Racial discrimination in social care management

Practitioner vox pops

Are black and ethnic minority people working in social care discriminated against when it comes to pursuing management opportunities?

Parul Begum, programme manager, Children’s Society

“Certainly they are, and in the wider world too. There are fewer black and minority ethnic people, especially women, in the most senior positions. If you are a black or minority ethnic person and a woman you face double discrimination.

At operational and middle management there are ethnic minority staff but not above that level. In the past I’ve been discriminated against by people I was managing while at other organisations.

It was just a feeling I had I couldn’t do anything about it because I didn’t have concrete evidence.”

Wai Fong Lee, mental health clinician

“Yes. If you look at the number of people from ethnic groups in senior positions you can tell there are restrictions. I’ve particularly noticed this working in the NHS as I’ve not had that much of a chance to be a representative on specific groups looking at certain tasks – the roles have always been allocated to other people who are white.”

Malcolm Sururr, deputy team manager, children looked-after, Lambeth Council

“Overall the top management in social care tends to be middle aged, middle class and white. White women have made few inroads. Occasionally, you get a black chief executive and a black director but it’s few and far between.

At Lambeth, where I’ve been for nine years, the possibilities and opportunities for promotions are always there so it’s down to the individual to make use of them. When I was a social worker there was very subtle discrimination it wasn’t covert. I experienced subtle discrimination even up until five years ago.”

Obi Chinyere-Ezeh, chief executive, Lifecare Consultancy Ltd

“In the frontline management positions there aren’t any black or ethnic minority people, although where I work in east London there is a lot of diversity among the staff.

It also makes a difference when it is an organisation run by a ethnic minority person. There is only so far you can go as commissioners sometimes have prejudices about how a ethnic minority organisation is run. They have unfounded reservations and you have to prove yourself more. But once you have the reservations disappear..”

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Selina Aktar, an Asian befriending worker based at Qalb Asian mental health day centre in Waltham Forest, north east London.

“I was diagnosed with severe depression, suicidal tendencies and borderline personality disorder about five years ago. When I first went into psychiatric care I was attached to a white male psychiatrist, and his deputy was a black Caribbean male.

When I became ill again I went in as a voluntary in-patient. I wanted to talk to someone, but on the ward there were mostly male staff and the few women weren’t Asian. My named nurse was an Asian man but I didn’t feel like I could really talk to anyone and they didn’t have any time.

It would have been useful if there was more cultural awareness around Asian women. Statistics show they have a high risk of suicide and self-harm, and culturally we are not brought up to open up to men about our feelings.

If I had been an Asian person who didn’t speak English well that would have been even worse as there was no access to interpreters on a day-to-day basis.

I didn’t want my family to visit, but for those who did there wasn’t an appropriate place for young children. In Asian communities, women are the main caregivers and when they are separated from their children it’s important they have access and that wasn’t happening.

Everyone in the mental health system has the right to feel safe and should be able to access services that are appropriate. But in the system people aren’t treated as individuals. For example, the staff kept wanting to contact my family because they had the belief that Asian families are there for you whatever. But it wasn’t like that with my family. I didn’t want them there, and I didn’t feel I was treated as an individual.

I would have liked to have had access to more women on the ward and those who were aware of the cultural needs of an Asian person. Cleanliness is very important, particularly if you are Muslim. You need clean places to wash and pray and that would have made me feel safe. The bathrooms weren’t clean enough and I didn’t wash for three days. I was told that I was there on a voluntary basis so I could go home, bath and come back. But if I went home, why would I want to return?

My first psychotherapist was a white woman and I felt so detached from her that I didn’t go back. Later I got a Muslim Turkish man who was culturally aware and when I talked about things there was a level of understanding that he could give me.

Even if there are no language barriers, it’s important to have staff who are really culturally aware – which doesn’t mean they’ve just gone on a course for a couple of days.”

This article appeared in the 16 August issue under the headline “‘Top management tends to be middle class and white'”

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