Race to be Superior – Myths of Race ‘Science’​

 @RespectAtWork - See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil, - A do nothing option?Race ‘science’ is so engrained in our thinking that we fail to challenge bad science. Angela Saini’s new book ‘Superior’ helps explode some enduring myths.“There is not just simply a long history of prejudice. It is also because “race”, defined in terms of skin colour or facial features, was and sometimes still is a rough-and-ready clue to culture: language, cuisine, perhaps religion and shared moral values.” 

Accordingly, no one can fail to notice how often people prefix ‘values’ with national identity as if there a hierarchy of superior values over and above another nation’s values such as: ‘British-Values’ or ‘American-Values’ compared to PTOS Trump’s sentiments “Shit-hole countrys’ values (aka countries with people with a ‘#FunnyTinge’)”; whilst forgetting national boundaries are in themselves social constructs arising from land grabs, wars, annexations, unifications, a long shared history of colonialism, slavery and indentured labour moving populations across continents. Movement of people is across land and sea is the essence of the humankind’s development across the millennia through the sharing of ideas, food, language, science, culture, art, music, etc – so you can’s simply: “Send them back!” without sending these things of value back too (wherever ‘back to’ is) or as if Western governments can dictate to non-Western countries they must take back their people when they had been moved by force in the first place or invited them to help build/re-build after world wars and other disasters. Places like New Zealand, America and Australia would empty rapidly if this sentiment was carried to its natural conclusion. Even if not practical to implement, words matter when they cause division and a sense of threat to those being marginalised for pursing the same rights to equality and fairness.

It seems beyond the reach of some to embrace the concept of simple, #UniversalValues such as respect, dignity, fairness, inclusion, humanity, kindness, friendliness, accountability, honesty, integrity, professionalism and the favourite one of ‘tolerance’. Universal values are the basis on which we should seek to connect with each other, not social constructs of race and vague notions of ‘national identity’ defined by skin colour. An example of how claiming national superiority over ‘values’ operates, is from when I was living in a little village outside Winchester, Hampshire. I got invited to a garden party held in a quintessentially English thatched cottage one June summer’s day, belonging to a neighbour with the local great and good in attendance. The local vicar came up to me and introduced himself (although I had seen him out and about before, he is likely to have considered me a visitor as did a ‘concerned’ couple who asked whilst I was out for a walk in my boots and barber jacket – “Are you lost?”.

The first question this English vicar asked in his posh accent was: “Do you find the people in this village tolerant?” (note: I had been living there c7 years of my 14 by then and this was my first garden party invite). Puzzled, by why I had been singled out for such a question, I forced him with the turn of my head to watch me scan the room (I was the only person of colour in the room as well as knowing I was the only one in 800 in the village apart from my children – my husband being white-British). I returned to look him in the eye and ask “What is it about me that has to be ‘tolerated’ by my neighbours?” he literally choked on his strawberry jam scone as the penny dropped and made a rapid exit without replying, such was the discomfort for him. His exit meant, we both missed out on an opportunity to explore his curiosity further, learn more about each other and for me to feel a sense of belonging as his other white parishioners did. The key lesson here is to question the assumption that BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) people should somehow be ‘grateful’ they are ‘tolerated’ as opposed to being celebrated for their differences in language, culture, food, music, art, resilience, vibrancy and contribution they make to evolving Britain or any new home country they move to, to create sustainable and healthy communities with shared, universal values that transcend national boundaries. It should not matter where someone came from – it’s where they are, where they are heading and life choices, they make that should be the subject of curiosity. My advice is don’t ask unless you are prepared to also explore your own inter-generational origins, since if you go back far enough most of us (especially in America, ‘the land of the free – to roam’) were immigrants somewhere along the line.

A recent Guardian article provides an excellent synopsis of some of the central themes in Saini’s race science myth busting book which helps us develop further context for why #racism persists: https://amp.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/03/superior-by-angela-raini-review?CMP=share_btn_tw&__twitter_impression=true

Even good intentions about race science can go array be it in the NHS or USA healthcare provisions, Saini adds: “US medical researchers studying people’s responses to drugs in 2003 routinely used racial groupings to categorise and analyse their subjects – and yet none could say quite how they defined race, retreating into embarrassed laughs. Even where “race differences” in health and medicine have been identified, such as the increased risk of high blood pressure for African Americans, the default assumption has been to see this as innately biological rather than cultural and socio-economic, so that the alternatives aren’t carefully checked. The problem with scientists, Saini says, is that they too often assume they are above racism and so fail to engage with the history, politics and lived experience of race.” This makes scientists (amongst other ‘professions’) complicit in #InstitutionalRacism as it shapes how ideas, notions of what is knowledge (clearly not ‘lived experience’ and resources are prioritised, and policies are designed and enacted through a particular exclusive rather than inclusive lens.

Saini explains: “Genetics has also given racists a new place to claim validation of what they want: proof of their superiority.” By way of example, last year after I posted on Face Book two excellent BBC videos showing how casual ‘othering’ occurs when white people invariably ask a person of colour “Where are you from?”. [I will return to what happened after I posted the BBC video]. An ‘innocent’ question at face value which what could initially be interpreted as natural human curiosity and desire to connect.

However, it’s a question that has to be reflected on when it is too often posed on a selective basis of skin colour (to darker skinned people) by an invariably white questioners. In the BBC video it’s the recruitment interviewer asking this of an Asian female candidate. However, it’s when the first, second and then third answers (such as “I was born in UK, xyz hospital to be precise; or my parents were born in Yorkshire, etc)” are deemed not to be the ‘correct’ answers that the selective questioning persists so that the original neutral premise reveals an underlying racial intent to make the both the original and persistent questioning problematic. The bottom-line question is: “No, where are you and your people really from? “ . The questioner is finally satisfied with a sense of relief once the answer comes when the dark skinned person twigs or gives up trying to avoid answering the hidden question: “Oh, my grandparents were born in India, Pakistan, Uganda, etc.” [aka that’s why I am brown and here as the #FirstOnlyLast]. The sigh of relief comes because the white person was spared the discomfort of acknowledging they do after all notice skin colour of the brown person (not their own), despite assertions of ‘colour blindness’, to mask their real unasked question, namely: “Why are you, as a brown person here ( in a country of indigenously white skinned people)?”.  Of course, if they read their shared world history they would know “We are here, because you were there” as famously written by the late ‘Siva’ (Ambalavener Sivandan, Director of Institute of Race Relations – a native from Sri Lanka, formally named by the British colonial powers, as Ceylon). Siva was tireless in his pursuit to explain the connections between class, race, imperialism and colonialism. Supported by that perceived to be ‘dangerous’ concept coined 30 years ago: #Intersectionality by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw.

Regardless of intent, the effect of such selective and persistent questioning is invariably one of ‘othering’ based on the inference the darker skinned person does not naturally belong and must explain their origins and lineage so they cannot claim native belonging rights which is assumed of white skinned people who have no accent or anglicised name that gives them away.

The BBC video used a ‘light touch approach’ to illustrate the pain ‘othering’ causes to #BAME people. After posting the video, a white ex-NHS #HR colleague who had emigrated to #NZ some 18 years ago randomly shared in response to the post “I had my DNA tested and I am definitely from Europe!” (aka 100% white!) – no sharing of insights about ‘othering’ were forthcoming such was the blind privilege of not having to explain your origins repeatedly on sight or sound. She made this response having 18 years ago emigrated to New Zealand after having been embroiled for her part in a disgracefully mis-handled #NHS race discrimination case that had profound consequences for the victim and me as the appeal hearing advisor. I was curious to know how she had reflected on her part, but she refused then and now to discuss it. I asked myself what her motive was to firstly, undergo a DNA test (after leaving Europe for a former colony where brown people were decimated, and personally having historical links to Ireland). Secondly, why disclose it to me as a BAME in the context of a BBC video to illustrate the effects of ‘othering’ of people of colour (and a second video what it might be like if the boot was on the other foot – which also received no comment from her) and in the context of the race discrimination case – so it remains unfinished business, brushed under the carpet to happen again and again as we see in the NHS and other sectors who look to it as the biggest employer in Europe to be a model employer.

Make what you will of the ex-HR colleague needing to share her DNA results in the way she did and refusing to discuss her part in race discrimination case and racism per se. She like many readily agree in the abstract to the wickedness of racism but never if it is brought close to home. Answers on a post card please as I am genuinely interested to know the explanation.

I hope you have found this article has broadened your understanding, triggered your curiosity and it was not been too ‘uncomfortable’ so you still feel encouraged to continue exploring the theme of the origins of racism and why it persists. BAME have had to develop the resilience, ‘thick skin’ if you like, to talk about racism because they don’t have the luxury not to. Their skin colour is the basis for their less favourable treatment including acts of omission. This is evidenced by mountains of racial disparity data which is readily available to those who see being anti-racists as a proactive moral duty not a passive bystander who says under their breath ‘nothing to do with me’ – ‘it’s just wallpaper I walk past it’; far too busy.

My only wish is, you do not place the burden of dismantling #InstitutationalRacism on the shoulders of a few, especially BAME; that you exercise some humility in appreciating the way you experience the world and organisational policies and practices is not the way others different to you in visible and non-visible ways experience them regardless of ‘good’ intentions; that you reach out with empathy and open mindedness to have honest conversations and not run away when things get a little ‘uncomfortable’ when you are prompted to revaluate your individual and collective group memberships’ beliefs and assumptions.

Remember we are all on a journey and some of us need to take personal accountability for catching up – it’s not rocket science, but it is more complex that wading in blindly without having read and reflected that you have an automatic licence, with little or no lived experience of racism to wade into this space to tell BAME what is or what is not racism. This is something we see in the media on a ritually daily basis ask any BAME with a public profile how much resilience they have to have to continuing doing their jobs despite the constant undermining (Afua Hirsh, David Lammy, Dawn Butler, Diane Abbott, Sadiq Khan, and the multiple examples of ordinary citizens who have been effected by #BrexitRacism).

Every time one person faces racism (and many more cases go unreported), it has a psychological ripple effect on others like them. The #MentalHealth and #Wellbeing effects of racism are totally under-estimated and misunderstood – it’s like death by a thousand cuts when also faced with a culture of disbelief.

Racism de-humanises both the victim and perpetrator so we need to see this as a joint responsibility to work on it together, every day to save each other from this inherited legacy of privilege and disadvantage. Racism does not take a summer holiday. Nevertheless, enjoy the sunshine and smile at your fellow citizens as you count your blessings.

Author: Safia Boot – Founder Respect at Work Limited

Originally Published Linkedin: 25 July 2019

Re-published: 17 August 2019


Follow me on Twitter: @respectatworkuk




Former NHS trust manager awarded £1m for race discrimination – Guardian



‘Unconscious bias’ in internal inquiry led to unfair dismissal of black worker, tribunal found – Spells the need to improve the quality of Workplace Race Investigations

So, screams yet another report of a failed investigation as reported by Haroon Siddique for the Guardian


  • “The tribunal said his evidence, as a black man of Caribbean origin, was treated with unwarranted distrust and disbelief. By contrast, the tribunal found him to be an honest witness, while identifying numerous inconsistencies and flaws in the opposing evidence.” 
  • Mr. Hastings, IT Manager of Kings College hospital NHS Trust, told the Guardian: “It was very hurtful but what was even more hurtful was the treatment from the organisation I’d been with for nearly 19 years. I was devastated. Each part of the process left me even more helpless. This whole thing over three years has taken a tremendous toll on my physical and mental health. It was totally unnecessary.”

This case is just the tip of the iceberg as an example of the disparity in the treatment of BME people across all sectors. It’s only a few cases that ever make the headlines or reach the litigation stage, that is not because of lack of merit but the inherent flaws that get built into them. Many complainants report suffering in silence or being required to turn the other cheek. Over time this creates a psychological toll for BME staff, especially those who find themselves in professions and occupations where they are isolated as the one, the only and often the last of their kind to be employed in a white space. It’s hard enough to get a foot in the door to a decision maker role or a profession but easy to have the rug pulled from beneath your feet.

Our much beloved NHS is a major employer of BME staff, yet it and other organisations need to seriously up their standard of investigations into allegations of racial discrimination. The same applies to increasing the skills to deal sensitively with such concerns at the informal stage before matters escalate. Currently, there is a deficit in the capability of the homogenous HR and Leadership community to comprehend the lived experience of BME employees that is not their own experience of working in the same organisation. Whilst mediation could potentially assist such cases, the empirical evidence is lacking despite some providers treating it as a silver bullet for all employee disputes, even race discrimination without setting out the limitations of mediation. Especially in the context of 97% of mediators being white and the issue of individualising such a sensitive matter and thereby concealing the structural and systematic nature of discrimination and the collective accountability for addressing it.

As someone who has been involved in seeing racial allegations all the way from the informal to formal stages from different perspectives; I feel there is a need to review our approach with honesty, however, uncomfortable this may be. The simple truth is more HR practitioners and so called ‘inclusive’leaders need to get comfortable with discomfort, as has been demanded of their BME colleagues for decades.

Being inclusive leaders or advisors to such leaders is more than an intellectual exercise in purporting to be aligned to the Diversity and Inclusion agenda for PR purpose. You need to be mindful of both your macro and micro interventions and to listen to a perspective that is different to yours. It takes skill to listen like you are wrong. Repetitive experience of listening in this is way is the only way to build the resilience needed to have difficult conversations with resisters as well as complainants, so you can develop a momentum to change the daily lived experience of BME people.

Voluntary appeals and platitudes about being champions of Diversity and Inclusion; such as prematurely rushing to accept the numerous D&I Awards on offer while the reported lived experience of BME’s does not change except for a few exceptions is starting to ring hollow.

These cases of race discrimination do not arise without reference to a wider societal and historical context. When you have politicians like Amber Rudd on her return to the fold dismissing the recent UN report about the negative impact of austerity and levels of poverty in the UK, because she does not like the ‘tone’ of the report, you know we have a systemic problem of denial, especially in relation to people with disabilities, women and BME communities. This is despite PM Theresa May’s launch in 2017 of her racial disparity website providing statistical evidence to her own government departments to do better. Our public institutions should be beacons for the private sector.

It’s a cop out to keep referring to failures as ‘unconscious bias’ or‘complexity’ as an excuse for why solutions are not achievable ‘overnight’.The ‘overnight’ claim is frequently touted as the flag of the privileged to placate their peer group in code that the issue is being kicked into the long grass. Hence, here we are still talking about race fifty years after the original anti-discrimination legislation was enacted. The solutions to racial disparity and the inequality experienced by other groups are in fact very simple – just replicate what you are already doing for the privileged – no ‘special treatment’ is required nor being asked for as is often assumed when complaints are raised.

Ultimately, HR Advisors and leadership need to become comfortable dealing with discomfort about themselves and their organisations. Stop hiding behind the PR platitudes – people are intelligent enough to read between the lines and behind the spin. Individuals never forget the feelings generated by mistreatment related to matters of identity, long after they have tried to forget the details. That’s because it goes to the heart of their very being and belonging.

The privilege of being believed and given empathy because someone looks and sounds like you are a real advantages but a serious impediment when it is denied to those different from the norm comparator group. There is increasing doubt this is ‘unconscious’. Sadly, it is masked by learnt socially desirable responses and defensive deflection tactics. We need to recognise when we and others are deploying these tactics and call them out, so we can be actively mindful of their corrosive effect, regardless of our intentions.

Too often complainants of racial discrimination are met with a culture of disbelief rather than in a spirit of openness and curiosity. We claim we are a ‘learning organisation’ but fail to display this in times of crises when we simply default to our base ‘fight or flight’ instincts. This happens not just at an individual level but also at a collective level as evidenced by the numerous empirical studies of racial disparity in treatment researched by Professor Kalwant Bhopal in the Higher Education Sector and Dr Roger Kline in the NHS along with many other reliable sources who have given their pound of flesh to gather the data under peer scrutiny. In fact, it is surprising we are still stuck in generating more and more data that racial disparity even exists. This can only be because there is still a strong body of resistance to the idea that we are not yet living in a post-racial era. Perhaps facts will never convince some people?

Even the mild-mannered, much loved ‘one of our own’, ‘British’ comedians, Lenny Henry is finding it difficult to disguise his ‘impatience’ for change in the TV/Media and Entertainment sector with a forced smile so as not to offend his white TV interviewer or sound like the‘Angry black man or woman’. 

‘#WhiteFragility’has been aptly described by the Author, Robin DiAngelo and is worthy of a read as is ‘Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People about Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge and many other writers of this genre. Perhaps in the case of Robin DiAngela’s book, seeing privilege from someone who accepts her privilege with great honesty might resonate more than a black voice saying it and risk being dismissed with: ‘But you would say that, wouldn’t you ‘or ‘Oh no, not identity politics, again!”  When ‘identity’serves the dominant group to maintain its superior position in terms of life outcomes and access to resources it seems to be acceptable. However, when those who are marginalised by their identity (in all its multi-dimensional ways) to complain they are being treated less favourably because of their identity, it is dismissed as ‘identity politics’. This begs the question, why is the pursuit of equality of access to resources to ensure the same life chances more objectionable and offensive than the desire to protect one’s own self-interest using ‘Identity’ in reverse?

The NHS and other organisations need to seriously improve their standard of investigations into racial allegations as well as how they deal with them at the informal stage.

Here are some highlights of some of the essential ingredients for the formal stage based on my experience of being involved during the full continuum of dealing with allegations of discrimination:

  • Seeking early opportunities to neutrally assess if the concerns can be dealt with via alternative dispute resolution; but proceeding to formal investigation if it’s appropriate in the circumstances and the complainant wants to go down this route.
  • Consider the way investigations are commissioned/framed and how the organisation interfaces with the investigator subsequently to avoid interference to ensure the neutrality of the investigation.
  • Be mindful of the way the organisations commissioning an investigator via an outsourced third-party organisation can create the risk or impression of collusion behind the scenes due to back-door access to the investigator via the ‘Client/Case Manager’ who often has a sales skill set not an investigator background
  • Ensue there is a full audit trail of all communications and decisions relating to the investigation and be prepared for full disclosure in due course.
  • Assess and re-assess risks to the parties’ wellbeing and neutrality of the investigation throughout
  • Sign-post the parties to separate sources of support and counselling
  • Allow the investigator the freedom to set appropriate terms of reference to ensure proper lines of enquiry and to avoid the de-scoping and fragmentation of allegations and supporting incidents without transparent and fair criteria being applied.
  • The terms of reference should make clear the roles of the different parties and the methodology that will be used to gather relevant information to support or refute the allegations in order to make findings of fact to reach balanced conclusions.
  • Consider the suitability of who is appointed to investigate, namely someone trained/experienced specifically in investigations involving race and its intersectionality with other factors such as gender from an independent perspective. Too many delays occur because organisations claim they don’t know anyone suitable who has not already been involved in the matter or because they deem race or sex discrimination can be investigated by anyone with a managerial perspective as a badge of assumed objectivity.
  • The investigator must be able to navigate and explore beyond the formal procedures to observe the informal practices and rituals all parties engage in during such alleged treatment and the way in which they respond to allegations. Often a Complainant’s original treatment is compounded by events during the investigation and hearing process and the way policies and procedures are enacted regardless of the zero-tolerance and normative type statements contained in Dignity at Work Policies and organisational value statements. A ‘Should’ statement does not mean it ‘Is’ so.
  • Ensuring the Investigator is using a robust and transparent methodology to conduct the investigation.
  • Ensuring the investigator keeps all parties informed of progress and responds carefully to case management issues as they arise, including re-directing matters that should be for the organisation to deal with as part of maintaining the ongoing employment relationship.
  • Understanding the importance of the investigator’s role in creating an agreed Summary of Allegations (SOA) of the complex history of the supporting incidents and allegations; The SOA becomes a clear list of the alleged pattern of treatment to be investigated. This also enables any matters outside the scope to be captured in a transparent way for subsequent scrutiny.
  • Using the SOA as a guide to then gather relevant information via interviews and disclosure of documents.
  • Avoid ambushing the Respondent at interview with questions about complex and historical matters without prior disclosure of the SOA. When a process is unfair to the Respondent it becomes ultimately unfair to the Complainant, too.
  • The organisation should facilitate the investigator’s access to full disclosure of all relevant information and witnesses.
  • Understanding how to assess the quality of conflicting evidence to make fair, balanced findings of fact to enable the reaching of appropriate conclusions and inferences of racial discrimination; bias and undertone against comparator treatment (actual or hypothetical)
  • Capturing the reported impact of the alleged treatment
  • Understand the importance of subsequently conducting fair internal hearings to enable the reaching of fair and balanced outcomes based on the investigation report or further enquiries, if appropriate.
  • Managing appropriate disclosure of the investigation report and supporting documents to the parties. This should ensure fair representation of their responses, challenges and formal appeals. When appeals simply ‘rubber stamp’ an earlier decision without making transparent how either was reached it is a sure way to ensure the matter proceeds to an ET claim. Even if such a claim turns out to be misconceived, it is often due to the inclusion of elements that are essentially a breach the ‘Psychological Contract’. However, the failure to deal with such matters via internal processes is a missed opportunity given internal processes have greater scope to achieve wider resolution outcomes. Parties often fail to appreciate that litigation has its limitations as to what it can deal with.
  • Ensure there is a transparent methodology, criteria and case for assessing whether any allegations have been made maliciously or vexatiously. The standard should be high to avoid turning the tables on the Complainant or creating a victimisation claim.

Failure to follow the basic principles of fair investigations simply adds insult to injury to Complainants and Respondents. A poor investigation stops organisational learning about how to dismantle structural and cultural barriers that perpetuate racial disparity in both representation (Diversity) and treatment (Inclusion). Unless we can significantly improve the standard of investigations and skilfully deal with racial concerns at the informal stage, we will simply keep repeating costly mistakes in investigations and perpetuate less favourable treatment of any marginalised group through discrimination.

I expect levels of racial allegations and ET claims for racial discrimination to increase in this Brexit/austerity era. This is due to the failure of our politicians and leaders to provide a positive case by personal example and the failure to dismantle structural barriers that create conditions for scape-goating immigrants and foreigners to deflect attention from their own failures. The next generation of BME are increasingly more ‘woke’ to the historical and current factors that perpetuate racism; accordingly, they are less willing to be as tolerate and silent as their parents and grand-parents who arrived in the 1950’s to 1970’s.

I would urge employers to audit their processes and practices from the point of view of the lived experience of all the parties involved in such disputes to get a full 360-degree view of the dynamics, rituals and practices that get deployed. When we better understand our own and others’ contexts, we are better able to change the narrative in a meaningful way for all parties in a progressive manner.

#NHS #Racism #Mediation #FirstOnlyLast #WorkplaceInvestigations #DiversityInclusion #WhiteFragility #Immigration #Immigration #EmploymentTribunals #HR #Respect @KalwantBhopal @rogerkline @LennyHenry @renireni

Author: Safia Boot

Twitter: @respectatworkuk


© Respect at Work Limited

First published 24-27 November 2018 Linkedin





Time to Boot Out ‘bullying’ brand of #Recruitment interviews applied to Olivia Bland & BME’s for ‘Cultural Fit’


[Long Weekend Read]

This week’s experience of the way some employers approach selection interviews went bizarrely wrong when English Language Graduate, Ms. Olivia Bland met Webb Applications UK’s CEO, Mr. Craig Dean. Mr Dean decided to apply his own adaptation of ‘The Apprentice’and ‘I’m a Celebrity’ – Get me out of Here!’. Her tweet went viral with 121k+ ‘likes’.This went beyond a bad ‘GlassDoor’review. A BBC RadioLive5 interview followed.

In case you missed, it here is a link to an article, that will also take you to the twitter feed: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/31/stress-interviews-olivia-bland-recruitment?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Is it time to reflect and ask if more employers and recruitment agencies need to approach recruitment interviews as a two-way conversation and decision making process to avoid the costly mismatch and the inherent issue of racial bias in recruitment? There are several inter-connecting themes and nuances that need to be explored. So you need to be committed to a long read.


A low, uncertain employment market post-Brexit and austerity does not give anyone the right to use humiliating, bullying tactics. It’s like knowingly abusing someone in a state of vulnerability. Whether you are a young graduate like Ms Olivia Bland trying to get a foot on the corporate ladder or a mature person seeking a career change, rejection and humiliation knows no age limit.

We don’t get enough employers sharing their equivalent of ‘Organisational CV’s’ – ‘worts and all’ with supporting facts. That way candidates can make more informed decisions about whether the organisational culture and job is a good fit for their interests, skills, ambitions, and importantly their wellbeing or are they potentially entering a highly toxic culture. No one wants to recruit toxic individuals or practices, but they do come in by the front door even if its as a result of a merger. There are so many recruiters who argue for the need to assess for ‘cultural fit’ without defining or evidencing this or seeing it from the candidate (or employee) perspective.

For me the misapplication of ‘cultural fit’ both as a term in recruitment advertising and practice is a‘red flag’for discrimination in the wrong hands.

It was a pity that when I attended the In-house Recruiters Network session on 24 January 2019 held at the BMA, London: ‘Hiring for the Organisation, Not just for the Job: the Importance of Cultural Fit’the three speakers seemed unaware or unwilling to question themselves or the audience if there were any dangers with this concept or the assumption of ‘Unconscious’ Bias. Sometimes the positivist agenda and desire to be ‘liked’ to use these platforms as a way to sell a one-trick-pony solution is just too great, especially in an audience and speaker line up that was uncharacteristically, but not surprisingly homogeneous for a city like London with it’s 55.1% BME population, it out-numbers white-British (2011 Census- 4.5 million BME’s in London, three times the national figure of 20.2%). This was an event where I was the only visible person of colour in a packed room of 99% front-line recruiters, interfacing with an overwhelming white HR and line management.

The more nuanced ‘Round Table’ discussions with some of the delegates was certainly the more rewarding part in the design of the otherwise well organised event. It was an opportunity for attendees to share their challenges and perspectives (with the missing ingredient of the ‘elephant in the room’of racial bias in recruitment and the under-representation of BME recruiters).

From my experience of conversations over the years with both candidates and recruiters across multiple sectors on a range of discriminatory practices; Recruiters could certainly do with more understanding of the actual lived experience of the cultures they are acting as the shop window for. One enlightened young recruitment consultant admitted, being puzzled more of their clients did not ask them for data on the racial diversity of its recruiters or candidates shortlisted (or not), by ethnicity or other protected characteristics as they do collect the data. However, when it was suggested to internal executives in the global recruitment agency they engage with their clients on this, it was met with ‘Don’t go there!’.

Some Recruiters work on three main assumptions. One, that there is a deficit on the part of potential candidates, not themselves or their organisations/clients. Therein lies #PrivilegeFragility the arrogance of ‘I’m OK/You’re not OK’ so I can ask you to supply full disclosure, submit you to overbearing scrutiny, assessment tests, barrage of questions, forms and various pre-employment checks, but you can’t do that to me (unless you are privileged to be extremely networked with people who will give you the ‘inside story’). And by the way, I the recruiter get to select the time, duration (to meet my information needs) and venue for us to meet so you have to find a way to be there at your own cost (including getting unpaid time off from your existing employer, if you have one and the cost of buying your interview suit). If you are from a low income family this is all a huge obstacle.

Bad recruitment processes can easily be experienced as Institutional bullying and abuse of power dressed up as ‘robust, modern selection methods’. Good intentions are irrelevant in the eyes of the law or the wounded candidate. Recruiters, could definitely do with utilising the system of the ‘Mystery Shopper’ to get meaningful feedback (depending on the diversity of the ‘shoppers’) as well as auditing their recruitment processes for bias before damage is done to candidates and existing employees in the wider interests of the duty of care. But you can’t design and deliver these processes without involving the people that are continually locked out. It’s a case of decision makers having the monopoly to say: ‘We know what is discrimination, a fair process and what is not’.

The second assumption is there exists a mono-culture throughout their organisation and one that is static (by reference to the published ‘Vision and Values’ rather than sub-cultures and changing by influences from the outside) that is delivering‘high performance’(whatever that is for them).

Thirdly, their benchmark is the existing job holders and decision makers as role models of ‘Achievers’ not ‘Losers’ or‘Under-Achievers’ (something allegedly said to Ms. Bland). This means we recruit for today’s attributes not tomorrow (adaptability, resilience, inclusiveness, innovation, etc). It also means they fail to approach candidates from a position of strengths-based interviewing. There is a further failure to acknowledge the deficit of behaviours and values within their own organisation (compared to the reciprocal authenticity demanded of candidates?). You only need to look at the numerous examples of corporate scandals to know these were previously perceived as strong employer/customer brands in public but when the mask slips it tells another story. You can also see numerous Linkedin posts and tweet feeds about ‘bad bosses’ but people rarely comment on the homogeneity of these ‘bad’ bosses lest we shatter the illusion of whom we deem to make leaders (good or bad) and what they look like.

Corporate videos have become slick propaganda machines that lack supporting evidence and 99% of the time the inherent lack of racial diversity is blatantly in your face if you are not represented by an actual employee -v- a hired model or purchased Stock Image (easy to spot). It’s also difficult for the only BME used in the photoshoot to keep the video current given the issue of often being the first, only and last to be hired. No matter the disconnect to the corporate spin about ‘we are an inclusive employer’. The irony of those statements swims past the commissioners and producers of such material, without a bat of the eye lids. A case of ‘you just have to say it for PR appeal; you don’t have to mean it (or prove it)’,unless a discrimination claim is lodged.


So, when the candidate before them is literally not a ‘lookalike’they fail to recognise the diversity of talent before them. Talent walks out of the door trying to make sense of it all as there is no feedback loop to learn from and gatekeepers act as professional bystanders to maintain the status quo as there is profit in inequality. When (rejected or successful) candidates seek developmental feedback, giving it becomes problematic when nebulous notions of ‘cultural fit’are relied upon. The reluctance to give candidate feedback, is in the context of the fear of unwanted Employment Tribunal claims especially from BME candidates (internal or external). Fear stops everyone having a learning conversation and benefiting from diversity and inclusion to create sustainable organisations. Giving no feedback won’t save you; a transparent, fair and robust system increases your chances.

When candidates have a bad experience like Ms Bland and there is no feedback loop built into the process then, you risk giving candidates in this digital age no option but to run to the comforting arms of Social Media. This is where the chances of forgiveness, resolution or remedy diminish at lightening speed. An electrical storm no one can control, not even an IT company.

The focus is increasingly on low cost automated on-line recruitment and tools, making the process, remote, impersonal, one-size fits all with a pseudo infallibility of technical objectivity. Therefore whenever a recruiter seeks to strip out activities with a perceived time/cost implication for the employer, because supposedly candidates have all the time in the world to waste, they don’t. It means recruiters also don’t get trained or exposed to developing the resilience and skills for perceived ‘difficult’conversations. This amounts to short term expediency over long-term quality, cost-effectiveness and damage to the employer brand.

There is also an assumption any candidate would accept your job offer, well why wouldn’t they? How a candidate feels treated during recruitment should be an indicator for how the organisation approaches the employment relationship and notions of organisational justice post-employment. Seeking, giving and receiving feedback is how we all grow.

There are two reason Ms Olivia Bland appeared believable to 121k+ people. Firstly, it’s not an unfamiliar experience to have been bullied at work or in public after the global #MeToo movement highlighting sexual harassment across all sectors and classes of women (and men who are also effected by it). As a result we continue to hear from alleged victims of bullying (generally) but incidentally, rarely do we get insights from the alleged respondent) and sometimes this bullying occurs in the interview process. Most candidates stay quiet for fear of ruining their chances with another employer by being ‘blacklisted’(not such a fantasy fear as you might imagine).

But there is another more nuanced reason why 121k+ people ‘liked’might also have like Ms Bland’s tweet. It’s so much easier to find a white woman who cries foul during recruitment to be more believable than a black candidate [Pause before you react]. This is despite the volumes of research to support racial bias in recruitment. However, you won’t find even a modicum of this sort of empathetic outpouring for a black candidate – regardless of their intersectionality with gender.

People find it easier to agree in the abstract that racism is a social disease long over due a cure, but not even the best minds in medicine and academia or champions of diversity and inclusion clutching there Annual Awards will rarely acknowledge their part in maintaining the status quo that privileges them. That’s just ‘too close to home’.Except if you are the likes of Robin Di Angelo who is a rare white diamond who understands white identity, is prepared to acknowledge the power of white privilege and therefore the discomfort black people spot with that single raised eye brow and side-ways glance immediately they make reference to the subject of racism or white privilege, in an effort to close them down. I have known people storm out of the room at this point.

Colour is seen by white people as a black identity ‘problem’ black people have, but not something they (white people) have because they see themselves as without ‘colour’despite the census classification of ‘White-British’. The term ‘Black Minority Ethnic’ (BME) (and ‘black’ as a short cut for ‘people of colour’) is simply a socially constructed classification that allows a group of people who haves been historically and systematically subject to the social injustice of less favourable treatment on the grounds of their skin colour compared to white people (this is setting aside limitations of ‘BME’ to encompass the full range of nuances within this definition). BME’s are the recipients of this mistreatment through racism, evidenced by racial disparity in all walks of life, including education and employment. We should be beyond the data driven arguments challenging ‘Is there really evidence of racial disparity?’; or appeals for yet more data – as if logic alone is going to win the day. Instead I will ask why are still stuck at this point? Who in organisations and their supply chains remains unconvinced? Perhaps we should be putting the data spot light on them not the usual‘goldfish‘?

An article in the Guardian on 17 January 2019 by Haroon Siddique reported that “Black Britons and those of south Asian origin face “shocking” discrimination in the labour market at levels unchanged since the late 1960’s, research has found”. [https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/17/minority-ethnic-britons-face-shocking-job-discrimination]

This was based on a recent study by experts based at the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, University of Oxford. It found applicants from minority ethnic backgrounds had to send 80% more applications to get a positive response from an employer than a white person of British origin. This latest study was linked to an earlier study by the same researchers, comparing their results with similar field experiments dating back to 1969, and found discrimination against black Britons and those of south Asian origin – particularly Pakistanis – unchanged over almost 50 years. Professor Anthony Heath, co-author and emeritus fellow of Nuffield College described it as a remaining ‘burning injustice’; inviting us to question whether previous interventions are working.

I came to England from Pakistan in 1967 (my late father, a humble Carpenter much earlier having won his visa in a lottery but then not having the funds to bring his family, leading to a three-year separation from his wife and children). I was aged six upon arrival and at the age 19 I secured my first administrative level role in an all-white profession, namely Human Resources (then called ‘Personnel’) having been repeatedly rejected for the role I had actually spent two years training for within the NHS. This was at a time when South Africa still operated apartheid (until 1994), supported by the UK Government and at a time when UK HR folk and their organisations were bitterly miffed about why they had go beyond the recruitment strap-line in job adverts ‘We are an Equal Opportunities Employer’ (as if it were a statement of fact rather than faux-aspirational) to be compliant with the still to be embedded anti-discrimination laws into practice. Progress has been glacial since, being part for three generations of British-Pakistanis who arrived in the UK in the 1960’s. I am 1 of 8 siblings and a Great Aunt to 50+ children so have my own smallish data sample and lived experiences to reflect on for the last 50+ years. So if any researchers want to do a longitudinal study of the lived changes, come closer…. As a family we did not have to contend with the intersectionality of religion as much as race, gender and class – but given time that too became a challenge and we are by no means part of the monolith Pakistani-Muslims are portrayed as; progress has been made by a few of us in the family, but we are the exception not the rule. That applies to other families like us.

Black people have been talking about racism for hundreds of years and decades of living memory so they have built up the resilience to talk about the pain of humiliation that comes from unrelenting micro and macro aggressions. This is combined with suffering indifferent institutional responses through the application of systems, symbols, policies, practices and procedures that make up the living culture of any organisation. White people have not yet walked down this road. They are not wearing the right boots for the journey. They are not prepared for the stumbles and knocks; its just not their ‘cup of tea’ ‘thank you very much!’.

Everyone knows a white woman, but how many know a black woman or her everyday experience of the job market or self-employment? Hence, when black candidates complain of racial bias in recruitment, they are met with a culture of disbelief; a wall of silence and denial from all quarters. I have been told by‘friends’ “I never thought of you as ‘black’ or having a colour’.Being ‘Colour-blind’ is a misnomer. It’s OK to notice colour, it’s what you do with that information that matters. No one ever admits racism (or sexism), hence it must be inferred from the facts, within the limits of the law. White fragility kicks in as a form of abuse of power that turns the tables on the black candidate for daring to cause discomfort by the notion they or their institutional practices could possibly harbour any overt or covert racial undertone to their decision making. Calling it out becomes the ‘offence’and the myth of ‘reverse racism’ of white people comes into play.

White bystander ‘friends’/colleagues who know nothing of the actual facts that the black candidate turns to for the mistaken belief of possible solace, start to explain away their experience with, “Yeah, but…….” or ‘that was then, it does not happen any more’ – as if we are in some post-racial era with no data to support their belief. In Ms Olivia Bland’s case she is able to use her white privilege as the crushed, young, female graduate full of hope, to full advantage in being believed by thousands. She does not even have to acknowledge her privilege, let alone explain it; it simply part of her masked identity. It’s invisible because that’s the power of it – to never have to be asked to acknowledge it as a source of power. If asked about it, then the exercise of discomfort and outrage (white fragility) comes in handy. She will be fine in the end because there will be plenty of helping hands reaching out to a white damsel in distress. I certainly wish her the best for the future. This is not solely about her, but the wider issue of bullying, harassment and racial bias in the recruitment process and in the workplace to illustrate the double standards few wish to talk about.

Amongst one of my many humiliations in recruitment and other selection processes was to be shortlisted two weeks ahead by a brand employer via a global brand agency who said I was one of three candidates selected by them and the employer for a hard to fill post. Upon arrival the white Head of HR took one look at my coloured face, gave me the malfunctioning robot look, then looked down at the CV as the name did not match what was before him; no greeting offered, so I followed him into the room. I did not get invited to sit down, but decided after a few embarrassing minutes to sit anyway to await his questions.

He gave no eye contact and after a few minutes of leafing through my CV declared pompously “You are not what we are looking for!”. He showed me the door; without putting a single interview question to me – it was over in 5 minutes flat! – it must be one for the ‘Guinness Book of Record’s, surely! despite it being an often repeated experience. I walked silently in full glare of the receptionist and other white visitors I had chatted to earlier who knew the purpose of my abrupt visit.

When I reported my experience back to the white male, Recruitment Consultant (‘Tony’) at the global brand agency, that I thought it was a case of overt race discrimination the recruiter’s response was to threaten to cease to deal with me, effectively blacklisting me if I took any action against their ‘very good’ client.I was desperate for this not to happen, so took no action, but it happened anyway and the agency never contacted me again in the following years despite my approaches. They Consultant did however, continue to contact my white husband for opportunities as he rose to be HR Director of many prestigious brands, not appreciating the source of my inadvertent ‘CV Whitening’ that had got me shortlisted in the first place as a talented candidate. If things were made a little ‘better’after my married-name change, imagine what it was like before. The name change resulted in a 40% improvement in being shortlisted (but not in being selected). Whoever naively believes there is nothing in a name, needs to read the research on this, I am not alone in this experience; and sadly it continues to this day for the next generations.

In the interests of balance, my only small criticism of Ms Olivia Bland is she did not waste any time posting on twitter. Her gruelling interview was on Monday 28 January 2019, she got the job offer an hour later by telephone. She accepted it straightaway. She says it was ‘in desperation’, only to regret her decision immediately and write her letter to the Office Manager, ‘Vivienne’ setting out her experience. She asked that CEO Interviewer Mr Craig Dean should ‘not bother’ to reply to spare her feelings further. However, by the next day, Tuesday morning 29 January 2019 she was feeling ready to fight back and had posted her letter to the the company on twitter. So there was no intention to resolve this issue but to give the CEO a taste of his own medicine, be it in a disproportionately publicly humiliating way that a black candidate could only dream of risking.

Yes, it needed to be called out, but could she have waited for a reasonable time for the company to respond? Even, until the end of the week? Was her response proportionate? Was there no chance the company would/could change their practices to help other candidates (and existing employees) even if not to effect a change in Ms Bland’s decision to reject the offer. Personally, I have always believing in giving anyone a second chance. Hence I have shown openness to talk about such experiences with recruiters but rarely offered the opportunity to do so. Ultimately, it is a personal decision to walk away from a risky situation, but how you do is also something worth weighing up and attempting a dialogue after setting out your concerns, which she aptly did. Does a dosage of your own medicine have to be swallowed to feel the sense of ‘yuk!’ you never want to do it again? – possibly for some, but I would prefer not to generalise.

Is this a Win:Win, Win:Lose or Lose:Lose outcome? How will prospective employer’s/recruiters learn from this and change? How will future candidates approach a similar situation? Will anyone ever admit to being a bully or hold sexist-racist beliefs and come forward for help with a genuine desire to change? Change won’t happen in a million years unless there is an acceptance there is problem requiring change that will benefit you and others to see value in diversity and inclusion. You can either be the problem or the change – time to select!

Author: Safia Boot

© Respect at Work Limited


Twitter: @respectatworkuk

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Published 2 February 2019

\First published Linkedin 1February 2019