Branch Secretary :

The Double – glazed glass ceiling

Black, Female, and not badly Educated



A recent survey by Inside Housing highlighted the lack of diversity at senior levels in housing associations and the fact that thngs do not seem to be improving.   Our branch has responded to the initiative of Inside Housing magazine, behind its paywall, to encourage a discussion on BAME equalities and how to change organisations from front line to senior managhement.   This, from Adeline Aina, is a contribution to that discussion.



It’s not just about being equal, educated, or engaging.



I grew up feeling equal, my father told me I could achieve anything I wanted to, he didn’t treat me any differently academically because I was a girl, my education was sound and from Maya Angelou, and heroines before her, I learnt the art of being engaging.



What if it’s not just about being black, female or uneducated?



Was this racism?



What if you’re not just told to go back to where you come from – disputable now everyone has heard of ‘Cheddar Man’ – but it’s also a question of being constantly asked if you fundamentally belong? If you are worthy of the ‘Prides’ protection.



Your colleagues proudly establish where they are from when they ask you where you’re from, even though your perfect South-East London accent belies all. Yes, I’m black, I was born in Camberwell. Why are you asking me this question? Aren’t we both Londoners or at the very least British?




Was this racism? Did I have a right to feel uncomfortable or proud, as I said London was my home. Was it me or was I expected to go at least another generation or two back and prove their irrational view right – I didn’t belong.



Seen as ‘other’



This isn’t something you can report, it’s not something you can even call out, but it establishes that no matter what I do I am still seen as ‘other’.



In a study for ‘People Management’ by business psychologists Pearn Kandola - Lara Murray, employment lawyer at Palmers Solicitors stated that ‘part of the problem is that racism is often implied rather than overt, meaning that perpetrators may explain away their behaviour, denying that it was racially motivated’.



Sasha Scott, managing director of diversity consultancy ‘Inclusive Group’. “Difference marks us out – whatever the difference is – because at the heart of life we are primed to be tribal and our affinity biases drive us to spend time with people like us. So even though we know it’s inherently wrong to behave in a racist manner, it still happens’



Culture v Policy



What if you are not the one questioning someone else’s identity and right to belong? What if you are one of those wonderful people who see that we have more in common than not? Whether Black or White is there a fear to call others out? It has been reported that half of employees witnessed racism at work but only a minority reported it.



Often there is a powerful cultural requirement to remain silent. Even with a policy in place it’s been said that culture can eat diversity policy for breakfast.



Professor Binna Kandola senior partner Pearn Kandola ‘The fact that ethnic minority people are the least likely to take action against racism, out of fear of the consequences, suggests that organisations provide less psychological safety for minority groups’.






Even as I attempt to understand racism, I must then grapple with sexism and then my class and educational worth. A recent CIPD report laid bare some of the barriers to BAME progression inside businesses.



Iain Wright former MP and chair of the CIPD’s Policy Forum explains it more starkly. ‘8% of directors of FTSE 100 companies have BAME background, but that is an international field. Only 1.5% are British citizens.’



‘It is good business practice that if your workforce, senior management team and board look like the society you are interacting with, your business benefits – not just wider society’



‘Whatever sector you are in, if you are of a BAME background and get a job at entry level, you might be lucky enough to be promoted once but then the stats fall through the floor’ Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith Race in Business.



Drop in BAME representation



“As soon as we get into middle manager level, we see a dramatic drop in [BAME] representation. It’s not a question of lack of talent – it’s about welcoming that talent and removing barriers to getting them into senior posts. There is hidden BAME talent in organisations- ethnic minorities are likely to have more professional qualifications, for example, than some groups of white people, but is that being recognised?’ Suzanne Semedo Cabinet Office lead on diversity.




‘Many BAME professionals in UK organisations, are amongst the most qualified, most experienced staff in their teams (holding multiple degrees, for example). Yet time and again, they have found it difficult to achieve the career progression they are qualified for.’ 



Some companies and institutions still employ more black staff as cleaners, receptionists and porters than staff of higher skill grades, for how long can this persist when even the Higher Education Funding Council for England reports that the number of UK domiciled BAME students starting full-time first degrees in 2015-16 was up 9.1% on the previous year and 34% since 2010-11.



Insitutional barriers?



Why aren’t ethnic minorities particularly women being promoted in the numbers that they should is it really that they aren’t applying?



Are institutional barriers the only thing at play or is there something also in the strong ‘Black Superwoman’ Syndrome that is as detrimental as it is empowering. The ‘Black Superwoman’ ideal was created to counter balance the more negative stereo-types Black women encountered it was a means of preservation of family, community and self.



Is the fall-out from the fact that Black women are constantly being tested, their patience tried, resulting in the exhaustion of their seemingly bottomless emotional strength. Could it be that the ramifications of being seen as strong, resilient fixers as portrayed in fictional characters such as Oliva Pope (Scandal), Analise Keating (How to get away with murder), has a high price tag too.



Black panther



There seems an obligation to present an image of strength, to supress emotions, resist vulnerability or dependence on help from others. There is a tireless motivation to succeed despite limited resources and the prioritisation of care giving to others in contrast to balancing that against self- care, which is only sustainable by fictional cinematic Black Superwomen, such as Okoye, Nakia, and Shuri (Black Panther) and presidential Black wives with an army of support such as Michelle Obama.



The consequences being, high stress rates whilst suffering in silence, and the inability, to access the privilege education affords, whilst also having to endure the harder blows that rain down due to the ‘Double glazed’ ceilings of race and gender.



Failure is not an option


The success of a Black woman is not purely individual success, it is the success of her children, mother, aunties, communities and ancestors. A Black woman's failure can also be the measuring stick for others. Failure for a Black woman is not looked upon as a growth experience, or an example of an entrauprenuer or solid risk taker.


The advice given in the entrepreneurial space for others is "fail fast" or "fail forward."  When Black women fail they are perceived as ‘failing flat’ and are evaluated more negatively with recovery almost impossible. We can be so afraid to fail that sometimes it also makes us afraid to try. 






The intersection of class, gender and racial discrimination requires careful consideration. The Double-glazed ceiling means that women who happen to also be black, want a career and maybe also a family, face greater adversity and are presented with less opportunity. Black women in particular, experience disproportionate amounts of direct stress and network stress from those closest to them, which in turn has a detrimental impact on health and mortality. A fact highlighted by a recent article in the ‘Guardian’ by Anni Ferguson and late diagnosis of breast cancer in Black women resulting in higher mortality rates.



Way forward



‘What have you got to offer?’




Were the closing words of the White UN representative in the Black Panther movie to T’Chalia the Black President of Wakanda (whose country had the most powerful mineral on earth ‘Vibrainuim but had never felt secure enough to share it).



I say ‘My ‘Pride’ to whom I belong is the human race; I belong, I can make a difference and I am here to stay…therefore everything I have is all I offer...’



The Civil Service has made BAME inclusion and progression a priority. Unions should too:



Unions like Unite can make a difference by supporting/creating:


  • Comprehensive Equal Opportunities Policies
  • Frameworks for employees to raise concerns
  • Environments where complaints can be treated seriously, sensitively and confidentially
  • Anonymous Whistleblowing Policies
  • Inclusive cultures
  • Data - Mandatory reporting of race pay gaps, who’s being hired, who’s applying for jobs, who’s being promoted
  • Intervention plans
  • Supportive line Managers
  • Role models
  • Inclusive culture training
  • Psychological Support
  • Better Health Care Support
  • Childcare/family support incentives
  • Employee Networks and Mentoring
  • Offering Training, Team building and Leadership roles
  • Independent promotion review panels


Posted March 5th 2018


Our initial response to Inside Housing is here


For more on equalities on this site see here


For the national Unite website on equalities see here



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