Culture, Colour, Power!

By Sima Akter, SBM Alumni, qmbreakthrough AT gmail.com


Discussions into ethnicity, personal experiences of the BreakThrough team and empowering Bengali women to use ethnicity as a strength in corporate environments.

Ethnicity: a complex yet simple word. Is ethnicity simply based on the colour of your skin? Or is it an all encompassing body of several complex factors? Or perhaps it’s based on language and culture? More specifically, what does it mean to be a Bengali woman in a corporate setting?

Often throughout life we face many challenges. The first challenge is due to the colour of our skin, I mean let’s face it, people of colour face the prejudice that just is not experienced by White people. Instead, we have several self-fulfilling prophecies that seem to be battling us at every corner. Being Bengali in today’s society is much different than it was for our parents. Whilst they may have experienced a much more harsh form of racism which was very open and explicit, we face the opposite. Instead, we battle with a form of racism which is very sly and sneaky in nature and destroys us from within thus making it difficult to battle and control. Aversive and modern racism breaks us down from a different platform – employment, education and opportunities. It is very clear that racism still exists, and that it affects us in implicit ways. Take employability for instance; whilst many companies advocate diversity and inclusion, the reality reflects a much more different state. Whilst there has been an increase in people of colour holding higher positions, there hasn’t been as much change as there should be. People of colour are still struggling and are forced to fight much harder than the average White person to attain higher work positions.

This leads us to the next challenge, being a Bengali woman. Whilst there is an increase in the number of women holding higher positions, the statistics of women of colour, let alone Bengali women of colour, holding high positions is not clear. Thus, again we are constantly battling society to earn ourselves a place in the spotlight. According to the DLHE 2015-2017 survey results for our department, Bengali women do the worst in attaining graduate level work. Hence, this shows us a very critical problem. Although this problem can be partially attributed towards factors such as discrimination and lack of opportunities for Bengali women, the focus of today’s blog is to use our ethnicity as a strength regardless of the difficulties and challenges we face.

Growing up in the UK and specifically London, we must say that we are very lucky to have experienced diversity and inclusion regardless of its faults. Having access to free education has meant that we have been able to educate ourselves in complex issues, not just regarding race relations but also worldly topics such as learning about different cultures, poverty and crime. Growing up in London has also meant that we have been surrounded by different types of people from all walks of life and this has served to make our cultural awareness much better and bigger.

However we must say that here at BreakThrough us girls have often faced many difficulties due to our ethnicity. Whenever we have gone to corporate events such as networking events we have often noticed we are the only Bengali women present or that these corporate events aren’t as inclusive as they make it out to seem. Often at interviews, we also usually are the first to notice that we are the only Bengali women out of all the candidates – who are mostly White males. This has often led to us becoming withdrawn and quiet, hence not allowing us to represent ourselves in the best light possible. All of the girls on the BreakThrough team are bubbly, outgoing and full of personality however at these events this often fails to show. We have learnt however, through doing this project and other experiences, that regardless of how many women of colour are present at corporate events we must make it our own personal mission to showcase the best of ourselves and be who we are. Whilst this may sound very cliche – the best way to battle the views that suggest women of colour dont have the skills to succeed is by being yourself and doing the best that you possibly can. All the girls on the BreakThrough team have learned over time that we must use every opportunity possible to the best of our ability and this is the only way that we can achieve success. Whilst there may be difficult obstacles that are outside of our control such as dealing with racism or implicit discriminatory organisational practises, the best option is to work to your full ability so that at least you can say that you have done your very best and that whatever happens next was outside of your control.

A personal example where I used my difference as a strength was when I was doing an interview with a Dutch banking and financial services corporation. At this point, I had already learned a lot about myself and was very comfortable with who I am and using my ethnic background as a strength. At the end of the interview I was given the opportunity to ask my interviewer (a white man) any questions. So I asked: “as you can see I am from an ethnic minority background and therefore diversity is very important to me. What is the diversity policy like at your bank and how much do your organization practice it?” This question actually made my interviewer very uncomfortable and took him off guard – oh how great it was to see the tables turn (I actually took pleasure in seeing the look on his face). Although he was a man originally from Portugal, his response was that he didn’t really notice the diversity composition of his workplace – I’m guessing this is because he hasn’t faced any prejudice based on his skin colour in comparison to how we would face it, even though he wasn’t British. Ultimately, his response showed me all that I needed to know. Clearly the bank aren’t practising what they preach – even though they were working with a charity focused on helping students from ethnic minority backgrounds enter professional work. The fact that “he didn’t notice” suggested to me that perhaps diversity policies just weren’t that important and that race is not taken seriously. Oh, and I should also mention that there was a second interviewer who was a white British man, and he did say one word on the issue which I found equally amusing and hilarious. I did get into the next phase though which was great and I’m still contemplating whether this was down to my mind blowing question – and so far I believe it did give me an edge. Hence, the moral of this story was that I entered that interview feeling strong about who I am, what I want and how I want to achieve it. I entered that interview accepting that I am a ethnic minority and using that status to help me get what I want, and instead of letting myself feel like I was out of place, I gave myself a pep talk about how I am worthy of the position, that I am skilled and that I am proud to be a Bengali woman who is just trying to make it in the big bad world. With this confidence in my identity and all the aspects it covers – race, religion, my personality –  it enabled me to control the situation and use it as I willed.
Thus, we will conclude this blog with saying that ethnicity is a strength and regardless of the difficulties faced due to lack of opportunities or discrimination, you should use your difference as a strength! Instead of you feeling uncomfortable at events where there is a lack of diversity, make them feel uncomfortable from seeing your confidence, humour and all round astonishing power!

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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 trulybelieve 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 theinjustice 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 thewomen 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!

Breaking Through Discrimination!

 

“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!