REPOST ARTICLE SOURCE: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/09/racial-discrimination-eradicated-from-workplace
Let’s start with the vignettes. Wind back to the 1980s. A young reporter, with a big afro and minimal experience joins a local newspaper not known for its liberalism. The early days are difficult. His performance is discussed out of earshot. “He’s just so slow and lazy, isn’t he?” says an executive, all matter of fact. “They’re all like that,” his colleague replies.
Time moves on. Said reporter pitches up at the Daily Express on a night shift. The newsroom is vast and open-planned and – in keeping with the black fashion of the day – he has shaved his hair low at the sides, leaving the bulk of it up top. He enters. The cavernous newsroom falls silent – like a western saloon bar when the stranger comes to town. He scans the room, frames something between a smile and a scowl and barks “evening” to no one in particular. The normal hubbub resumes.
Days turn into years and, along with Fleet Street’s finest, he is sent to Suffolk where a black woman, troubled of mind, has killed her children. The press pack scour the area for friends or confidants. One is located and a veteran reporter shares the spoils with his colleagues. “He’s a big bloke,” he says, garrulous, gabbling, mouth outpacing his brain. “He’s also a nigger,” he adds by way of description. His voice tails off as his brain sees the danger – but it’s too late. The words are audible. For a second, there is silence.
The past was indeed another country. To survive as a visible minority in the workplaces of the 70s and 80s required the ability to manoeuvre strange and occasionally hostile territory. It doesn’t feel like that now, but that’s not to say it might not feel like that for others. Generally, the focus shifts to the next group that hasn’t yet assimilated into the dominant culture of the office. I can say things are fine, for I speak the language, watch football, drink alcohol and pay scant attention to religion. Is everything different?
Try asking a Pole with an accent or a religiously observant Pakistani.
For Linda Bellos, chair of the Institute of Equality and Diversity Practitioners, race relations in the workplace reflect changes in society and those changes have largely been shaped by legislation. The Race Relations Act of 1976 and the Sex Discrimination Act were little observed in the early years but came to be utilised by local authorities. “They were ridiculed at the time as ‘loony left’, but councils such as Lambeth and Haringey began insisting that managers actually obeyed the law concerning discrimination,” says Bellos. The law doesn’t change hearts but it can regulate behaviour. “We have got fewer ethnic minorities being denied jobs in general. But, of course, we know there isn’t the kind of representation there should be in management or in the boardroom. If you are black and middle-class, you are reasonably OK. If you are black and working-class, that’s different. Class plays a big role in determining whether you fit in and, consequently, how you are treated.”
But change will never be uniform. Workplaces reflect society, and some are more closed than others, be they a City trading floor, or the House of Commons, or a newsroom or Radio 1 in the 80s. They maintain a culture within the perimeter. The world outside changes: they barely notice. It’s in those places that progress is most patchy.
Change has been slow, but it does emerge. Neanderthal bosses retire. Their replacements absorb the culture, but they are younger and have different experiences; minority friends, minority neighbours; less fear of “the other”. They start from a different place. And as different people work together, their differences seem less important. “They’re all like that,” the senior journalist said. Five years later, he helped me get to Fleet Street.