'The scales are not balanced'

Windrush migrants’ descendants still face institutions blighted by systemic racism

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On Windrush Day today (June 22) Unite celebrates the legacy of migrants from the Caribbean and other countries who arrived between the 1940s and 1970s and helped build post-war Britain.

Despite all their contributions and the work of their children and grandchildren – many of whom followed in the steps of their predecessors in public service roles such as in the NHS and public transport – they still face institutions blighted by systemic racism.

New research has found that across the more than 3m leadership positions in the UK’s private and public sectors, only 1.5 per cent are held by black people, up only marginally from 1.4 per cent in 2014.

This is despite black people constituting more than 3 per cent of the population in England and Wales.

The analysis from Business in the Community looked at a wide range of sectors and found that in certain areas, black representation in leadership roles was even lower. Across public service leadership roles, only 1 per cent were held by black people.

In the same way, black people are significantly underrepresented in certain professional roles – just 1 per cent of journalists, senior civil servants, judges, academics and those in the police force are black. Of the 39 appeal court judges, not a single one of them is black.

Commenting on the latest analysis, Business in the Community’s race director Sandra Kerr CBE said, “Twenty-five years on from the Business in the Community’s Race Equality Campaign being launched, it is clear that black people continue to be under-represented at a senior level. This lack of diverse leadership has a direct impact on decision-making. This is more crucial than ever when the evidence shows that BAME people continue to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“Black livelihoods matter and employers need to take urgent action to ensure that their organisation is inclusive and a place where people of any ethnic background can thrive and succeed.”

Windrush Day ‘especially poignant’ this year

Unite lead professional officer Obi Amadi says Windrush Day is a significant day for her personally, as her family were migrants who came from the West Indies and Africa during the Windrush period and many worked in the NHS.

“It’s also significant for me personally because I’ve worked in the NHS my entire career and I know personally that the NHS wouldn’t be where it is now if it weren’t for the contributions of migrant and Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAEM) workers, not only from the Windrush period but beyond that up to this day,” she said.

For Obi, Windrush Day is especially poignant this year during the Covid-19 pandemic when a much higher proportion of BAEM people are dying from coronavirus than their white counterparts.

“I know quite a few colleagues in the NHS who have died from coronavirus. Someone like me living in London where a much larger percentage of people are BAEM than in the rest of the country, this pandemic has really hit us and our BAEM communities hard.”

“It makes you wonder where we would be if our families hadn’t come to the UK and faced so much racism that has continued through the generations to this day. It is a fact that if you aren’t being subject to systemic racism, racist bullying and all the rest of it your health outcomes are likely to be better. This is playing out in the Covid pandemic now.”

‘Little progress made’

Commenting on the analysis from Business in the Community, Obi noted that lack of BAEM representation in leadership roles in the NHS is another case in point.

“I’m being generous when I say that it is a complete and utter shame,” she told UniteLIVE. “Five years on from when the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard was set up in 2015 to ensure employees from BAEM backgrounds have equal access to career opportunities and receive fair treatment in the workplace, little progress has been made.”

“It’s become a tick box exercise and the measures simply don’t go far enough. When such a relatively high percentage of BAEM people work in the NHS, you have to ask what is preventing them from progressing into leadership roles? The scales are simply not balanced.

“Senior managers will say they are picking the best person for the job – but when the best person for the job is in fact a BAEM person, they get passed up because they don’t fit into that white ‘bubble’ that’s become part of the NHS’ leadership culture. All the ‘should dos’ that are part of the Workforce Race Equality Standard must become ‘must dos’ for any real change to happen.”

Unite national officer for equalities Harish Patel agreed and called on employers across all sectors to take decisive action to reverse the significant underrepresentation of BAEM people in leadership roles.

“On Windrush Day when we pay tribute to the legacy of BAEM migrants who came to the UK between the 1940s and 1970s to rebuild post-War Britain, we must also acknowledge the racist barriers they and their children and grandchildren now face,” he said. “That only 1.5 per cent of black people hold any of the more than 3m leadership positions across the UK’s private and public sector is a shambolic indictment of the system that continues to oppress and hold back our BAEM communities.

“We must remember that the NHS and our other most cherished institutions would not be what they are today without the contributions of Windrush migrants, and their descendants continue to make these same contributions,” Harish added.

“Many businesses and organisations are coming out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but these employers need to look themselves in the mirror too. Are they doing all they can to ensure their BAEM workforce have equal access to opportunities to advance their careers? This latest research suggests not and removing these barriers requires bold action, not simply paying lip service to the problem.”

By Hajera Blagg

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