the employer for an individual to be a member of any registered union and have the legal right for her Union Representative accompany her and advise her on her grievance. She did not feel she could go to HR as they were only ever seen talking to management and otherwise kept to themselves on the upper floors of the building. Clearly, fear, ignorance and a remote HR department combined to reinforce the existing power imbalances. Suffering in silence or voting with your feet are not uncommon ways out for such individuals.

Research suggests that employee disengagement costs the UK economy £340 billion annually, bad leadership is eroding UK productivity (Hay Group now Korn Ferry).With 49% of workers citing poor management as the main reason they’re considering looking for a new job. Nearly half of the UK workforce (47%) will be looking for a new job in 2019, with nearly 1 in 5 people actively searching for new job opportunities (Investors in People (IIP) report in their annual Job Exodus Survey 2018). UK workers have one of the lowest levels of job satisfaction in the world ranking sixth in an international study of 23,000 employees across eight countries (Robert Half ‘It’s Time We All Work Happy®: The Secrets of the Happiest Companies and Employees – June 2017).

Case of ‘Cobbler’s Children’: ‘Do as I say not do as I do’Collective organising, some refuse to see is what big enterprises, the wealthy 1% and privileged already successfully do by political funding, lobbying, networking and donations to prestigious ‘Think Tank’s and Universities and Leadership Institutes. All this helps to shape the cult of leadership and management thinking to influence public policy to support a unitary management perspective and the ‘L’Oreal’ syndrome (because I’m worth it) as to who should be at the top of the food chain. Professional enablers are only too happy to assist them (see leaking of ‘Panama’ and ‘Paradise Papers’ regarding offshoring of wealth to illustrate how the system is ‘gamed’ to favour the few). The richest one per cent now owns more than half the world’s wealth, according a Credit Suisse report. The total wealth in the world grew by 6 percent over the past 12 months to $280 trillion, Credit Suisse reported (December 2017). Yet despite this, the rest of the population gets consistently told there is no money for essential public services that corporations and wealthy 1% rely on to provide compliant workforces.

Take also the case of Glasgow’s c600 male Refuse workers going out on strike (23 October 2018) in support of a decade-old Equal pay claim by 8,000 mostly female cleaners estimated to be worth £1bn (Cleaners in other sectors are often low paid working-class women and BME’s – Black, Minority Ethnic). Or, even the case of the Greenwich Council Cleaner who spotted a shortfall in her wages but found her complaint was not taken seriously by her supervisors saying, she “kept on at the union”to fight the case. “I never gave up” says Julie, 52, who has cleaned South Rise Primary in Plumstead, Greenwich, since 2003. She earned £722 a month as a part-timer when she spotted the shortfall, saying: “£35 a month is quite a lot of money to lose and the thing is, with school staff, a lot of them have young kids; she knew it was wrong” It took her 5 years to get a settlement for herself and her 473 colleagues back dated to 2012 (£4m). The pay formula will now apply to 5,000 staff as the settlement has been agreed ahead of the Employment Tribunal claim being heard. [BBC News – 1 November 2018]

As the saying goes, ‘Where there is muck there is profit’. So, before anyone dismisses this as ‘Identity politics’, just remember there is little difference between us as humans; we have common human desires to live fulfilling lives in reasonable safety, comfort and to be paid a reasonable wage for our labour. Equally, we all have our flaws so apologies there is no ‘Master Race’, we all need a little help to continue to evolve into our better-selves. However, our multiple identities are important in that they determine a material difference in how we are treated by those in positions of privilege and power over resources (knowledge via education, finance, influence through who we network with, access to health, employment, legal rights, etc). Identity is essentially about social justice and access to resources.

Google’s tactic of appearing to support the demands of its workers publicly to address concerns about the culture of bullying and sexual harassment could be viewed as the beginning of serious change. However, it and other technology companies have been slow to come to the table of equality and ‘plenty for all’. This is despite being hailed as a new industry, it has for too long embraced traditional ways of thinking and behaving. Further, the worker demands for a ‘better workplace’ is not confined to the culture but also to wider material issues of racial and gender representation, pay parity and progression to decision making and influencing roles. Without a system of elected, independent and trained representatives with access to their own legal advisers and resources to engage in meaningful negotiations, all this ‘show of muscle’ does is create short-term window dressing for any management discussions to be held behind closed doors within the leadership team and its Legal/HR advisors. Access to dignity and equal pay is not a gift to be bestowed by privileged leadership but a right enshrined in a fair society which our current political system is failing to deliver whilst rewarding leadership for failure.

What our leadership systematically continues to do is fail to grasp in the context of serial corporate scandals and footballer salaries for CEO’s/Board Members, the effect this has on diminishing trust in our leadership and institutions designed to regulate them. We are evidencing rising levels of worker discontent and negative impact on productivity from unexpected categories of workers. These workers in the past would never have deemed they had an ounce of militancy or appetite for public protest in them, so distant are they from lived experiences of hard-won rights of earlier generations. These rights cannot be taken for granted and forever do we need to remain vigilant to their removal by stealth.

The ways in which workers are choosing to amplify their concerns in an age of social media means discontent is reaching the ears of its customer and investor base despite accusations of ‘fake news’ being bandied about like confetti to mis-direct the very people who have most to gain from a review of the current order. People are asking “Do I want to buy this product or service, thereby giving my tacit approval of their methods”; As well asking in the context of environmental concerns “Who said I even need this product?”

In the age of Corporate Mission statements and the importance of aligning yourself to a wider social purpose, platitudes such as ‘’Don’t Be Evil’ and ‘A company’s most valuable asset is its employees’ and the like, ring like hollow propaganda slogans that no Employee Satisfaction Survey report with its ‘socially desirable’ responses or symbolic tokens of gestures like ‘Dress down Friday’, the shiny unused pool table in the corner, etc. can mask the corrosive sub-cultures that exist in pockets of all organisations – public, private or charities.

Have we not had enough banal slogans from the Trump administration and the resulting Brexit campaign arising from the UK’s EU Referendum? Have we not had enough of the ‘Accidental Manager’ fed on a diet off management slogans? (Chartered Management Institute (CMI): Are ‘Accidental Managers’ draining productivity? – September 2017)

Have we not had enough of the double-standards applied to those in positions of privilege versus the rest? Let’s just have simple consistency of treatment, honest facts and transparency without the spin.

[This is an opinion piece representing the author’s views alone]

#MeToo #RespectAtWork #SexualHarassment #Racism #Inequality #EqualPay #Brexit #Trump #EURef #AccidentalManager #CMI #EmployeeEngagement #Unions #HR #BetterWork #Dignity #Productivity #FakeNews #CustomerSatisfaction #EmployeeSurveys #IdentityPolitics #EthnicityPayGap

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BREAKING NEWS: Foster Carers vote to Unionise! — Independent Workers Union of Great Britain

Many thanks to all the attendees at this morning’s packed open meeting for foster carers in Parliament! There was so much energy in the room and so little time to get through all the talking points! The meeting was organised to cover just a few key objectives: 1. to decide what the commonly regarded challenges […]

via BREAKING NEWS: Foster Carers vote to Unionise! — Independent Workers Union of Great Britain

The ‘They’ and ‘Us’ of the ‘Hard to Reach Groups’

'Hard to Reach Groups'

‘Hard to Reach Groups’

Upon hearing frequent references to the term ‘The Hard to Reach Groups’ in organisational Diversity & Inclusion literature, organisational policy documents and more recently at a seminar on Women in Sports. I was prompted to reflect on why the repeated use of this term jars with me as an ethnic minority female who has managed to eventually overcome some of the barriers to progressing within a largely female, white profession (Human Resources).  This is the case for many professions and there are parallel issues for women and in particular BME women (and men) but in particular Muslim Women gaining access to certain professions and employment generally (the most visible of ethnic minority group due to covering of their heads – although there is diversity of practice even in this). Gaining access to certain sectors for example Sports and technology are particular challenges, although their use of technology as evidenced by the ‘Arab Spring’ is giving them a new voice to initiate change in the way they wish to be portrayed and understood.  I therefore ask readers to reflect on what unconsciously, be it well intentioned, this phrase reveals about those who utter the phrase rather than those to whom it refers. This is necessary if we are to fully capitalize on the huge potential for instance that Sports has to bring communities together and create wealth and wellbeing.

Those who invariably use the term ‘Hard to Reach Groups’ in everyday language and numerous strategy documents are invariably members of the homogenous, dominant group occupying positions of leadership, decision-making and influence as advisers.  The subject group is made up of a number of sub-sets:  young mums, students, women in and out of work, school leavers, NEETs, at risk women, Muslim women and females of varying ages and abilities.

Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘They and We’ illustrates the need to be mindful that everyone is ‘normal’ in their own eyes or we will not be able to understand them and interact with them. The fact is ‘They’ don’t think we’re normal either. We assume ‘They’ perceive and experience the world the same as we do and accordingly we design systems, processes, policies, interventions and language that reflects us. Which is what the word assume can be broken down into: I assume on the basis of me: ‘Ass-U-Me’.

Given the aspiration is to increase participation in sports, wider employment and representation in positions of leadership and influence.   The effect of using the well worn phrase ‘Hard to Reach Groups’ is to alienate those who are under-represented by the underlying assumption that it is ‘They’ who are a problem by being so damn ‘Hard to Reach’.  The assumption about ourselves is that we are by implication ‘easy to reach’, accessible and approachable.  This further leads to counter justifications for the lack of measurable and visible progress such as: they don’t apply for the jobs or opportunities to participate; they lack the skills, qualifications and experience to hold positions (paid or voluntary) and we (allegedly) only ever appoint on the basis of merit, and so forth. From the perspective of ‘They’ the rationale is: ‘We don’t feel listened to, so what’s the point?’; ‘there’s hardly anyone like me involved’ so I won’t feel welcome or included in the important decisions and so forth.  It therefore becomes an issue of the need to be open to the concept of unconscious bias and increasing our own self-awareness – whether you are ‘They’ or ‘Us’ it is important to consider what has shaped our thinking and behavior, what privileges we enjoy and assume others have access to that enables us to have the opportunity to participate and reach our potential but might prevent others from doing the same.

My plea is to ditch this phrase and focus instead on the issue of addressing under-representation.  It would enable us to think more creatively in seeking to engage with people who are under-represented for a variety of intrinsic (self-beliefs) and extrinsic (structural) reasons rather than lumping them together and labelling them as  the ‘Hard to Reach Group’. Turn the question on yourself and ask what could you do to make yourself ‘easier to reach’, or even better to reach out proactively to engage with others different from you. We need to creatively develop solutions in collaboration with those people who are under-represented so there is joint ownership of the solutions and not inhibit our thinking and actions by labelling and blaming those who are not ‘US’.

Naturally, if any of this resonates with you I would be happy to engage further with you!

#MeToo #RespectAtWork #SexualHarassment #Racism #Inequality #EqualPay #Brexit #Trump #EURef #AccidentalManager #CMI #EmployeeEngagement #Unions #HR #BetterWork #Dignity #Productivity #FakeNews #CustomerSatisfaction #EmployeeSurveys #IdentityPolitics #EthnicityPayGap

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Beyond Recruitment – Creating an Inclusive Culture

There is nothing like a skills shortage[1] to concentrate the attention of organizations on the issue of neglected sources of talent.  However, the challenge is not only to address the skills shortages, but also to create a working environment that will enable the under-represented and everyone to flourish. This requires an investment in upskilling the whole team’s soft skills and knowledge to truly reap the benefits of diversity given the challenges for working with people different to ourselves.


At the recent Women in Technology conference organized by the E-Westminster Forum many of the speakers focused on how to encourage more young women to consider technology careers or how to attract women into technology, however, I believe the challenge goes deeper.    We have to not only make technology attractive to hire women and BME’s, but also make the technology workplace a place where they can flourish and thrive.   This will create a virtuous circle of not only retaining, but enabling people to build skills and careers and demonstrate ‘tech’ is where you can realise your dreams and aspirations.  In short, it builds a better ‘employer proposition’ based on inclusion and diversity.

Now is a great time to work in technology, there is a huge demand for skills and technology is profoundly changing the way we live our lives.  However, despite being a relatively new industry ‘Tech’ companies seem in some respects to be run in traditional ways and many ‘techie’ cultures are based on mainly male perspectives. If, new hires are simply required to ‘fit in’ to the prevailing culture, it is highly likely they will leave or if they do stay they will not thrive and flourish.   A recent survey of Silicon Valley ‘tech’ companies [2]  showed just how difficult life can be for women in these companies.  For example, 66% felt excluded from key social and networking opportunities because of their gender; 90% of women have witnessed sexist behavior; 84% have been told they were too aggressive; 88% experienced questions being addressed to male peers that should be addressed to them; 75% women were asked about their family life, marital status and children in interviews; 60% reported unwanted sexual advances and 60% were dissatisfied with the way their sexual harassment concerns were handled.   BME experiences of the technology sector are also heavily biased, African Americans are poorly represented in USA technology companies, only 1.5% of Facebook’s US workforce, 1.7% in Twitter, just 2% in Yahoo and Google and 7% in Apple[3]

Simply tackling the lack of gender and BME diversity during recruitment is like putting water in a bucket with a hole, the practices of existing management and unconscious bias may have only taken thirty years to develop in the technology sector, but are unlikely to disappear overnight, without significant intervention and commitment.    There is a need for training and development to support a strategic workforce plan and a clear diverse and inclusive employee proposition.   This should include: developing empathy, coaching, mentoring and advocacy skills; managing conflict through facilitation and mediation skills; robustly investigating diversity-related concerns; increasing awareness of unconscious bias, promoting networking and giving and receiving constructive feedback.   The HR function should not just focus on recruitment campaigns, but build HR policies and practices which position mutual respect, diversity and inclusion as a means to attract, retain and build a smarter, fairer and more effective workplace for all. Then “tech’ can truly claim to be building a better world and not just a better gadget or app.

Why not share what you are doing to move the diversity agenda forward in your organisation or discuss how you can overcome some of the challenges?

References:[1] Exploring the IT Skills Gap 2016 Survey –;        [2 – Survey; [3] Black Politicians to push Silicon Valley giants on ‘appalling’ diversity. Guardian 30 July 2015.; E: T: +44(0)1908 262 862

#MeToo #RespectAtWork #SexualHarassment #Racism #Inequality #EqualPay #Brexit #Trump #EURef #AccidentalManager #CMI #EmployeeEngagement #Unions #HR #BetterWork #Dignity #Productivity #FakeNews #CustomerSatisfaction #EmployeeSurveys #IdentityPolitics #EthnicityPayGap

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