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When racism is subtle and devious

Blair McPherson

Subtle and more devious forms of racism are used to keep black staff out of management posts and how to take steps to counter this discrimination. Article from Blair McPherson, former local authority director and author of An Elephant in the Room an equality and diversity training manual published by Russell House.

As a local authority director I championed equal opportunities, overt racism was robustly challenged but I also witnessed managers get away with subtle and more devious forms of exclusion. If you are a racist manager you are in a position to stop black people from joining your team or getting promotion. How is this possible with all the equal opportunity recruitment policies, the explicit procedures , the monitoring arrangements and a vigilant HR?

It’s not that difficult if you are a senior manager careful in what you say and who you say it to. A senior manager is often in a position to influence recruitment, secondment, training and promotion opportunities. For example if they chair a working group to transform a service. The group recommendations include creating some new first line management posts. The senior manager gets word that an ambitious black member of staff intends to apply for one of these posts . A racist managers mission is to stop such people getting management posts in the organisation. If they are on the interview panel they can simply turn this person down at interview but there is a chance that the decision will be scrutinised and the candidate may very well give a good interview making it hard to justify not appointing. So the manager tweaks the person specification to ensure the black candidate can’t apply. The manager looks at the candidates experience and qualifications and identifies a gap and then specifies this as an essential criteria. For example the manager stipulates candidates must have management experience even though this is a first line management posts so would not normally require such experience. The manager anticipates a challenge from HR by stating that as these are new posts which will largely determine the success or failure of the new service they will require people with experience of managing change , this is reinforced by arguing the salary grade be slightly higher in order to attract existing managers.

Alternatively the person specification could be altered to include a management qualification as essential, in the knowledge that the candidate the manager wishes to exclude does not have the qualification. As long as the senior manager has a rational for the criteria HR will not feel unable to over rule them. If you think these are far too elaborate lengths to go to just to stop someone applying for a post you don’t understand the mind of a racist.

How do you spot the devious racist manager and how do you stop them? Who has very few or no black staff in management positions, who doesn’t encourage their staff to think about equality and diversity, who puts obsticals in the way of black staff attending the black workers support group, who do black staff say,” that person will never appoint a black person as a manager”. Confronting a clever racist especially one who is a senior manager will not work you need to out manoeuvre them.

The best way of doing this is to work with HR at a senior level to counter the management tactics of the intelligent racist. Strategies to thwart the intelligent racist include, balanced interview panels in terms of race and gender, senior HR observer for all interviews for management posts, generic person specification for all management posts, interview panels to agree in advance what is a good answer to each of the questions they intend to ask. It won’t change the way a racist thinks but it will make it harder for them to discriminate.

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