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Opinion: Racial disparities in IT: ‘Lessons for us all’

This month marks the first anniversary of the Black Lives Matter protests, sparked by George Floyd’s death on 25 May 2020 in the USA. One year on, CM asked Dean Jones a senior management professional from an ethnic minority background if he felt racial attitudes in the industry are changing.

Sadly, no, in my opinion, we’re still not being heard. The unjust death of George Floyd and protests in the US made headlines and for a moment in the UK last summer when British people from all walks of life marched in solidarity with the BLM movement. The demonstrations also ignited conversations on issues of representation, particularly black representation in the construction industry and other organizations.

However, almost 1 year later, BLM events in the UK are rarely in the news, its business-as-usual on social media and from conversations with fellow BAME professionals, there’s been little to no follow through on initial conversations with organizations and their BAME employees.

The recently published Sewell report also missed a big opportunity as it lacks scientific expertise, is highly selective in its coverage and framing — and will sadly do little to address the challenges we face, as it encourages the idea that issues of racism and discrimination are not institutional problems, but rather a question of individual behaviour that can be easily overcome by studying and working hard? However, I attended top universities, have three degrees, and hold numerous professional memberships, but haven’t ever received an exemption card.

Instead, being qualified at a senior level has led to me experiencing additional microaggressions and has forced me to face some hard realities career-wise.

The truth is Black and ethnic minority workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic with the sectors with the highest proportion of furloughed jobs and redundancies having disproportionate numbers of BAME workers.

The reality from conversations is that Covid 19 and the UK recession has given unscrupulous bosses an excuse to remove individuals whose faces do not fit.

I’ve also both read and witnessed all manner of racial slurs such as “Made in China” to “Then Meghan Came Along” over the last six months. These kinds of microaggressions and stereotypes are still a daily reality in the UK, and they don’t disappear simply because you perform well academically as I have.

Furthermore, the UK’s own data shows Black people are on average nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, and this does not even begin to account for a vast range of police encounters that go unrecorded including my very own over the years that has led to me downgrading cars I drive to blend in.

As such. The change will only happen when organisations recognise that Black Lives Matter. Please do not take the communities involved for fools.

And for those who think differently, I would say, it’s important when making arguments to suggest solutions.

As such my recommendations are as follows:

1. A key action needed to tackle this is to accelerate progression and to increase the balanced representation of BAME people in the workplace at all levels

2. ‘Speak to people directly’ real-life conversations are important.

3. Organisations in the UK can retweet all they want, but if they don’t speak to the people who are closest to them (their employees) talk about the issues people are facing, or follow through on pledges, then they aren’t really helping.

4. As previously stated, own up to systemic racism in the workplace. Don’t make a neutral statement just to make a statement. It needs to be meaningful as change begins with admission. Employers may be reticent to bring up racial inequity in the workplace because it requires the other party to acknowledge its very existence, which is uncomfortable, but necessary.

5. Hold yourself accountable. An anti-racist organisation will acknowledge systemic racism within the workplace, as well as the ways wealth inequality in society may impact their bottom line through their consumer base. Part of an organisation’s accountability is having these uncomfortable conversations. Leaders can then take this critical assessment to examine the work experience lifecycle — from hiring to performance recognition to promotions — and actively make existing systems of oppression more equitable by opening up paths of opportunity to workers who previously didn’t have access to them.

The time for excuses and delays is over. The UK government needs to go further than my review went and not cover up for those recommendations it ignored.

Dean Jones FCIOB is director, strategic projects at Cranfield University

Originally published at https://constructionmanagermagazine.com/racial-disparities-in-construction-lessons-for-us-all/

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