Will we ever achieve race equality at work?

From time to time I find myself in situations that lead me to consider questions about social issues and politics with a little ‘p’ in organisations.  I am referring to the micro-politics of everyday life and how they affect us and our work experience.

Philosophical questions keep cropping up in my mind about race, race equality in the workplace, what does race equality actually mean?  How would you measure race equality success?  And who would determine its success?  Would these individuals be of my reflection, or represent the dominant group? These questions cannot be easily answered and these are the dilemmas I ponder about.

These questions come to mind because of the groups I am currently working with.  They are no different to the groups I was involved in over 15 years ago, as a young woman entering professional employment.  The names of these groups may be different and the terminology used may be different, but the issues they attempt to address remain the same – the lack of race equality in the workplace.

With the inception of staff networks for black people (I use black to refer to people from African, Caribbean and Asian descent) and the Race Relations Acts 1976, amended 2000. What impact have they had in regards to race equality across the UK?

Now please do not misinterpret what I am saying.  Obviously, the introduction of legislation has resulted in a significant decline in overt racism and racial discrimination within organisations.  And as a result, we as black employees can enter our places of work without fear of overt racial abuse.  But yet, many of us continue to experience racial micro-aggressions.  Let me explain this term quickly.  The term ‘micro-aggression’ has been used by academics since the 1970s to describe small casual verbal and behavioral indignities against black people.  For example, when a colleague asks you “where are you from”, or ‘you don’t sound black’.

In addition to the reduction of overt racism in the workplace, statistics have shown a steady increase of black employees across sectors in the UK.  But before we start giving out accolades, we should view these statistics with caution.  What these statistics show is that black people tend to populate the lower grade jobs and are not in senior roles.  So, it is one thing to recruit more black people into organisations and another thing to end de facto racial inequality in the workplace.

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