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This blog piece on the importance of honouring Black Europe was written by guest writers from ENAR

21 May is World Day for Cultural Diversity. Yet the European institutions are still struggling to include the estimated 60 million ethnic and religious minorities living in the European Union, even though they are based in Brussels, a cosmopolitan city where 182 nationalities coexist.

It is therefore fitting that this day comes just a few days after the EU hosted its first ever People of African Descent Week in the European Parliament, co-organised by the European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup, the Transatlantic Minority Political Leadership Conference, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and Each One Teach One (EOTO). This landmark event titled Honouring Black Europe, was dedicated to the Black European experience; the contributions Black people have made in Europe now and throughout history, but also the ongoing realities of racism, discrimination and violence they face.

There are an estimated 15-20 million people of African descent in Europe and a significant number of Black people have lived in Europe for centuries. This population is heterogeneous and diverse and so are their life realities and experiences, which remain very often invisible.

This week therefore aimed to raise awareness of the history and contributions of Europe’s Black population, in particular in light of the current United Nations International Decade for people of African descent (2015-2024).

Yet these contributions are very seldom recognised and valued – whether it is in media and political discourses or in education curriculum and cultural life. For instance, following World War II, citizens of the British Empire from the Caribbean travelled to the United Kingdom as part of the ‘Windrush Generation’. They became nurses, doctors, teachers, manual workers, cleaners, and drivers and helped to rebuild post-war Britain, contributions which remain unacknowledged today. There have been Black people living and making history in Germany for over 300 years, such as famous Afro-German poet, activist and educator May Ayim. When Black activists – especially women – are visible and vocal, they are exposed to critical levels of orchestrated hatred, such as journalist Rokhaya Diallo in France.

In a context where Black people experience some of the highest rates of discrimination in Europe, valuing these contributions but also recognising Afrophobia – or anti-Black racism – as a specific and structural form of racism is crucial.

In particular, European countries must acknowledge the legacy of the slave trade and colonialism, which led to deeply rooted stereotypes about Black people. These prejudices continue to this day and feed into the collective imagination and traditions such as blackfacing celebrations in several European countries.

Raising awareness of this history starts at school, by better including the teaching of the history of people of African descent in curricula, with a focus on their important contribution to European societies, and removing racist and inaccurate depictions in textbooks. States should also organise events, days of actions (e.g. Black History Month), documentaries, exhibitions at museums and cultural institutions, to promote and increase knowldege on Black history in Europe, and the cultures and heritages of people of African descent. European States should also take steps towards official recognition of histories of enslavement and colonialism and their profound and continuing effect on people of African descent. Such recognition could come in the form of e.g. memorial sites, museums, official apologies to actively contribute to restoring the dignity of victims and their descendants.

In order to truly ‘Honour Black Europe’, the European Union and national governments must recognise racism against Black people as a specific form of racism and address disparities in access to education and employment, increasing levels of hate crime, and violence and discrimination in the criminal justice system.

It’s high time Black people and other people of colour in Europe can be fully part of our society – politically, economically, socially and culturally – and of a shared future where diversity and equal rights are celebrated.

Ahead of our Diversity Dialogues event on Feb 29th, we asked Prof. Cecile Wright, Honorary Professor at the University of Nottingham to give us an insight into the challenges we face in eliminating discrimination in the workplace. It’s probably the most important read of your week.

All the woman are white, all the men are black but some of us are brave

This statement points to the tendency for the lives and experiences of black and ethnic minority (BME) women to be missing from discourses of race and gender. In relation to the debate concerning women’s positionality in the labour market it is necessary to invoke the notion of “intersectionality”, namely ‘visualising the combined discrimination experienced by being black and ethnic minority and a women’ (Kimberle Crenshaw,1989). For instance, there is a plethora of research which explores the notion that black and ethnic minority women is subject to multiple disadvantage in the labour market and within workplaces as a result of their ethnicity and gender. While there is literature which seeks to locate this situation within the developing literature on gender and globalization ,this multiple disadvantage will be addressed with respect to Britain. Focusing on black and ethnic minority women’s position in the labour market and the wage gaps.

High levels of unemployment and job segmentation experienced by black and ethnic minority women are well recorded. This is despite the fact that within the UK there is an over representation of young black and ethnic people in higher education compared to their presence in the population.  In the second decade of the century, following the worldwide recession and the imposition of austerity policies in Britain, especially cuts to public-sector employment, it is becoming apparent that women in general, and black and ethnic minority women in particular, have suffered disproportionately. While considerable attention has focused on women as victims of the recession, it can be argued that the plight of black and ethnic women has been somewhat overlooked.

The Runnymede Trust report (2014) for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community, showed that women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are twice as likely to be unemployed than white women.

The report found women from black and ethnic minorities face discrimination at “every stage” of the recruitment process. For instance, women reported having to ‘Westernise’ their names to improve their employment prospects. Indeed, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently called for employers to adopt name – blind applications to address discrimination and unconscious bias, following research showing that people with traditionally British -sounding names are nearly twice as likely to be called for a job interview than candidates from other backgrounds.

Cecile Wright

The unnaturally high unemployment rates of women in black and minority ethnic communities has considerable implications for families and society as a whole – particularly given the situation that for large numbers of black and ethnic minority families the mother is the sole earner.

Research on the patterns of women’s employment reveals patterns of gender and ethnic segmentation . Findings of a European commission report(2014)show the pay gap between men and women at 16.4% across the EU, with the UK still one of the worst offenders despite having slightly narrowed its disparity to 19%. Ethnic and gender penalties may intersect insofar that in the UK white people earn more than people from ethnic minorities on average. It is argued that the wage gap therefore derives in significant measure from occupational segregation. This occurs because ethnic minorities tend to cluster into low-paying occupations. Thus, the pay gap for black and ethnic minority women has the double dimensions of both gender and ethnicity.

With a quarter of the UK’s population projected to come from a black and ethnic minority background by 2051, in particular employers’ need to address the specificities of patterns of gender and ethnic discrimination in the labour market. This includes practical steps to increasing diversity in professional occupations ensuring they are recruiting from black and ethnic minority women and other underrepresented groups, removing barriers and creating future approaches to increasing business engagement with policies ,tackling discrimination and supporting employees as an urgent priority.

References:

Crenshaw, K.(1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and sex. University of Chicago.

Runneymede Trust(2014) ‘All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community Ethnic Minority Female Unemployment: Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Heritage Women’

European Commission (2014) ‘Tackling the gender pay gap in the European Union’, European Commission

Professor Cecile Wright, University of Nottingham,UK . 12, February,2016

Professor Wright lectures in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham and has previously made appearances on BBC East Midlands, BBC News Online and the Sunday Politics show.

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994508000007512001Diversity Dialogues – a new initiative from the British Chamber

Words by Rosie Halfhead, owner of R-˃Co and chair of the British Chamber’s Diversity Dialogues working group

Diversity is no longer a side issue; it is a business reality. Consequently, the chamber has launched a new initiative, Diversity Dialogues, to put the spotlight on a variety diversity issues and best practices.

Our first Diversity Dialogues event took place on 19 October. It was designed around the idea of ‘content-based networking’. Over 60 participants from a range of backgrounds and sectors engaged enthusiastically in three different hosted conversations.

Diversity in practice

Erik Kerkhofs, Director DX, Microsoft made some framing remarks that focused on the dynamics of today’s workplace. He talked about the pervasive use of technology and the impact of the changing demographics in both the workforce and the customer base, especially in terms of age, ethnicity and gender.

In the conversation that followed, Erik encouraged participants to share their own experiences about diversity and what works or not. There was a general view that diversity needs to be embraced by all business leaders collectively, and not ‘left’ to HR. It was also felt that corporate cultures need to evolve to be more understanding of the benefits of diversity, taking cues from the ‘outside-in’ and drawing on real experiences. Practical suggestions included training on unconscious bias; using personality profiling techniques to build diverse teams; creating a workplace environment that is gender friendly (eg, not scheduling meetings after 5pm); measuring people on the achievement of objectives rather than time in the office; as well as using peer pressure to bring about the needed change rather than imposing targets, eg for more women in senior roles.

The conversation ended with a strong agreement about the need for diversity and authenticity to go hand in hand.

The role of legislation in gender equality

Joanna Maycock, Secretary General, European Women’s Lobby suggested that gender equality progress has ground to a halt and encouraged participants to consider why, and what to do to kick-start it again. They talked about quotas – a necessary evil perhaps – but the means to an end, which has worked in many countries. However, whilst policy and legislation can help, everyone agreed that business must engage in order to bring about meaningful change.

As we are still living and working in a male-dominated society, the group felt that a cultural and mindset shift is needed, and this is necessary at personal, educational, institutional and societal levels.

As the conversation came to an end, participants took a vote on whether quotas should be introduced to achieve gender equality on boards. The majority said yes.

The impact of unconscious bias in recruitment

Steven Maisel, partner, Fitch Bennett Partners, drew on his many years of experience in executive recruiting stating that biases are present – conscious and unconscious – although he had never experienced overt bias around gender.

Participants agreed that the selection process (ie, finding and recommending a diverse slate of candidates) might be effective, but that in the end the hiring manager makes the choice. And this selection may well then be a ‘safe option’, conditioned by the manager’s own frame of reference that is likely to be influenced by personal biases. The group felt it would be beneficial to re-frame and emphasize the values defined for roles to be more inclusive – eg, valuing leadership, team building, communication rather than only the hard skills.

Future events

Given the success of this kick-off event, the Diversity Dialogues Working Group* is currently planning four events in 2016, one per quarter, and we are now looking for speakers and sponsors interested in getting involved.

The topics we will explore are:

Making gender equality a reality – a high-level, moderated debate on the issue of women in leadership and executive roles; women on boards as well as the role of men in making gender equality a reality.

Creating a corporate culture that embraces diversity – a listen and learn session that will feature practical insights and experience from 2-3 companies from different sectors that are leading the way in embracing diversity in business, with follow up Q&A.

Understanding and dealing with unconscious bias – a practical, hands-on training session.

Reflecting on progress and shaping the future agenda – mid-November we will organize another content-based networking session that builds on the successful formula of our launch event.

In addition, in order to keep the dialogue going and encourage connections, information sharing and on-going networking, we have created a DiversityDialoguesBXL group on LinkedIn. Please join to stay connected & informed and to share thoughts and continue the diversity dialogue. Please also help us raise awareness of the topic and initiative by using the #DiversityDialoguesBXL hashtag on Twitter wherever relevant.

Rosie Halfhead chairs the British Chamber’s Diversity Dialogues working group. Rosie is a former C-suite executive in global financial services who now runs the Brussels-based brand & marketing consultancy, R->Co, working mainly with non-profits, startups and SMEs. She is a strong advocate for diversity in business and was Programme Director, Diversity on Boards for the Hong Kong non-profit Community Business, co-authoring a guide on ‘how to improve governance through board diversity’. On her return to Brussels recently, Rosie began working with the chamber to develop an initiative around diversity, which has now materialised into the Diversity Dialogues programme.

* Working Group members

Melanie Barker, The Fry Group

Inge Boets, Porter Novelli

Linda-Jean Cockcroft, Risk & Policy Analysts

Kristel De Prins, TIMESMORE

Rosie Halfhead (Working Group Chair), R-Co

Angela Jones, RobinsonHenry

Catherine Stewart, Interel

Aylin Lusi, UPS

Steven Maisel, Fitch Bennett Partners

James Pearson, British Chamber

Zsuzsanna Kovacs, British Chamber

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