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Sunday, 3rd December 2023




The word institutional racism was first coined in the UK in the wake of the MacPherson report on policing in the UK. The review of the handling of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence led to the conclusion that the force was structurally racist, and this is illegal and needs to be removed. The meaning of institutional racism is complex. What it means is that an entire organisation, and its methods of operation, are designed in such a way as to discriminate against people of race, leading to poor treatment, lack of job opportunities, poor career development and progression, and barriers to justice, fairness and equality.

Sadly, there are many many organisations in Britain where these factors apply. As a result, ethnic diversity is excluded from the core of the organisation and its values, and especially removed from leadership and power.

As organisations are hierarchical, one way of evaluating this is to look at the kinds of people in positions of influence, and here research shows that seniority is by and large very mono-cultural in all kinds of organisations and institutions. The only places where ethnic minorities are in senior positions are when they are running their own businesses, professional firms or charitable or community organisations. Many ethnic professionals prefer to operate in this way as they are free to operate and set their own targets and progression. However, this is not easy or possible for everyone, nor is this segregation sustainable in society.

As a result, there is a 'ghetto' culture in the workplace, with snow-peaked mountains, and a tough climb for people of colour, irrespective of skill and ability. This clearly is illegal and unsustainable in a country proud to be the founder of the Commonwealth and in an era of globalisation and equality in Human Rights.

Leaders of these organisations have to deal with this situation and take leadership. No longer should they brush this under the carpet, even where there are no direct consequences. Equality of opportunity is simply the ethical way to operate. Cultural intelligence becomes valuable and something which organisations should value and invest in. Barriers to recruitment, retention and promotion should be actively investigated and removed. Suppliers and Customers should be diverse and their different needs and aspirations understood and accomodated.

These are complex tasks which require skill and senstivity in handling. But they should not be ignored because of this complexity. Leadership should rise to the challenge.

Article added on 18th December 2009 at 12:38pm
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