The Lawrence Report: Institutionally racist? So just how guilty is the employer you work for?

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The Independent Online
HOW RACIST are Britain's employers? In his Lawrence inquiry report, Sir William Macpherson said the Metropolitan Police suffered "institutional racism".

The Independent yesterday asked some of Britain's biggest institutions if they suffered from the same problem.

The Ministry of Defence admitted it, and the Church of England confessed frankly: "We have recognised for a long time there is some degree of institutional racism. We are working on it." But most workplaces were adamant that they are not tainted by institutional racism.

Questioned in an Independent survey, they said they believed that they were on the right track - but the statistics revealed many have a long way to go before their workforces reflect society as a whole.

(We at The Independent, in common with manymedia organisations, are not immune from criticism.)

The organisations we talked to also had to admit that most of their ethnic workers were in low to middle-ranking jobs.

The benchmark figure is the 1991 census figure of 5.5 per cent of the population being of "ethnic minority" background. The Metropolitan Police, lambasted by the Lawrence inquiry report, has less than 4 per cent from ethnic minorities yet London has a higher proportion of people from the minorities.

Railtrack has around 4 per cent of its 700 employees from ethnic minorities.

Lloyds/TSB has 1,940 ethnic minority staff or 3.1 per cent. Of these, there are 23 ethnic minority senior managers, representing 0.9 per cent of senior management positions.

We asked 30 of Britain's most prestigious organisations if they had institutional racism, as described by Sir William. We also asked if they were reconsidering their policies in light of the report. Finally, we asked for the number of people from ethnic minorities in their organisation and how many occupied senior positions.

Despite the Church's mea culpa it has done quite well. Twenty of its 180 staff at Church House identify themselves as from ethnic minorities. And black and Asian people are well represented in the clergy. The Bishop of Stepney was actually on the inquiry team.

Virgin, Railtrack and BT all gave a categorical "no" to the institutional racism question. All the major organisations we spoke to have long-standing equal opportunity policies.

The response from the head of employee relations at Railtrack, Paul Radley, was typical: "We have an equal opportunities policy and we have a harassment policy. We will not accept unfair treatment of individuals whether it be because of race, sex, age or religion."

Some companies' responses were more sophisticated than a simple "no" and had picked up on Macpherson's phrase of ``unwitting racism''. Michael Honey, chief executive of the London Ambulance Service, said: "It is impossible for any large organisation to give a categorical assurance that there are not parts of it which are unwittingly prejudiced. We are concerned with making sure we are not prejudiced."

Only a few organisations are going to review their policies as result of the report. Others do say they intend to read it.

One of the most ambitious recruitment campaigns from the ethnic minorities is run by the London Fire Brigade. The director of personnel and training, Ian Bone, said the brigade's target is 10 per cent from ethnic minorities. So far it has 4 per cent of the 5,900 uniformed staff. Of the 1,100 non- uniformed staff, 25 per cent of office staff and 22 per cent of craft and manual staff are from ethnic minorities.

Mr Bone said the close association of the brigade and the police had led to recruitment problems and like several companies, the brigade has had difficulties attracting graduates from the ethnic minorities.

It has recently launched an initiative to bring in graduates. "The response was a raspberry. We did not attract one recruit," Mr Bone said.

Co-op

"ANY CORPORATION could be guilty of thoughtlessness. But as a co-operative society part of our constitution is everyone being able to use our services without racial or any kind of discrimination," said a spokesman. The society has ethnic minority staff who are superstore managers. Two per cent of all staff are from ethnic minorities, with 10 per cent in the South-east.

Unilever

"WE MAKE it absolutely plain from the outset of people's careers that no form of harassment is tolerated, no matter what form it takes." The company runs training sessions, built around equal opportunities awareness, designed to ensure employees understand the issues and are sensitive to them. An annual report monitors the scheme. In the UK, 3 per cent of Unilever's workforce is from ethnic minorities.

Bar council

THE EQUALITY Code for the Bar that governs race policy was agreed in 1996. "It is regarded as a first-class model," said a spokesman. It is part of the Bar's code of conduct, breaching it would be a disciplinary offence and would be subject to normal disciplinary procedures, up to disbarment. The Bar Council has several members from the ethnic minorities and 8.5 per cent of barristers are from ethnic minorities.

The Law Society

"WE NEED to learn the lessons of the Lawrence report; it is ... the unwitting [racism] which is really important. We have no right to be complacent ... I am the first ethnic minority to be an office-holder," said Kamlesh Bahl, chair of the executive commission. Nine per cent of Law Society staff, 4.9 per cent of practising solicitors and 15.8 per cent of those entering the profession are black or Asian.

McDonald's

"WE REGARD all our employees as members of a team where everyone's opinion is valued and everyone is regarded as equal in status and must always be treated with respect," said a company spokesman. At managerial level and above, 13.8 per cent of employees are black or Asian. Of the hourly-paid staff, 22 per cent are from ethnic minorities; but there is no representation at board level.

Virgin

VIRGIN SAYS people from the ethnic minorities are employed in senior management and on the boards of its various businesses. It is convinced it doesn't suffer from institutional racism as defined in the Lawrence report. "We are full equal opportunities employers in all our businesses... I think we have a reputation for having a pretty good relationship with employees generally," said Will Whitehorn, Virgin director.

Railtrack

WORKS WITH Commission for Racial Equality to increase proportion of non-white employees. Four per cent of its workforce are from ethnic minorities. "We have an equal opportunities policy and we have a harassment policy," said Paul Radley, head of employee relations. "We will not accept unfair treatment of individuals whether it be because of race, sex, age or religion."

London Ambulance

A BOARD meeting will discuss the Lawrence report. Michael Honey, chief executive, says the service is working to combat unwitting discrimination. He wants to boost the proportion of non-white employees from 7 per cent to 20 per cent by 2005. Members of staff from ethnic minorities include a board member and two operational managers.

Dixons

LESLEY SMITH, director of corporate affairs, says the company is constantly reviewing its equal opportunity policies and has training structures to prevent racial prejudice. She added: "You can never be 100 per cent certain that problems will not occur. But you mustensure every precaution is taken and, if mistakes are made, they are quickly learnt from and not repeated."

Armed Forces

THE MINISTRY of Defence admits to "discrimination through unwitting prejudice". A spokesman said: "The only answer to the accusation of such racism must be `Yes - in the past, but not now or in the future'." One per cent of employees in the armed services are from ethnic minorities. The aim is to increase the figure to 5 per cent by 2002.

Boots

ITS PROPORTION of non-white employees is above the national average, it says. Aims for staff to reflect the make-up of surrounding communities. "We have a very clear policy of equal opportunity, which embraces ethnic minorities," said Martin Wakeling, head of group external affairs."We are constantly reviewing our policies but not specifically as a result of the [Lawrence] report."

Church of England

WHILE THE Anglican Church is the most willing to confess that it has some level of institutional racism it has put in place a number of strategies to tackle it. It also likes to describe itself as "the biggest black church in England" with 27,000 regular attenders from the black community, some 4.5 per cent of the regular congregation. It is beginning to attract more black clergy.

BT

BT SAYS it has a clear discipline code that states that any individual can make a complaint against anyone they believe has discriminated against them. It has an "ethnic minority network" for workers, holds a course for managers on "training diversity" and has a "race champion" at board level. Nearly 7 per cent of BT's workers are from the ethnic minorities.

Marks & Spencer

M&S SAYS it does not have institutional racism, "because we do not allow discrimination on any grounds including racism". It has an Equal Opportunities policy throughout the company and there is a confidential helpline for anyone who thinks they are being bullied. An impressive 9.5 per cent of its workforce is recruited from ethnic minority backgrounds.

BBC

BOB NELSON, controller of development and training, does not believe the BBC has institutional racism. The BBC has 1,550 or 7.4 per cent of its 20,000 workforce recruited from the ethnic minorities. Most of these are in lower to middle grades. The corporation has had targets for ethnic recruitment since 1990, he said. Next year's target is 8 per cent.

London Fire Brigade

THE LONDON Fire Brigade has just over 4 per cent of its uniformed staff from black or Asian communities. Ian Bone, the Brigade's director of personnel and training, recognises this does not reflect the racial make-up of Greater London. He says it has had difficulty recruiting from the ethnic minorities, in part because his staff are wrongly perceived to be like the police.

Lloyds/TSB

LLOYDS/TSB says work has been undertaken with recruiters to ensure it is "seen as an attractive employer to black and Asian people". This, it says, has brought considerable success. Last year 19 per cent of all graduates joining the company where from ethnic minorities. However, in total only 1,940 of the workforce, or 3.1 per cent, are from the ethnic minorities.

British Airways

BA HAS one of the most impressive tracks records for recruiting from the ethnic minorities - some 13 per cent of its 45,000 UK workforce. BA says it have members of the ethnic minorities working at all levels of the organisation including Dr Ashok Ganguly, a non-executive board member. It says it has "an extensive equal opportunities policy in place, which is reviewed regularly".

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