Respect at Work

Diversity & Inclusion; respect at work; independent investigations; mediation; restoring trust; difficult conversations

Respect at Work

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:

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





#MeToo – Rise of Workplace Militancy, ‘Identity Politics’ or Social Justice?

Who runs the world? Beyoncé says girls do but the stats say the world is run by powerful men (largely white). So, you could say behind every ‘Great’ man stands a ‘Great’ invisible woman a few steps behind. The google worldwide walk-out on Thursday 1 November 2018 of 20,000 workers (20% of its workforce) is both a class, gender and race issue (otherwise known as ‘intersectionality’). The Tech workers are protesting lawfully under the USA National Labour Relations Act 1935 that allows for collective action “employees shall have the right to … engage in … concerted activities for the purpose of … mutual aid or protection.” Their protection is afforded under the NLRA rather than the much quoted First Amendment – ‘Right to free speech’ which would not apply unless it was treatment due to State action rather than as in this case in relation to treatment by a private USA organisation that normally has the right to dismiss ‘At Will’ for any reason.

However, this won’t be the case in other countries which have laws requiring adherence to strict procedures before withdrawing labour. In any unlawful strike it would still be a major ER (Employee Relations) and PR disaster to take or threaten disciplinary action for breach of contract. In the Google case, these are prized Tech workers of both genders, middle class and largely white. If they were a bunch of black/migrant/women cleaners in an outsourced low-waged, zero-hours transactional business there is a high risk they would simply and quickly be replaced on an individual basis and get very little media attention. So, the risk of militancy, especially outside any protective legal framework is dependent on the balance of power. Workers who wish to reverse the trend of decades by now joining unions will have greater collective power to resolve issues informally. In that sense Unions are an essential part of any effective democracy. Unions (rightly for cost and alignment with their values) don’t welcome ‘deathbed conversions’ at the point workers find themselves in a dispute with their employer: you either believe in marginalised individuals having a right to social justice via collectivism or you don’t.

However, over recent decades the decline in union membership has been accompanied by an agenda of individualism rather than collectivism. The advocates of Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘lean in’ school of thought (individual empowerment) has played its part in nudging along the ideology of individualism as has our obsession with pointing to isolated ‘heroes’ be-it ‘exceptional’ figures until they’re re-examined by the latest scandal or they simply represent ‘the first, the only and the last’ of their kind to be appointed, if from a minority group. Putting the onus on under-represented individuals to change themselves to fit the status quo fails to address the structural barriers in place. No-amount of individual positive thinking can change macro policy decisions to address significant evidence of disparity for large sections of the population. A collective, sustained and multiplicity of initiatives are required along with enabled individual actions to bring about real change to everyday lived experiences. The solutions are often very simple, we just need to change who is making the decisions and treat all people as the few privileged are being treated. [See also research by Professor Kalwant Bhopal‘White Privilege’; Research by The Runnymede Trust; Daniel Dorling’s ‘Inequality and the 1%’, to name but a few]. 

Evidence of Employee Dissatisfaction and low productivity:

Recently, I was speaking to a highly educated, talented but lowly paid young woman experiencing systematic bullying and under-utilisation by her line manager in the publishing world. She felt her only option was to continue to suffer in silence or leave as soon as her job-hunting efforts yielded a better line manager and prospects for salary and professional growth. Her sense of powerlessness and suppression of her human potential was deeply saddening.

The young woman said she did not even know how to begin to draft a grievance letter or have the confidence to raise the issue informally with anyone in a position of authority. Nor was there was any reference to independent mediation within the organisation, which can work when used appropriately and in a timely way. She was then shocked to be corrected by me on her right to join a union. A co-worker had incorrectly told her there was no point in raising a grievance unless she had the support of a union to represent her at any grievance hearing because,“They don’t recognise unions here!” and the long serving line manager would be believed over her. We have seen numerous examples of individuals who complain of sexual harassment, racial discrimination or bullying to be told at the outset it’s a case of one person’s word over another, more powerful. This is often even before any rigorous, fair, independent and transparent investigation has been commissioned.

In the case study example, being unsupported in raising her concerns was her biggest fear in case it made the bullying worse resulting in either a psychological breakdown or being dismissed for an invented case of poor performance or redundancy. She was unaware under UK employment law, there needs to be no Union Recognition Agreement in place with the employer for an individual to be a member of any registered union and have the legal right for her Union Representative accompany her and advise her on her grievance. She did not feel she could go to HR as they were only ever seen talking to management and otherwise kept to themselves on the upper floors of the building. Clearly, fear, ignorance and a remote HR department combined to reinforce the existing power imbalances. Suffering in silence or voting with your feet are not uncommon ways out for such individuals.

Research suggests that employee disengagement costs the UK economy £340 billion annually, bad leadership is eroding UK productivity (Hay Group now Korn Ferry).With 49% of workers citing poor management as the main reason they’re considering looking for a new job. Nearly half of the UK workforce (47%) will be looking for a new job in 2019, with nearly 1 in 5 people actively searching for new job opportunities (Investors in People (IIP) report in their annual Job Exodus Survey 2018). UK workers have one of the lowest levels of job satisfaction in the world ranking sixth in an international study of 23,000 employees across eight countries (Robert Half ‘It’s Time We All Work Happy®: The Secrets of the Happiest Companies and Employees – June 2017).

Case of ‘Cobbler’s Children’: ‘Do as I say not do as I do’Collective organising, some refuse to see is what big enterprises, the wealthy 1% and privileged already successfully do by political funding, lobbying, networking and donations to prestigious ‘Think Tank’s and Universities and Leadership Institutes. All this helps to shape the cult of leadership and management thinking to influence public policy to support a unitary management perspective and the ‘L’Oreal’ syndrome (because I’m worth it) as to who should be at the top of the food chain. Professional enablers are only too happy to assist them (see leaking of ‘Panama’ and ‘Paradise Papers’ regarding offshoring of wealth to illustrate how the system is ‘gamed’ to favour the few). The richest one per cent now owns more than half the world’s wealth, according a Credit Suisse report. The total wealth in the world grew by 6 percent over the past 12 months to $280 trillion, Credit Suisse reported (December 2017). Yet despite this, the rest of the population gets consistently told there is no money for essential public services that corporations and wealthy 1% rely on to provide compliant workforces.

Take also the case of Glasgow’s c600 male Refuse workers going out on strike (23 October 2018) in support of a decade-old Equal pay claim by 8,000 mostly female cleaners estimated to be worth £1bn (Cleaners in other sectors are often low paid working-class women and BME’s – Black, Minority Ethnic). Or, even the case of the Greenwich Council Cleaner who spotted a shortfall in her wages but found her complaint was not taken seriously by her supervisors saying, she “kept on at the union”to fight the case. “I never gave up” says Julie, 52, who has cleaned South Rise Primary in Plumstead, Greenwich, since 2003. She earned £722 a month as a part-timer when she spotted the shortfall, saying: “£35 a month is quite a lot of money to lose and the thing is, with school staff, a lot of them have young kids; she knew it was wrong” It took her 5 years to get a settlement for herself and her 473 colleagues back dated to 2012 (£4m). The pay formula will now apply to 5,000 staff as the settlement has been agreed ahead of the Employment Tribunal claim being heard. [BBC News – 1 November 2018]

As the saying goes, ‘Where there is muck there is profit’. So, before anyone dismisses this as ‘Identity politics’, just remember there is little difference between us as humans; we have common human desires to live fulfilling lives in reasonable safety, comfort and to be paid a reasonable wage for our labour. Equally, we all have our flaws so apologies there is no ‘Master Race’, we all need a little help to continue to evolve into our better-selves. However, our multiple identities are important in that they determine a material difference in how we are treated by those in positions of privilege and power over resources (knowledge via education, finance, influence through who we network with, access to health, employment, legal rights, etc). Identity is essentially about social justice and access to resources.

Google’s tactic of appearing to support the demands of its workers publicly to address concerns about the culture of bullying and sexual harassment could be viewed as the beginning of serious change. However, it and other technology companies have been slow to come to the table of equality and ‘plenty for all’. This is despite being hailed as a new industry, it has for too long embraced traditional ways of thinking and behaving. Further, the worker demands for a ‘better workplace’ is not confined to the culture but also to wider material issues of racial and gender representation, pay parity and progression to decision making and influencing roles. Without a system of elected, independent and trained representatives with access to their own legal advisers and resources to engage in meaningful negotiations, all this ‘show of muscle’ does is create short-term window dressing for any management discussions to be held behind closed doors within the leadership team and its Legal/HR advisors. Access to dignity and equal pay is not a gift to be bestowed by privileged leadership but a right enshrined in a fair society which our current political system is failing to deliver whilst rewarding leadership for failure.

What our leadership systematically continues to do is fail to grasp in the context of serial corporate scandals and footballer salaries for CEO’s/Board Members, the effect this has on diminishing trust in our leadership and institutions designed to regulate them. We are evidencing rising levels of worker discontent and negative impact on productivity from unexpected categories of workers. These workers in the past would never have deemed they had an ounce of militancy or appetite for public protest in them, so distant are they from lived experiences of hard-won rights of earlier generations. These rights cannot be taken for granted and forever do we need to remain vigilant to their removal by stealth.

The ways in which workers are choosing to amplify their concerns in an age of social media means discontent is reaching the ears of its customer and investor base despite accusations of ‘fake news’ being bandied about like confetti to mis-direct the very people who have most to gain from a review of the current order. People are asking “Do I want to buy this product or service, thereby giving my tacit approval of their methods”; As well asking in the context of environmental concerns “Who said I even need this product?”

In the age of Corporate Mission statements and the importance of aligning yourself to a wider social purpose, platitudes such as ‘’Don’t Be Evil’ and ‘A company’s most valuable asset is its employees’ and the like, ring like hollow propaganda slogans that no Employee Satisfaction Survey report with its ‘socially desirable’ responses or symbolic tokens of gestures like ‘Dress down Friday’, the shiny unused pool table in the corner, etc. can mask the corrosive sub-cultures that exist in pockets of all organisations – public, private or charities.

Have we not had enough banal slogans from the Trump administration and the resulting Brexit campaign arising from the UK’s EU Referendum? Have we not had enough of the ‘Accidental Manager’ fed on a diet off management slogans? (Chartered Management Institute (CMI): Are ‘Accidental Managers’ draining productivity? – September 2017)

Have we not had enough of the double-standards applied to those in positions of privilege versus the rest? Let’s just have simple consistency of treatment, honest facts and transparency without the spin.

[This is an opinion piece representing the author’s views alone]

#MeToo #RespectAtWork #SexualHarassment #Racism #Inequality #EqualPay #Brexit #Trump #EURef #AccidentalManager #CMI #EmployeeEngagement #Unions #HR #BetterWork #Dignity #Productivity #FakeNews #CustomerSatisfaction #EmployeeSurveys #IdentityPolitics #EthnicityPayGap

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The ‘They’ and ‘Us’ of the ‘Hard to Reach Groups’

'Hard to Reach Groups'

‘Hard to Reach Groups’

Upon hearing frequent references to the term ‘The Hard to Reach Groups’ in organisational Diversity & Inclusion literature, organisational policy documents and more recently at a seminar on Women in Sports. I was prompted to reflect on why the repeated use of this term jars with me as an ethnic minority female who has managed to eventually overcome some of the barriers to progressing within a largely female, white profession (Human Resources).  This is the case for many professions and there are parallel issues for women and in particular BME women (and men) but in particular Muslim Women gaining access to certain professions and employment generally (the most visible of ethnic minority group due to covering of their heads – although there is diversity of practice even in this). Gaining access to certain sectors for example Sports and technology are particular challenges, although their use of technology as evidenced by the ‘Arab Spring’ is giving them a new voice to initiate change in the way they wish to be portrayed and understood.  I therefore ask readers to reflect on what unconsciously, be it well intentioned, this phrase reveals about those who utter the phrase rather than those to whom it refers. This is necessary if we are to fully capitalize on the huge potential for instance that Sports has to bring communities together and create wealth and wellbeing.

Those who invariably use the term ‘Hard to Reach Groups’ in everyday language and numerous strategy documents are invariably members of the homogenous, dominant group occupying positions of leadership, decision-making and influence as advisers.  The subject group is made up of a number of sub-sets:  young mums, students, women in and out of work, school leavers, NEETs, at risk women, Muslim women and females of varying ages and abilities.

Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘They and We’ illustrates the need to be mindful that everyone is ‘normal’ in their own eyes or we will not be able to understand them and interact with them. The fact is ‘They’ don’t think we’re normal either. We assume ‘They’ perceive and experience the world the same as we do and accordingly we design systems, processes, policies, interventions and language that reflects us. Which is what the word assume can be broken down into: I assume on the basis of me: ‘Ass-U-Me’.

Given the aspiration is to increase participation in sports, wider employment and representation in positions of leadership and influence.   The effect of using the well worn phrase ‘Hard to Reach Groups’ is to alienate those who are under-represented by the underlying assumption that it is ‘They’ who are a problem by being so damn ‘Hard to Reach’.  The assumption about ourselves is that we are by implication ‘easy to reach’, accessible and approachable.  This further leads to counter justifications for the lack of measurable and visible progress such as: they don’t apply for the jobs or opportunities to participate; they lack the skills, qualifications and experience to hold positions (paid or voluntary) and we (allegedly) only ever appoint on the basis of merit, and so forth. From the perspective of ‘They’ the rationale is: ‘We don’t feel listened to, so what’s the point?’; ‘there’s hardly anyone like me involved’ so I won’t feel welcome or included in the important decisions and so forth.  It therefore becomes an issue of the need to be open to the concept of unconscious bias and increasing our own self-awareness – whether you are ‘They’ or ‘Us’ it is important to consider what has shaped our thinking and behavior, what privileges we enjoy and assume others have access to that enables us to have the opportunity to participate and reach our potential but might prevent others from doing the same.

My plea is to ditch this phrase and focus instead on the issue of addressing under-representation.  It would enable us to think more creatively in seeking to engage with people who are under-represented for a variety of intrinsic (self-beliefs) and extrinsic (structural) reasons rather than lumping them together and labelling them as  the ‘Hard to Reach Group’. Turn the question on yourself and ask what could you do to make yourself ‘easier to reach’, or even better to reach out proactively to engage with others different from you. We need to creatively develop solutions in collaboration with those people who are under-represented so there is joint ownership of the solutions and not inhibit our thinking and actions by labelling and blaming those who are not ‘US’.

Naturally, if any of this resonates with you I would be happy to engage further with you!

#MeToo #RespectAtWork #SexualHarassment #Racism #Inequality #EqualPay #Brexit #Trump #EURef #AccidentalManager #CMI #EmployeeEngagement #Unions #HR #BetterWork #Dignity #Productivity #FakeNews #CustomerSatisfaction #EmployeeSurveys #IdentityPolitics #EthnicityPayGap

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Beyond Recruitment – Creating an Inclusive Culture

There is nothing like a skills shortage[1] to concentrate the attention of organizations on the issue of neglected sources of talent.  However, the challenge is not only to address the skills shortages, but also to create a working environment that will enable the under-represented and everyone to flourish. This requires an investment in upskilling the whole team’s soft skills and knowledge to truly reap the benefits of diversity given the challenges for working with people different to ourselves.


At the recent Women in Technology conference organized by the E-Westminster Forum many of the speakers focused on how to encourage more young women to consider technology careers or how to attract women into technology, however, I believe the challenge goes deeper.    We have to not only make technology attractive to hire women and BME’s, but also make the technology workplace a place where they can flourish and thrive.   This will create a virtuous circle of not only retaining, but enabling people to build skills and careers and demonstrate ‘tech’ is where you can realise your dreams and aspirations.  In short, it builds a better ‘employer proposition’ based on inclusion and diversity.

Now is a great time to work in technology, there is a huge demand for skills and technology is profoundly changing the way we live our lives.  However, despite being a relatively new industry ‘Tech’ companies seem in some respects to be run in traditional ways and many ‘techie’ cultures are based on mainly male perspectives. If, new hires are simply required to ‘fit in’ to the prevailing culture, it is highly likely they will leave or if they do stay they will not thrive and flourish.   A recent survey of Silicon Valley ‘tech’ companies [2]  showed just how difficult life can be for women in these companies.  For example, 66% felt excluded from key social and networking opportunities because of their gender; 90% of women have witnessed sexist behavior; 84% have been told they were too aggressive; 88% experienced questions being addressed to male peers that should be addressed to them; 75% women were asked about their family life, marital status and children in interviews; 60% reported unwanted sexual advances and 60% were dissatisfied with the way their sexual harassment concerns were handled.   BME experiences of the technology sector are also heavily biased, African Americans are poorly represented in USA technology companies, only 1.5% of Facebook’s US workforce, 1.7% in Twitter, just 2% in Yahoo and Google and 7% in Apple[3]

Simply tackling the lack of gender and BME diversity during recruitment is like putting water in a bucket with a hole, the practices of existing management and unconscious bias may have only taken thirty years to develop in the technology sector, but are unlikely to disappear overnight, without significant intervention and commitment.    There is a need for training and development to support a strategic workforce plan and a clear diverse and inclusive employee proposition.   This should include: developing empathy, coaching, mentoring and advocacy skills; managing conflict through facilitation and mediation skills; robustly investigating diversity-related concerns; increasing awareness of unconscious bias, promoting networking and giving and receiving constructive feedback.   The HR function should not just focus on recruitment campaigns, but build HR policies and practices which position mutual respect, diversity and inclusion as a means to attract, retain and build a smarter, fairer and more effective workplace for all. Then “tech’ can truly claim to be building a better world and not just a better gadget or app.

Why not share what you are doing to move the diversity agenda forward in your organisation or discuss how you can overcome some of the challenges?

References:[1] Exploring the IT Skills Gap 2016 Survey –;        [2 – Survey; [3] Black Politicians to push Silicon Valley giants on ‘appalling’ diversity. Guardian 30 July 2015.; E: T: +44(0)1908 262 862

#MeToo #RespectAtWork #SexualHarassment #Racism #Inequality #EqualPay #Brexit #Trump #EURef #AccidentalManager #CMI #EmployeeEngagement #Unions #HR #BetterWork #Dignity #Productivity #FakeNews #CustomerSatisfaction #EmployeeSurveys #IdentityPolitics #EthnicityPayGap

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Respect at Work – Have you got it?

Aretha Franklin Blog 001

Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, earned the respect of many and spelt out what respect means in her famous song in 1967:

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me” Action Loudern than words megaphone Blog 001

“Be careful of your thoughts: your thoughts can become your Actions, your Actions can become your Character, your Character can become your Destiny!”


Keep your words sweet – you never know when you might have to eat them! Cat Staring at Goldfish

Be Curious rather than Certain Four business executives having meeting in boardroom

Don’t assume someone does not wish to be involved in a meeting or decision – Ask!

Respect @ Work – Author Safia Boot

Whenever I carry out a workplace investigation or ask employees about work, invariably the question of what treatment the parties most want comes up. They will likely top their list with the desire to be treated with dignity and respect.  You know when you have respect. You also know when you don’t have respect because of how it leaves you feeling, even long after you have forgotten the details of the situation, you never forget how someone left you feeling. Lack of respect can leave you feeling negative about yourself, the situation and those around you.  When you don’t have the respect you think you deserve you can react in kind, even out of character because of the strong emotions it arouses, or you may withdraw yourself and your co-operation.  In the end everyone loses out.  Disrespect stifles collaboration and innovation – two key ingredients that help us and our organisations prosper and deliver the best we can and be the best we can. But what is respect really? And, how is respect demonstrated at work? You can demonstrate respect with simple, yet powerful actions because actions speak louder than words. These ideas will help you avoid needless, insensitive, unintentional disrespect, too.

  • Sometimes ‘foreign’ or unfamiliar names can be difficult to pronounce.  Ask the person how they would like to be addressed rather than inventing a short name that’s easy for you but could cause offence. If you have difficulty pronouncing a name, come clean at the outset with sincerity and admit that you may get it wrong a few times so need their help in getting it right as your intention is not to offend.  This creates a joint responsibility for how we are treated.
  • Treat people with courtesy and kindness – sometimes it helps to declare your intentions upfront especially when you have difficult feedback to share. People can react defensively because they assume your intention is negative so give them the reassurance they need before giving them feedback.
  • Choose your words carefully – keep them sweet as you never know when you might have to eat them!  Rehearse your opening line.   If you have as a poor opening line it can throw the whole conversation in the wrong direction and make matters worse.
  • Encourage colleagues to express opinions and ideas thereby keeping an open mind to other possibilities, solutions and perspectives.
  • Actively listen to what others have to say before expressing your viewpoint – what you hear may change what you were planning to say or how you think about the other person.
  • After any conversation reflect or better still invite feedback on what percentage of time you listened rather than talked. No one ever gets criticised for listening too much and making the other person late for their next meeting!
  • If you disagree with what the other person is beginning to say or appears to be inferring, don’t let your emotions take you hostage and react in horror. Wait for them to finish rather than cut them off prematurely. Alternatively, return to the conversation later once you have calmed down and can plan your response and any questions that will help clarify what the other person appears to have said. You can resume the conversation by telling them you have reflected further on what they said and how it left you feeling.
  • Enquire further to ensure you understand their point of view, what they are basing that belief on and how did they come to their conclusion. Don’t assume you know everything there is to know about the other person, their origins, values, their situation, their fears and dreams – be curious rather than certain.
  • Use people’s ideas to change or improve work and the experience of our customers and colleagues. Let employees and colleagues know you used their idea (they will feel complimented rather than used), or better yet, encourage the person with the idea to implement the idea or test it out with others to get buy-in.
  • Never insult people, name call, disparage or put down people or their ideas using negative or emotive labels. Stick to the facts or what you have observed using neutral language.
  • In giving feedback focus on their strengths and invite them to consider if there is more they could do or things they could do differently – encouraging self-reflection. Do not nit-pick, constantly criticise over little things, belittle, judge, demean or patronise. A series of seemingly trivial actions, added up over time, constitutes bullying. The person is less likely to seek your feedback in future and everyone misses out on a learning opportunity.
  • Treat people with the same respect no matter their race, disability, religion, gender, size, age, sexual orientation or country of origin. Implement policies and procedures consistently so people feel that they are treated fairly, equally and according to their needs or circumstances. Treating people less favourably because of their personal characteristics (directly or indirectly) can constitute harassment or a hostile work environment.
  • Include all colleagues in relevant meetings, discussions, training, email distribution lists and events. While not every person can participate in every activity, do not marginalise. If you are unsure what they should be involved in – don’t assume, ask them! Sometimes people simply like to be kept in the loop and have the choice of getting involved on an ad-hoc basis.

What Next? Employment Tribunals expect employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment and discrimination. For more information on how we can help you limit the risks arising from inappropriate workplace behaviour via our independent investigation service as well as deal with it appropriately to prevent issues arising, contact us for further information.

#MeToo #RespectAtWork #SexualHarassment #Racism #Inequality #EqualPay #Brexit #Trump #EURef #AccidentalManager #CMI #EmployeeEngagement #Unions #HR #BetterWork #Dignity #Productivity #FakeNews #CustomerSatisfaction #EmployeeSurveys #IdentityPolitics #EthnicityPayGap

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