“I’ve got a hijab on my head, you know. I pray during my work hours. I will go away and take my breaks and I will definitely pray. You know I wouldn’t fit into the corporate world. That’s what business management really is – like me personally – I wouldn’t get into that and I wouldn’t feel comfortable either.”
Alumni Interviews, April 2018
Diversity Management = Empty shell promises
By Sima Akter, SBM Alumni, qmbreakthrough AT gmail.com
Discussions into modern racism, failures of diversity policies and the lack of women of colour in positions of power
Diversity: the term used to describe the composition of differing elements within organisations and society at large. In terms of the physical composition, it is the inclusion of all types of people based on race, religion, sex, gender, opinions etc.
The term diversity first originated in the US in the 1980’s in response to the affirmative action plan introduced under the Civil Rights Act 1964 (Kirton and Greene, 2017). Within the UK however, authors have suggested that there was simply a change in language (from equality to diversity) rather than practise. Formal equality and diversity policies are undoubtedly universal practises within both public and private UK organisations and have been since the 1970s with equality laws such as the Equal Pay Act 1970, Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Acts 1976. However, the shift from the term ‘equality’ to ‘diversity’ has unfortunately not resulted in much substantive change within the UK (Kirton and Greene, 2016) regardless of new diversity management policies. This lead us to various questions: is diversity real? Have diversity policies positively impacted people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and in particular, women of colour? How serious are organisations regarding diversity? Is diversity a social phenomenon and simply made to help organisations ‘look good’?
It is evident and incredibly clear that diversity is always going to be an increasingly big and complex topic of discussion amongst both organisations and society in general. Many UK companies boast their ‘encouragement’ for diversity, however why aren’t the statistics speaking? In 2017 Deloitte found that whilst 74% of companies boast their commitment to inclusion and diversity policies, only 12% actually make good on their promises. There are various factors that could potentially contribute towards this failure, one of which regards the very controversial yet obvious terms – racism and discrimination. Yes, racism still exists. Whilst mainstream racism and discrimination – like how it used to be back in the days with explicit name calling and using racial slurs – may not be very common these days, what is common is a new phenomenon called ‘unconscious bias.’ In this instance we have two types of racism, aversive racism and symbolic racism with the first type being based on people who explicitly express highly egalitarian views but implicitly hold deeply prejudiced and negative beliefs about ethnic minorities (Dovidio and Gaertner, 2000). The second type – also referred to as modern racism – focuses on people who hold high animosity towards ethnic minorities but they are less likely to express this through blatant prejudice (Sears and Henry, 2003). Instead, they exercise this through actions such as not supporting the advancement of ethnic minorities through, for example, not complying with workplace diversity policies. Organisational structures are thus incredibly important in consolidating racial disadvantage therefore making these organisations resistant to change (Hudson et al., 2017). From these definitions alone, it seems clear that these types of racism are still very much evidently practised within the UK, and showcase themselves when specifically looking at the employability of ethnic minorities. Whilst racism is a very hot topic and is very controversial to discuss, BreakThrough believe it is an important topic to talk openly about regardless of making people – particularly those from non-ethnic minority backgrounds – feel uncomfortable. This leads us to the topic of why aren’t there as many people of colour and women of colour holding high positions such as CEO or simply senior managerial roles and is this resulting from unconscious bias?
In the exact words of Reni Eddo in 2014 “I am no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race, not all White people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms. I can no longer engage with the gulf of emotional disconnect that White people display when a person of colour articulates their experience.”
Hits a nerve doesn’t it? That’s because very often this proves to be true, suddenly when race is mentioned to a White person they become disengaged or bored or even better yet, they say to you upfront and blatantly that they know how it feels!
Just recently, me and my fellow BreakThrough! colleague ran into our first year university professor and we discussed our issues with graduate job applications and how we truly believe that somehow our race prohibits us from getting past a certain stage – the video interview stage – mainly because as soon as they see who it is – a person of colour who does not speak queen’s english – they seem to reject the application within 24 hours. I mean, how could they even possibly watch it within 24 hours when they probably have hundreds to watch, I’m very sure that it should at least take one week before that rejection email comes through. Besides that, as the conversation continued to flow and the topic landed on feeling out of place within the workplace, mostly due to being a woman of colour and more importantly, a Muslim who doesn’t drink. Everyone knows that networking events typically have alcoholic drinks and usually do not accommodate for those who do not drink or simply those who are from ethnic minority backgrounds. What shocked me and literally left me dumbfounded was when my professor said that he knows how it feels to be out of place because he is originally from Australia. I mean, seriously? Here are two girls from ethnic minority backgrounds telling you about the injustice and prejudice and alienation that we feel in our everyday lives and there you are – a White man with white privilege regardless of whether you’re from Australia or the UK – telling US that you also felt out of place when you first moved here! This people, is the gold star example of WHY Reni Eddo has hit the nail on the head with her very true statement of why she and very much so any person of colour do not engage with white people on the topic of race.
And yes, whilst there has been an improvement within UK organisations in terms of more women on boards and more people of colour holding higher positions, where are all the women of colour on these boards? It is very easy to make oral commitments to such policies regarding organisational change on the basis of diversity and equality, and it is even more easy to advocate equality and social justice however these words are often empty promises, especially for women of colour. Whilst the UK, and more specifically London, may perhaps be one of the most diverse places to live and work, in comparison to other places such as the US, there is still undoubtedly many problems with racism and discrimination which prohibits people of colour to attain the higher end glory regarding work. According to Acker (2006) “even organisations that have explicit egalitarian goals develop inequality regimes over time” and this is definitely the case today. Heidi Safia Mirza commented in May 2018 at the CRASSH Impact talk that words such as diversity, multiculturalism and intersectionality “have become buzzwords that enable establishments and institutions to actually say they’re doing something such as having an intersectional report looking at race and gender etc. and use it to tick that box.” Thus, it seems that diversity policies have become part of company propaganda. Hence, perhaps the lack of women of colour in higher positions is partially resulting from unconscious bias as it simply cannot be down to a lack of education since ethnic minority women most definitely have the same education and skills that match up to the standards attained by White women.
Leading on from this, how do diversity policies really impact women from ethnic minority backgrounds. When conducting the research to help support this blog, we found that whilst many companies such as PwC put up statistics on their websites showcasing the improvement of women in higher positions over the years, they often fail to show how many of these women come from ethnic minority backgrounds. In fact, we couldn’t find a single statistic that shows how many women are from ethnic minority backgrounds, let alone how many come from Bangladesh (since Bengali women are the lowest achieving in terms of attaining higher professional positions after graduation). The same can also be said for Deloitte, whilst they have 23% of women in executive roles and 25% of women on board roles, there aren’t any statistics that break this down further into how many of these women are women of colour. Thus, whilst focusing on diversity is now an integral part of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies of all, if not most, companies; there isn’t actually much evidence to showcase the improvement in employability for people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Instead, it seems diversity is currently focused on increasing women in higher positions rather than increasing women of colour in higher positions.
On an endnote, this blog has demonstrated that there is certainly a problem with diversity policies as they still fail to level the playing field for women of colour, in particular Bengali women. Most definitely new initiatives need to be introduced to help level the playing field and increase the opportunities available for women of colour. Diversity needs to be restructured and new terms and policies need to be invented to help target particular parts of society, such as women of colour, to help bring these incredibly capable and worthy individuals into the spotlight. Thus, the aim of BreakThrough! is to simply to do that – BREAKTHROUGH the barriers that seem to exclude and alienate women of colour. Instead, we will stand strong and have our voices heard by making this an open topic where everyone – regardless of race or background – can speak openly and justly about the injustice that is taking place in society. Instead we will discuss and plan. Instead, we will gather and unify. Instead, we will bravely and most definitely tackle, defeat and BreakThrough! this problem head on and united!