More needs to be done to tackle racism in the workplace. In October 2021, Business in the Community published their Race at Work survey, which found that Black, Asian, Mixed Race and ethnically diverse employees are twice as likely than white employees to experience harassment from managers, customers, clients and colleagues.
Despite this, only four in 10 employees think their employer is comfortable discussing race in the workplace.
Samantha is a mother of five, born and bred in Manchester. She encountered racism in the form of micro and macro-level aggressions from her first day at school up to her final day in what she describes as a toxic workplace. Here, she shares her story…
Growing up in Moss Side, an inner-city part of Manchester – one of the most notorious areas for gun crime and teen pregnancy in the UK at the time – my mum decided to send me to a more “fluid” school when I was a teenager. She told me it was a place with opportunities that she believed my local school wouldn’t offer.
What neither of us realised was that my time at school – a school that was predominantly white – provided a first taster of the racism I would experience throughout my career, as institutional racism remains a huge problem to this day.
I was repeatedly asked where I was from. When I answered “Manchester,” my fellow pupils would say “no, really, where are you actually from?” As far as I was concerned, I was Manchester born and bred, and Jamaica was my grandmother’s country.
I always thought it was a really weird question to be asked, but I didn’t realise that it was one I was going to be asked in other areas of my life for a very long time. Above all, it was my first experience of what the world of work was going to be like for me.
My dream was to work in HR at a top company, and I started this journey at a huge firm at the age of 17. As I attempted to work my way up, each rung of the ladder that I climbed saw another level of racist microaggressions. Countless colleagues would ask me whether I could deal them cannabis, because of my Jamaican heritage.
But still, I tried to look out for others. When I heard members of a different department discussing how to “get rid” of a colleague because she was pregnant, I called them out and told them that they couldn’t do that. I was then accused of being “aggressive” for standing up for other marginalised colleagues, for the underdogs.
The “angry Black woman” stereotype is one that assumes we are hostile, aggressive and overbearing, as well as unable to be logical. It’s a completely racist assumption to make, and it’s been researched by the Harvard Business Review, which found that this stereotype can prevent Black women from realising their full potential in the workplace.