Leeds council staff from BAME backgrounds feel “unheard and misunderstood”

Leeds City Council members of staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds often feel “unheard and misunderstood” when voicing race-related concerns at work, a meeting has heard.

By Richard Beecham
Tuesday, 25th January 2022, 4:45 am

Leeds City Council members of staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds often feel “unheard and misunderstood” when voicing race-related concerns at work, a meeting has heard.

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The comments were made during a Leeds City Council scrutiny board meeting, during which contributions were made by the authority’s BAME staff network on how to “improve the experience of outcomes of black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues” at the authority.

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The comments were made during a Leeds City Council scrutiny board meeting. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Leeds City Council’s BAME staff network chair Rebecca Cooke told the meeting that more needed to be done to train managers to better deal with incidents of racism in the workplace, and that the council’s grievance policy was not currently working when it comes to tackling such issues.

She told the meeting: “The organisation has the aim to be anti-racist, but the current practice and the lack of an overarching zero tolerance policy make it difficult to measure the steps the organisation has taken so far.

“Although technically, there are lots of support services and systems available, BAME colleagues are often left feeling unheard and misunderstood after voicing their experiences.

“The role of the network has been challenging as we are meeting high needs and expectations. Members have made it clear that they want to see evidence of change.

“Many managers have not received adequate training and support or feel equipped to deal with matters of race or racism in the workplace. This is true of other equality matters in general, and we feel that a clearly defined programme of quality training with ongoing engagement should be a priority for all managers.

“Our managers need to be well-supported if we want a culture change in the organisation to take place.”

She listed seven key asks from the group, including ongoing training for managers on racial discrimination, recruitment strategies to include diverse panels, progress to procedures in the council’s “zero-tolerance” racism policy and mandatory training for all staff on anti-discrimination.

A report from the BAME staff network also called for a review into the council’s grievance procedures, adding: “We would like to see further detail as to how and when the BAME Network, along with other key stakeholders, will be consulted and kept up to date during the review. Staff should also be dissuaded from using the grievance policy to deal with allegations of racism.”

Member of the scrutiny board Coun Sharon Hamilton (Lab) asked why staff should be dissuaded from using the grievance policy to highlight racial discrimination.

Ms Cooke responded: “There is legislation in place that protects that particular characteristic in a person. A grievance should be around your day-to-day circumstances. The fact we are asking for a zero tolerance policy, that should set out our parameters because of those characteristics.

“It should never be that I say I am aggrieved because somebody said something derogatory about my race. It’s illegal, so the grievance policy doesn’t quite lend itself to being able to investigate appropriately.

“For a lot of our network members who have raised grievances around racism, because there isn’t any other way of reporting it, it’s literally someone else’s word against their word. There is no formalised process as to how one would go about investigating acts of racism. Who is to say what the parameters are?

“If we see systemically that we don’t feel confident in the systems in place to report these kinds of things, then surely we need to be creating something separate that really clearly defines what we should be doing in terms of investigating and dealing with acts of racism.”

Panel member Coun Julie Heselwood (Lab) said: “To take a case to a tribunal, you have to prove that you have been through the informal, formal and appeal stage of a grievance, otherwise the employment tribunal service will throw that out because you haven’t proven you have been through that internal process.

“My concern is if we deal with it solely that way, if anything did come to a tribunal, we would be in trouble because we wouldn’t have been able to prove we followed that process in law. This is a process we have to follow.”

Committee chairman Coun Andrew Scopes (Lab): “I don’t think anyone’s disagreeing with the point you are making about support. Hopefully we can get legal advice from our legal team to make sure we don’t miss the process.

“We do need zero tolerance, but we need to make sure we take things through the legal process.”

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