We all have a role to play

Written by Anoop Kurian, Chair of the Race Action Group at DWP Digital

Anoop Kurian, Chair of the Race Action Group at DWP Digital shares his personal lived experiences and how he wants to make a difference in this role and as a citizen for Black History Month.

To be responsible citizens, we all must do better. Too frequently do we hear ‘I treat everyone the same’, ‘I am not racist’ or ‘I don’t see colour. It is not enough for people to say they’re not racist, we need people to take accountability and be proactively anti-racist.

I landed here from India in 2008 when my company wanted me to work for their UK client. Right from day one, I always felt fitting in is not easy. I’m unexpectedly reminded that I stand out. A group of teenagers once surrounded me as I was walking through the city centre shouting, “Hey, you have money, give us your money!” I smiled and with my palms held out and replied “Sorry.” As I continued walking, “You brown guy, give me money!” shouted a teen. There were more words I had never heard before. Then came the pushing and I couldn’t break free. Soon, other people started noticing and they fled the scene.

I had another incident when I was returning from my office when I passed a man on a busy street, with hatred in his eyes he shouted, “Go back to your country!” I didn’t stop, but the person kept on talking.

As I’ve picked up, surviving means dealing with the harsh truth that the UK is not as diverse and open as everyone thinks. There is an underlying level of bitterness that appears now and again.

What can our society do?

To root out racism from our society and to stop these kinds of incidents, we must continue to teach everyone about topics such as racial inequality, systemic racism and white privilege. It’s not the job of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people to educate everybody about these issues, but the responsibility lies in every one of us.

We all should have an eagerness to learn. People are sharing their stories and lived experiences daily, and they have become even more accessible. Hear what people from the BAME community are saying and try to find out what you can individually do to support them — remember the purpose of these conversations is to find out the needs of others.

If you hear people make racist comments, call them out. It’s important to take a stand and call out that someone’s conduct is incorrect, and then actively challenge it. Challenging improper behaviour can be difficult, even more so when this involves calling out friends, and colleagues, but we must take an actively anti-racist attitude and speak out.

We all know there is no quick fix to this, and it takes time. No matter how well-meaning we are, these changes do not happen overnight. It takes time to shape a culture of inclusion that intentionally amplifies the potential of the diverse brains, voices, and minds. All institutions in our country have an important part to play in driving this change.

What is DWP doing?

In DWP and DWP Digital, we are moving in the right direction. We’re taking significant actions to help us move in the right direction to fix this issue and play our part in this journey. We want to make DWP and DWP Digital an anti-racist workplace where all colleagues, whatever their background or situation, feel supported to thrive and achieve their full potential. We also want to create an environment where everyone feels valued, belonging and invested in making DWP Digital an attractive place to work.

We are creating learning sessions and organising events to discuss with colleagues about race and racism. The main objectives of those sessions and events are to:

  • discuss racism in an open and safe environment and ask questions
  • use techniques like active listening to help develop an understanding
  • explore what a stereotype is and start to challenge assumptions we hear and see in the media
  • celebrate others’ differences and similarities
  • empower our colleagues to create an anti-racist environment in their projects and areas.

It is equally important that everyone within our organisation knows what they need to say and do to be anti-racist, otherwise that work is ironically left to a few who are on the receiving end of racism. When we create a safe and respectful environment for one group, many others benefit as well. So, it’s important to upskill our colleagues on anti-racism.

We’re rolling out a three-step Inclusive Programme to upskill our leaders on how to role model inclusive behaviour, the science of societal and structural inequality, the concept, and degrees of identity. They will leave the programme with an action plan of how they will become an active ally for different identities — including black, Asian and minority ethnic identities. This will help our colleagues to understand how to recognise and tackle racist behaviours, and will help our employees feel safe and supported.

To promote BAME talent, we want to grow the number of BAME panel volunteers for senior recruitment and ensure a broader representation of ethnic minorities across digital roles. We’re also looking into reviewing and improving our recruitment journey so it’s more inclusive to underrepresented candidates.

These are a few of the actions we’re taking to address the racial disparity and build upon our commitment to see a real and sustained change in our organisation and to finally realise the benefits that diversity and inclusion bring to our community, organisation, and lives.

Finally, I want to say that we shouldn’t be afraid to start the journey of being anti-racist because we might make a mistake. When you make an error, and when this is raised, do not react defensively. Think, it is not about your intent, it is about the impact. Ensure you listen, apologise, and pledge to change your conduct going forward. Remember, every single one of us has an important part to play in driving change.

If you want to be a part of an organisation where there’s a drive for change, we’re always looking for diverse talent to join us. Subscribe to our newsletter or visit DWP Digital careers site where you can find the latest roles and keep up to date with us.

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Originally published at https://digileaders.com on October 19, 2021.

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