Yorkshire cricket out of favor, but fight against racism at work is national | Charlene Brun

AAs a lawyer and managing director of a company specializing in culture, law, diversity and inclusion, I often investigate allegations of harassment, bullying and discrimination. The nature of my job means that I am no stranger to the discourse surrounding racism and how it manifests itself in the workplace.

“Banter”, as we saw in the Yorkshire cricket scandal, is regularly called fun and laughter, but the lines between jokes, bullying, micro-aggression and racism are thin.

Racism is no joke. While some believe that no intention to be racist equates to an absence of racism, this is not the case. Not intending to crash into someone’s car does not erase the accident or the resulting damage. Intention is a tricky problem to overcome. Unconscious biases are just that – unconscious – and, without the right tools or environment to deconstruct learned behavior, change is undone by shame and defensiveness. This kind of toxic culture hinders the growth of employees, who may never have had the opportunity to understand what unconscious biases is, and the harm it can do.

It is important to note, however, that while the actions of some people can be understood by their lack of knowledge and understanding, there are groups of people who are intentionally racist and use the veil of misunderstanding, or ” joke ”, to excuse their behavior. People can be hesitant and often fearful about behavior – unwilling to make mistakes, cause more distress, or be stigmatized as racist – but this inaction doesn’t help.

I have seen with my own eyes how opening a compassionate and constructive dialogue can heal and improve workspaces. This is only a starting point, however, and should always be underpinned by expert strategies, surveys, better internal procedures, change management and much more. It’s not as easy as having a sincere conversation and moving on.

What happened at Yorkshire County Cricket Club seems to be, so far, an example of what not to do when tackling allegations of racism in the workplace. The club appear to have had a root and branch issue for some time which unfortunately went unresolved, allowing negative behaviors to develop. The remarks allegedly made by Michael Vaughan to a group of Asian players in Yorkshire in 2009 strike me as learned behavior, reflecting an attitude and culture woven into the fabric of the club before his tenure began. He denies making these remarks, but if he did, his inability to recognize their root causes will not allow him to think and will undoubtedly cause more harm.

After watching the interview with Joe Root, who denied having witnessed any instances of racism, I found it interesting how he emphasized “the way forward”. There was little pause and reflection on the breadth of Azeem Rafiq’s testimony. Rushing into action without thinking deeply about the impact, why and how it happened, and who Yorkshire intends to be as a club, will not change their behaviors and structures.

On the other hand, I have personally had the pleasure of supporting employers committed to action and change, who have recognized their shortcomings and identified where improvements need to be made. Part of my job is to create safe spaces to examine what is wrong and where things are wrong, and how issues such as racism take hold in structures, policies and behaviors. It is only through this honest reflection and assessment that we can help businesses and organizations make the necessary changes.

Many corporate structures have been created without inclusion, anti-racism and equality in mind. They were chosen for operational or financial purposes, and employers don’t prioritize deconstructing them, or don’t know how to do it safely. Without structures that support the recognition and fight against racist behavior in the workplace, training and discussions about racism will not go far.

Hard political lines must be drawn, considered but, above all, the best suited to support an anti-racist working culture, supported by accountability and sanction measures. In its simplest form, this means allowing the filing and objective assessment of anonymous and identifiable complaints of racism. Support should be provided to complainants, followed by an investigation and then a decision on the most appropriate course of action. It can be a disciplinary measure whereby someone is fired, it can be mediation aimed at bringing the parties involved together to resolve and find a way forward, or it can also be ‘a coaching conversation.

There is no fixed solution. It all depends on the context and employers need definitive clarity. What is defined as racism, micro-aggression, bullying and harassment? Where’s the line? Ultimately, a cohesive approach that is systematically reflected on is essential because, in my experience, each person has a different understanding, a different point of view, and a different need for resolution.

The issues surrounding racism are becoming increasingly complex and these denunciations will continue until concrete action is taken. It’s time to stop reactive statements and checkboxes. The longer it lasts, the greater the risk to employers and their employees.


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