Amanda, a young professional accountant from London spoke to me about her experiences in the workplace. She recounted one situation where she worked for an advertising company in London. Amanda worked at the head office near Edgware Road and noted that most of the staff were white, with approx. 3 token black staff in the building. All of the sales staff were white and actually told Amanda that the company tend to not hire anybody who is non-white. She started working on the first floor and was messed around terribly, having to move office almost every week until she ended up on the eighth floor.
If you have ever moved desk in an office environment before you will know what an upheaval this can be, moving all of your files and equipment around and hoping that your computer and phone will still work as expected at the new desk. Sometimes you can easily lose a day’s work when moving.
After the weekly inconvenience of moving around the building, they then wanted to move Amanda to another location in Brentford, quite a distance from the Edgware Road office. Her colleagues could not believe that she had to keep moving and it seemed that she was being singled out. When she discussed the situation with Human Resources, and showed that her contract stated Edgware Road, they agreed to pay her for the year so that she would leave the company. When she asked why there were hardly any non-white people in the company, Human Resources stated that they had ‘met their quota’.
This is not an isolated incident and Amanda has experienced similar situations before.
What struck me about this experience was not only the blatant racism by the company and the admission of ‘meeting a quota’ by the HR Dept, but the degree of subtle workplace bullying that Amanda experienced. It is well documented that bullying in the workplace is not only restricted to verbal and physical assaults but also includes actions of inconsistency and isolation as published by the Workplace Bullying Institute:
Isolation : Intentionally excluding someone or making them feel socially or physically isolated from a group; purposefully excluding someone from decisions, conversations, and work-related events;
Constant change and inconsistency: Constantly changing expectations, guidelines, and scope of assignments; constant inconsistency of word and action (e.g. not following through on things said)
There is also a suggestion that she was ‘paid off’ to avoid any industrial confrontation that may have created bad press for the company.
Most companies say that their values include Respect, Fairness and Equality, and some of them include racial and cultural awareness training during induction, but how many actually discipline or dismiss employees who do not adhere to the company equality policy ?