Racial discrimination has only been considered illegal in the UK since 1976, due to the Race Relations Act. The Equality Act 2010 forbids discrimination of race and colour, nationality, and ethnic/national origin with regards to employment, the provision of goods and services, education, and public functions. Though changing the law is never enough, even in the workplace.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) promotes a change in attitudes, arguing that “organisations should promote an open culture of respect and dignity for all employees, and value difference”. In addition, the Joseph Rowntree Organisation reported in 2015 that “people from ethnic minority groups are often at a disadvantage in the labour market”.
People of colour are statistically over-represented in low-paid and unstable jobs, and are more likely to be unemployed than white British people.
“I’ve definitely felt out of place, it’s easy to notice it when you’re the only one in the room who looks like you.”Jodi Rose
There has been a push in recent years to change these facts. I spoke to Jodi Rose, who’s currently part of a prestigious graduate scheme, about her experiences in the corporate world.
Give us a brief overview of who you are.
“I’m Jodi Rose, a Neurodivergent Black woman. My pronouns are She/Her. I am a recent Criminology graduate and you can often find me with my head buried in a book. I’d describe myself as honest and compassionate, but I can be sarcastic and cynical at times. I’m passionate about bringing about change in diversity and inclusive spaces. I’m also a mental health ambassador and have undergone the Zero Suicide Alliance training (ZSA). I would recommend everyone taking the free course.”
Where do you work, and what does it generally entail?
“In the final year of my criminology degree I applied for the Philip Morris EVOLV programme and was thankfully successful, and I’m working there now. EVOLV is an 18-month graduate accelerator program that’s designed to fast-track careers. I’ll be undertaking three practical assignments to gain a real understanding of the business world. By the time I have finished the programme, I’ll have experience in commercial functions, strategic functions and within management roles to become a well-rounded business leader.”
Either in your current position, or in the past, have you encountered any racism or sexism, or any other discrimination? How did it feel? Have you ever been made to feel out of place?
“Although not in my current position, I have faced discrimination in the past. I’ve seen racism, ableism, sexism and other types of discrimination outside of the office before as a black woman, but the feelings of shock and disgust never seem to diminish. In a business atmosphere, I think it’s a different feeling; I almost feel more vulnerable. This, I think, is due to the constant pressure and awareness of how others may see me and how my reactions may be labelled as “aggressive” in an attempt to fit me into a stereotype. You don’t want to speak up for fear of going through the HR process, which includes writing a complaint, being interviewed, and then having the offender receive a meagre reprimand. The whole process makes you feel terrible about yourself, like you shouldn’t have even mentioned it. As if you are not the victim.
“I’ve definitely felt out of place, it’s easy to notice it when you’re the only one in the room who looks like you. I think this, among other things, emphasizes the importance of diversity, especially in the workplace. Employees should not feel like they stand out or are different to the ‘norm’.”
Racism is a problem in all walks of life. What can corporations do to stop it?
“Without a doubt, it’s always on your mind. Whether you’re on the tube, going home, out for a dinner, or even at an interview, you always feel that racism is a possibility, and there’s always a tale about someone you know who’s been the victim of racism. I believe that the advent of social media has also underlined this, since we are now much more exposed to it, whether systemically or at an individual level.
“I think not only the corporate world, but any employer, should enforce an anti-discriminatory environment. It’s not enough to just not be racist. Businesses need to be actively anti-racist. Businesses should assess their demographic makeup to see where they’re lacking in terms of diversity, recognize intersectionality and interdependent systems of discrimination to counteract and dismantle them, create opportunities and dedicate resources to keep on developing themselves.”
Do you have any advice to people of colour hoping to enter the business or corporate worlds? Anything you’ve learnt that you wish you’d been told?
“I would strongly advise you to conduct research on the companies or organisations for which you wish to work at. Look at the organisational structure to evaluate how diverse the management team is. Bumble, in my opinion, is an excellent example of a diverse organisation accomplishing fantastic things. Looking at their diversity and inclusion plan and present procedures is something I would recommend. If you notice something that could be improved, let the D&I [Diversity and Inclusion] lead know. They’re typically quite receptive to recommendations. Also, check to see if your employer has any POC networks; I know a lot of firms do. For example, Apple has a local and worldwide network for Black employees.”
What are your hopes for your career in the future?
“I’m not sure what I’ll be doing or what the future holds, but I hope I’ll be able to contribute in a way that benefits both the business and the people who work there. I’m confident that in the future, I’ll be volunteering and campaigning for a cause close to my heart.”
It’s a fact that more needs to be done to combat racism, especially in the workplace. As Jodi says;
“If you don’t feel appreciated or valued in your current employment (and you have the option) – leave. There’s no job worth feeling that way; you are always worth more than a title.”