Hassina Malik from Lambeth UNISON reports on worrying trends at Lambeth Council
Lambeth UNISON recently conducted a survey of members into race relations at Lambeth Council. The evidence has demonstrated the very real problems Black staff are experiencing.
General experience of racism in the workplace in Lambeth
Almost half of respondents (49.5%) had witnessed or experienced racism from managers in the past two years, and more than a third (35.3%) had witnessed or experienced racism from colleagues. On the question of whether or not they felt comfortable discussing race in the workplace, respondents were divided, two fifths (39.4%) saying that they did feel comfortable with a similar proportion (38.4%) disagreeing.
Race and personal development in Lambeth
Turning to the question of personal development the position is less encouraging, with more almost two thirds (63.5%) feeling that Lambeth had not given them the opportunity for career progression, a circumstance to which a majority of respondents (56%) felt that their ethnicity had been a contributing factor. Asked whether white managers treat all people equally with regards to career progression, more than three fifths (62.7%) of respondents disagreed.
Race and reorganisations in Lambeth
Almost two thirds (65%) did not believe that white managers treat all people equally during the course of a restructure or reorganisation and (61.4%) that restructures are used to retain and/or promote white staff. A majority of respondents (55.8%) felt that restructures are used by the employer as an opportunity to make BME staff redundant.
Race and recruitment in Lambeth
More than two thirds (69.3%) agreed that “the lack of transparency in recruitment has led to BME staff being discouraged and not applying for jobs as they feel it is pointless” and three quarters (75.2%) agreed that “Human Resources should take on more of a monitoring role during the recruitment process to ensure that BME applicants are treated equitably”.
Race and perceptions of managerial attitudes in Lambeth
A large majority (69.9%) agreed that “managers have a propensity to look at white people as more capable and having potential, rather than others.” This perception is, of course, consistent with the findings from the research commissioned by the Council from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and published at the turn of the century, which found a systematic tendency for white managers to rate white subordinates as better performing than BME subordinates.
Race and disciplinary action in Lambeth
Although only a small minority (19.5%) of respondents had themselves been subject to disciplinary action, more than a third of those expressing an opinion (35%) felt that ethnicity was a contributing factor in disciplinary proceedings. This opinion (with which 11.7% of respondents disagreed, with the majority neutral) is also consistent with the findings of the IES research, which found that managers acknowledged that ethnicity was a determining factor when deciding whether or not take formal action.
Perceptions of increasing racism in Lambeth
Three quarters of respondents (74.4%) felt that the lack of BME representation within senior management has increased the likelihood of racism. However only a quarter (25.8%) believed that they had experienced an increase in racism in the workplace since the Brexit Referendum (with two fifths, 39.2%, disagreeing) whereas almost half of respondents (46.6%) had witnessed such an increase in racism outside work since the Referendum (with fewer than a third, 30.1%, disagreeing). This suggests that respondents felt that local factors (about which the Council can take action) may be more important than wider societal factors (over which the Council has far less influence) in shaping developments
Lambeth UNISON will use these disturbing findings to highlight to the senior management team and to Councillors the urgent need for further attention to the problem of institutional racism in the workplace. Councillors and senior managers must be made aware of the significant concern that a majority of black workers do not feel that we are getting a fair deal when it comes to recruitment, personal development and in the reorganisations which are now such a frequent feature of Lambeth life.
We know that racism is not exceptional and that it is part of the working lives of the majority of the Lambeth workforce who are not white. Lambeth UNISON will not stand idly by and permit racism to blight the working lives of Black staff. We hope that UNISON members who are affected by racism will contact us so that we can support you and work with you to ensure that you are treated with the dignity and respect that every worker deserves.
We intend to set up working groups to discuss this survey and possible remedial measures that can be developed and implemented by the Council in the interests of equality and in line with the Council’s Public Sector Equality Duty.
Survey sent out March 2017 – 104 of our members replied to the survey.