Yes it’s payback time – for society

At the inquest into the death of Charlene Ellis, one of the two
Birmingham teenagers killed in the shoot-out between two gangs on
New Year’s Eve, coroner Aidan Cotter said it was time for black
people to “pay back” efforts to accommodate them in a multicultural
society. He subsequently apologised.

Two studies, one under the working title It Don’t Matter if
You’re Black or White
, delivered at the British Psychological
Conference last week, and the second, Diversity and Career
Progression of Local Government Managers
, due to be published
next month, provide damning proof of how relatively little
accommodation society has made on the issue of race.

Commissioned by the government’s Improvement and Development
Agency, the studies have been conducted by a team headed by Beverly
Alimo-Metcalfe, professor of leadership studies at Leeds
University. Her team uses 360-degree feedback. Bosses, middle
managers and peers rate themselves and each other according to 42
criteria, among them valuing individuals, being decisive and acting
with integrity. The ratings of peers and subordinates tend to be a
more accurate gauge of ability than those of the bosses. In these
studies managers from ethnic minorities were consistently rated
higher by their peers and subordinates than by their bosses.

The studies revealed that because the careers of black managers had
been subconsciously written off by their bosses, they received
inadequate feedback, scant career development and found themselves
marginalised. Alimo-Metcalfe says: “Low expectations lead to a loss
of confidence and increasing resentment and frustration.” At the
same time, some white managers expressed concern about offering
constructive criticism for fear of being considered racist.

Are the same patterns to be found in the management rungs of social
care? Probably. According to the Audit Commission last year, a lack
of leadership is a major obstacle to reforming public services. A
Cabinet Office study revealed a risk-averse climate of blame which
offers too little reward and recognition for individuals.

The public sector has a statutory duty to reflect society’s
diversity in its own ranks. What’s required in the private and
public sectors, Alimo-Metcalfe argues, is an audit (local
government did not even know how many ethnic minority managers it
employed or where) plus career support which is influenced not by
the colour of an individual’s skin and the boss’s prejudices but by
a person’s ability and potential.

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