Today I want to talk about racial discrimination in the workplace. More so companies understand what it means because I still hear companies say; “No, we also stand for equality and diversity. It’s so important”. But that doesn’t really measure up does it now, when your team and even your board of directors is all white. It breaks my heart because there are talented, intelligent and high educated (!) black people who would be suitable for the job. So I continue to use my voice for equal changes and more diversity.
“I’m sorry I forgot to invite you to the meeting.” “No, I won’t come over to your house, because of the neighbourhood you live in, there are way too many foreigners living there.’ “No, but you are different your Dutch is impeccable” “Can you keep it down your to loud” “Don’t be so emotional”. Just a few comments I heard throughout the years. Fact is that these comments usually come with a power factor, hierarchy.
According to the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary, the definition of racism is
The belief that some races are better than others, or the unfair treatment of someone because of his or her race.
“Everyone in an organization has a role to play in treating everyone with dignity and respect.”
Not only do employers discriminate, but you can also be the victim of peer discrimination. Companies need to become aware of racism, bias, stereotyping, bullying, harassment and intimidation. Too much time has been spent focusing on the wrong things in the workplace. I’ve seen policies about the dress code that was two pages long while policies about anti-harassment and discrimination are usually not even taken into account.
What does racism in the workplace look like?
You can hardly trace it. You can’t see it coming and it goes undercover. But it happens over and over again, ask any person of colour. It has taken a more implicit form when people start telling jokes using stereotypes (for example Zwarte piet). Or as has happened to me, being mistaken for a junior employee (intern) instead of a senior employee because of the colour of my skin. This type of discrimination is systemic and because of the reason mentioned before, power and hierarchy, it has been kept alive. Hypodermic by companies that look perfectly neutral on the surface: the best example is the imposition of work practices that favour the dominant group, such as Friday afternoon drinks and dinners. Or required qualifications that are not applicable to perform the job properly. Or employing black people on a temporary role when the job was advertised as a permanent role. These are just a couple of examples of how racism looks like at the workplace.
How to handle racism in the workplace?
Create a culture of inclusion where differences are treasured. It’s important to acknowledge the value every individual brings to the table. Actions need to be taken seriously against employees, including management, who display and enact racist behaviour. Educate employees, especially management, in terms of how to deal with racism. Any employee who experiences racism – even if it is not directly aimed at them – should be able to raise their concerns with their employer and expect the issue to be dealt with swiftly and fairly. Any employee who is accused of discrimination must be dealt with fairly. Including a reasonable investigation and if needed, a fair disciplinary process.
Invest in your team. To learn about different cultural backgrounds can help improve team spirit in a workforce and reduce the chance of misunderstandings resulting in complaints, disciplinary action or an employment tribunal claim. Everyone in an organization has a role to play in treating everyone with dignity and respect.
I recently read an article which was written by Dana Brownlee where she speaks about her five truths. She sums it up perfectly! Dear White People: Here Are 5 Uncomfortable Truths Black Colleagues Need You To Know:
#Truth1 – Racism doesn’t just show up in its most extreme form. There is indeed a continuum (of racist thoughts and behaviours), and you may be on it.
#Truth2 – Even if you haven’t offended anyone (that you know of), you may indeed be part of the problem.
#Truth3 – Every black person on your team is not your “friend.”
#Truth4 – Gender and race discrimination are not “essentially the same.”
#Truth5 – Even though there may be one or two black faces in leadership, your organization may indeed have a rampant racial injustice problem. To read the full article click here – must read!
I would love to hear your thoughts! What has your experience been like?