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Ain’t I a Woman?

My overview of the launch of HMPPS Women in Prisons Workplace conference 2019.  A few words can encapsulate a lot.

Surrounded by a sea of whiteness.                                                                                                    I know I standout.                                                                                                                              My blackness is heavy laden.                                                                                                               If I do not speak, I will drown.

Women ‘only’ are allowed.                                                                                                               As though there is only one type of woman.                                                                                  Black women stay back.                                                                                                                   No room for your gendered racialisation here.

Will the organisation ever change?                                                                                               With white privilege.                                                                                                                           Sadly will things will remain the same.                                                                                          If HMPPS does not consider.                                                                                                             Women are not all the same.

The question posed by Sojourner Truth 1851, is still relevant today.

A family affair

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6

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Before my son could speak, I told him he would go to university because that’s what we do! I was determined to instill in him the importance of education, studying, working hard and doing your best, as they were non-negotiable.

I would take him to campus from time to time and made sure he attended all four of my graduation ceremonies.  He was 4 years old when he attended his first graduation ceremony.

I wanted my son to understand the symbolic importance of not just completing the qualification, but walking across the stage, receiving the handshake and having the achievement publically recognised.

For him to get to this point, it took a lot of hard work on both our parts. My son had to complete his assignments, pass his exams and live on campus. For me, I had to support him emotionally to endure the racial isolation he would experience and prepare him mentally to endure the challenges and barriers created by institutional racism.  But it was not just our efforts.  Family and friends supported him too, with words of encouragement, prayers, and laughter.

I strongly believed it was important for my son to recognise that this institution was a place he would travel through on his life journey.  He had every right to be there,  regardless of whether others of his reflection chose to opt-out, or not attend at all.

The odds were stacked against him. He almost dropped out of university in year one because of the negative gender racial stereotypes bestowed upon him because of his Caribbean heritage.  Read my blog post entitled Insights from my son, 12th February 2019  and Mother of a black man, 16th July 2018.  Every time my son returned from the holiday break, he was welcomed by shock and astonishment from his white peers and lecturers because he had not quit.

My son shared stories about racism, racial isolation, racial-microaggressions, racial ignorance, etc, etc. What was particularly sad was time and time again he was made to feel as though he was an outsider and an intruder in a space that was clearly dominated by white patriarchal ways of thinking and functioning, which welcomed only ‘certain’ non-white ethnic groups.  A surprise for some as ethnic data in its current format does not capture the gender/racial difference in experience between ethnic groups. This is the reason why I constantly campaign for the application of intersectional analysis of gender/racial differences between groups.  This would provide an in-depth view of the experience of all and capture the nuances that exist, rather than creating the assumption that a monolithic experience exists shared by all non-white ethnic individuals.

My son’s graduation was a very special moment because it signified completion.  He had not succumbed to the negative labels given to him in his early years in education.  He had traveled through and achieved a degree with honours.

That’s my boy!

Don’t lose track

Since returning from holiday, I have pondered for the last two weeks about writing this blog and sharing with you the efforts I have made over the last six months to:

  • Raise the profile of my PhD research and book.
  • Educate senior leaders predominantly in the Ministry of Justice, about the value in applying an intersectional approach to not only diversity in its broadest sense, but how it can be used to broaden understanding and address the disparities that exist between different ethnic groups in the workplace.
  • And explain and describe in simple terms, how organisational psychodynamics can be used by organisations to avoid regurgitating the same practices that were wittingly/unwittingly devised to position people from non-white ethnic groups as ‘deviant’, ‘othered’, or ‘victims’ of institutional structures that perpetuate institutional racism. By this I mean, the misconception that talking about race without taking action to remove the structures that create racial inequality, does nothing to create an inclusive workplace or increase equality of opportunity for all.

The root of my indecisiveness stems from the backlash I am currently encountering from some individuals who fear culture and organisational change.  And from others who lack an understanding of the benefits that can be gained by bringing together academics and policymakers to address racial and diversity inequality in the workplace. In addition, there are those who are attempting to discredit my study because it provides a new way of thinking and approach to address the entrenched practices and structures that perpetuate white patriarchy in many organisations.  Sadly, I have found that the presence of educated black women such as myself, is disrupting the status quo.  There are individuals and groups who feel they need to defend (Bion, 1961) the status quo and destroy (Jacques, 1965) – psychoanalytically speaking, those who pose a threat.

However, when I started my journey to make black women visible in Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, and contribute to prison occupational literature.  I knew it would be difficult and expected challenges along the way. And believe me, there were many.  But I must admit, I never expected to be going through this current ordeal.

Determined to make a positive difference to support the Ministry of Justice to be more than diverse, but racially inclusive in all areas of the business.  I have continued on my quest to meet with all the Race Champions and Gender Champions at the Ministry of Justice. I have met with the majority and engaged in illuminating and thought-provoking conversations with them.
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I am fully aware that culture change takes more than goodwill and emotional labour by a few.  It takes more than increasing the visibility of race and gender champions talking about race, gender and diversity inequality at senior levels, because the ‘gate-keepers’ – middle managers and below have the greatest influence on the success of culture change, especially when it clashes with existing structures such as institutional racism, systems that are embedded in all levels of most organisations in the UK.

I hope improvements will be made, but I remain skeptical. As a practitioner-researcher and specialist in organisational psychology and race relations, I have endeavoured and will continue to use my experience, knowledge, and research to support organisations that have a genuine interest in creating racially inclusive work environments.

References

Bion, W. (1961) Experiences in Groups and Other Papers, London, Brunner-Routledge (this edition 2001).

Jacques, E. (1955) ‘Social systems as a defence against persecutory and depressive anxiety’, in Klein M., Heimann P. and Money-Kyrle, E. (eds) New Directions in Psychoanalysis, London, Tavistock Publications.

Keep going!

After an intense week of pushing my way through the challenges of systemic racism, racial micro-aggressions, ignorance, and white patriarchal superiority.  I received the following endorsements from women who have read my book and thesis.  These comments reminded me of the reason why I undertook the audacious task of completing a PhD and publishing my research in a readable format.

My advice to those who are afraid to try.  Tired of the challenges and barriers and want to give up.  Keep going.  We need more black women academics producing knowledge through research across different disciplines.

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Digital Detox

Two weeks of no access to my personal mobile was a blessing in disguise.  At the time I was not pleased, in fact, I was upset. My mobile phone was damaged while I apprehended a young man trying to break into my neighbour’s car.

A good deed resulted in a broken mobile phone. But everything happens for a reason. Not having my personal mobile phone helped me to realise how much I needed a break from the constant connectivity my smartphone brought.

file-16This rectangle shape device approximately 5″ in length, was zapping my time and focus. I was becoming increasingly reliant on this device for on the spot planning, recording and researching information, etc. Information was accessible at my fingertips and I was contactable literally 24 hours of the day.  I had not realised how impatient I was becoming and the addiction that comes from the immediate gratification of WiFi and instant responses.

According to Network World, The average adult checks their phone 50 to 300 times each day. And tap, swipe and click on their devices 2,617 times per day. That’s a lot of time on one device. These figures appear extreme but if we take into account the amount of time we spend reading emails, as well as messages, scrolling through social media and watching movies on the go, at work, and at home, it’s very easy to see why we spend a lot of time on our smartphones.

Smartphones can easily distract us from our own priorities because we end up urgently responding to other people’s priorities which fill up our inboxes, keeping up to date with trends, debates and even gossip on social networks.

David Greenfield, a clinical psychiatrist and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, asserts that smartphones can easily take over a person’s life because they’re always in our possession and the constant notifications capture our attention. He further claims the constant use of smartphones has been found to affect people’s sleep pattern and posture.

Taking a break from our smartphones from time to time can only do us good. Known as a digital detox, I recommend you apply the tips listed below.

* Establish a maximum daily time allowance for your devices.

* Unplugging periodically from your smartphone, will give your mind space to be creative and an opportunity to gain mental clarity and solidify your attention. It will also give your fingertips and wrists a break.

* Turn of notifications for set times during the day. Or better still, switch-off your smartphone when going to bed.

* Constantly checking and responding to emails is not always productive, so schedule a time during the day/evening to check and respond to personal emails and once you have finished working your contract hours turn work devices off!

* Be proactive instead of reactive. Take control of your actions instead of being led by events. Your mobile device should not be controlling your every action. Yes, there will be times when you will receive a change of plan or an emergency deadline which you have not planned for, but ensure these are not the norm.  And remember, when you are proactive, you’ll act ahead of time.

To summarise, a digital detox is something we all need from time to time. But if you are still not convinced, try it.  You will find that downtown replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, but more importantly, it creates real-life connections and conversations with ‘people’ hopefully, face-face.

Stepping out

I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalms 139:14

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On the 24th April, I attended the DoDs Diversity Supporting BAME Colleagues in the Workplace, conference in London.  There were delegates from other Government departments and the private sector. The majority of attendees worked in the diversity and inclusion space.

I wanted to deliver the session on intersectionality, as you’ll know from my previous posts and my academic research that this is my area of interest and specialism.  I was asked to deliver a presentation that would encourage delegates to consider:

  • Does the BAME label help or hinder workplace diversity?
  • Are the requirements of each individual group under the BAME umbrella met?

I accepted the opportunity to present at the conference for two reasons:

1) Presenting at the conference would raise my profile and my research interests.
2) It was an opportunity for me to network with others.

I was nervous about presenting at this event because the topic was an area that I had particular views about.  I was very conscious that my views were not relevant, as my responsibility was to design a presentation that was factual, balanced, and interesting.  Bearing in mind, I have never delivered a presentation on this theme before, I only volunteer in the D&I space, and I have not worked in this field for many years.

Undeterred I welcomed the challenge because I knew it was a chance to broaden my sphere of activity which would allow me to design and research a new area of social interest.  I was also given the autonomy to introduce the psychosocial into the debate.  Psychosocial is my other area of expertise.  This was my opportunity to introduce this theoretical framework, to help delegates explore the psychosocial impact of the BAME label on individuals who are associated with the term.  While also encouraging them to explore how it influences the way those who are exempt from the BAME label such as everyone who is white, interact and perceive those categorised by the BAME label consciously and unconsciously.

What was interesting for me was the way the audience engaged with the debate.  At first, I was a little apprehensive because I was the last speaker for the day and my presentation was very different from all the other presenters.

Doubt tried to settle in and for a moment I felt the Imposter Syndrome creeping in.  But then I said a prayer and remembered I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  My style is bound to be different because I am different! And my academic and teaching background will influence the way I present.

My presentation style was interactive because I wanted to change attitudes and behaviours.  For me, it was important to bring the audience on a journey which involved connecting with them emotionally as well as logically.

I accept that this may not always be achievable with everyone, but at this event, I witnessed a genuine interest to explore the personal and social effect of the BAME label. And I observed a shift in some delegates’ attitude towards the terminology.

So if I may, I would like to leave you with these few encouraging words.  Step out of your comfort zone and try something different, something new, and something challenging. In doing so, you will grow and build your confidence.