Race in the Workplace: The McGregor-Smith Review - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:11 pm on 24th April 2017.

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Photo of Lord Prior of Brampton Lord Prior of Brampton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 6:11 pm, 24th April 2017

My Lords, it is one of the privileges of being in this House that one can sit through a debate such as this. We are talking about one of the big issues of our time—not just in this country. It is incredible to me that, 50 years after Martin Luther King gave his great speech, “I have a dream”, we still have a Black Lives Matter campaign running in America because young black men are being shot by policemen. This is not a British problem; this is a societal problem in pretty much every country in the world—not just in white-majority countries but in black-majority countries, Indian countries, African countries and the rest. Race is a huge, profound and difficult issue. There are no easy answers to it. If there were, we would have found a solution many years ago.

Let me start with a short extract from the excellent review by my noble friend Lady McGregor-Smith:

“Every person, regardless of their ethnicity or background, should be able to fulfil their potential at work. That is the business case as well as the moral case. Diverse organisations that attract and develop individuals from the widest pool of talent consistently perform better”.

My noble friend Lord Kirkham says that it is a no-brainer. I think that everyone who has contributed to this debate would say that: it is a no-brainer. That is the extraordinary thing about this subject: it is a no-brainer. The moral case is obvious. The economic case is a no-brainer. Yet, as my noble friend Lady Bottomley and the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, asked: why has it taken so long? If it is a no-brainer, why is progress so slow? Why do young black people have lower aspirations? That is the conundrum that we face today.

The Government welcome my noble friend’s report and encourage businesses to take forward her recommendations. We will work with employers to support them in improving their diversity and inclusion. From a personal point of view, I believe that daylight is the best disinfectant. That is an easy catchphrase, I know, but it is absolutely true.

I want to talk a little bit if I can about my own experience in the NHS, where I was chairman of the workforce race equality standard before I went to the Department of Health. We have heard a lot about institutional racism over the years, especially in relation to the police following the Macpherson inquiry into the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence. You would think sometimes, when reading about that, that it was only in the police and that it was only the police that was institutionally racist, but let me paint you a story about the NHS. It brings forward the contrast between words and actions, because the NHS constitution is clear that:

“All NHS staff have the right to be treated fairly, equally and to work in an environment that is free from discrimination”.

Those are almost the same words as in the constitution of the United States, which talked of liberty, equality and the pursuit of human happiness at a time of slavery and segregation. As we say in Norfolk, “Fine words butter no parsnips”. Again, this echoes the title of the McGregor-Smith review: The Time for Talking is Over. Now is the Time to Act. How many times and how many people have said that in the past—and here we are?

Some 20% of the NHS workforce are from a BME background, but only 5% of senior managers are from a BME background; 40% of hospital doctors are from a BME background, and only 3% of medical directors are from a BME background. Out of all the hundreds of NHS organisations, only three CEOs and four nursing directors are from BME backgrounds. People from BME backgrounds are twice as likely to enter a disciplinary process than white people. Even where there are very high levels of BME staff or very large BME communities served by a hospital, representation of BME people in senior leadership positions is far too low. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, is not here, because for a short time he was chairman of the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and he told me that there was no one from a Pakistani background in a senior position in that trust, despite the fact that the community that the hospital served was largely made up of people from that ethnic background.

These facts have been revealed only recently, in a paper called The “Snowy White Peaks” of the NHS, by Roger Kline. From that, we have developed nine standards—the workforce race equality standards, or WRES. My noble friend Lady McGregor-Smith talked about transparency; every trust has to produce nine standards, in public, going from board representation, training opportunities, promotion, levels of discrimination and the like. They will be published every year, and they have been incorporated not just into the NHS standard contract, which my noble friend Lady Bottomley mentioned, but into the regulatory system in CQC’s well-led domain.

Research has been published by the King’s Fund’s Michael West, Mandip Kaur and Jeremy Dawson, in a paper called Making the Difference, which makes it absolutely clear that there is a very close correlation between hospital performance, whether it is measured in patient or clinical outcomes, or however you measure it, and diversity. That is supported by work done by McKinsey which shows very clearly that boards with a diverse membership get better corporate results.

We know that black and other minority ethnic people suffer in other ways, not just in the workforce. They die younger. Research done by Professor David Williams, now of Harvard University, estimates that 200 adult black people die prematurely each day in the USA because they are black not white. It is not just about poor housing or less healthcare, because it is true also of college-educated black people in the USA, because they have to try that much harder and have to be overqualified and put up with all those subconscious slights of day-to-day living: a look of fear in the face of a single white woman; the look of surprise at a moment of success; not getting a good table or good service in a restaurant; and lack of courtesy from other people—all those small slights.

I can recommend to anyone who is interested Professor Williams’s TED talk called “How Racism Makes Us Sick”. In it, he reported on a very broad experiment and noted that black people were associated with words like “violent”, “poor”, “religious” and “lazy”. For whites it was words like “successful”, “wealthy”, “progressive”, “conventional” and “educated”. That is why there is subconscious bias—because there is this stereotype. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkham, said, “I am not a racist, but”. I suspect that applies to everybody. We have a deep, subconscious stereotype of what different people are like and I will come now to why I think that is.

This is my personal view—but it is not just mine. Despite what we have heard from other noble Lords, we have made more progress in removing discrimination against disabled people, women and people with a different sexual orientation. The crucial question is: why has race been so difficult? In part it may be because the roots of the issue are not just cultural but evolutionary. Xenophobia has deep evolutionary roots; suspicion or aggression to outsiders has been an effective strategy for human beings and, more importantly, our forebears for millions of years. Today, interview, selection and promotion processes in the workplace are the modern setting where intrinsic, subconscious bias now most evidently—but, as I have argued, by no means exclusively—plays out. We pick people “like us”; people who will “fit in”; people who will be part of our team: in other words, white, male and people who want to play rugby at the weekends.

I have just read a fascinating book called East West Street by Philippe Sands, who writes about the origins of two strands of international criminal law originating from the Nuremberg trials after the war: genocide and crimes against humanity. In the epilogue he concludes powerfully that, for all the disadvantages and unintended consequences of the former law—which focuses on groups rather than individuals—it is necessary because:

“I am bound to accept that the sense of group identity is a fact”.

As long ago as 1883, the sociologist Louis Gumplowicz, in his book on the struggle between the races, noted that,

“the individual when he comes into the world is a member of a group”.

This view persists. A century later, the biologist Edward O Wilson wrote that:

“Our bloody nature … is ingrained because group-versus-group was a principal driving force that made us what we are”.

It seems to him that a basic element of human nature is that,

“people feel compelled to belong to groups and, having joined, consider them superior to competing groups”.

Yvonne Coghill is the co-director of the workforce race equality standard programme in the NHS. She is a black woman from the Caribbean who has been a nurse in the NHS for 30 years. Knowing that I was taking part in this debate, she wrote to me last week, saying: “Beliefs about what good looks like, what constitutes beauty and brains, are deeply ingrained in our society … the problem of race is a systemic and structural one … we are fearful and anxious about differences”.

Of course things have got much better. The six race relations and equality Acts between 1965 and 2010 have had an impact. Overt racism is rarely seen. The civil rights legislation in the USA came in from the 1960s onwards, together with affirmative action programmes. Interestingly, Professor Williams, to whom I referred, got his first break with a minority scholarship to the University of Michigan. I believe very much in giving people an extra hand. You have to look at people’s potential rather than their actual achievements. However, subconscious discrimination is still a major factor in the USA.

What is the conclusion from this? I think it is that there are no quick, easy answers. There is no one piece of legislation that we can pass which will solve these problems. The case for greater urgency is made in this review. As the EY case study in the review states:

“We believe that culture change takes time—and we are therefore patient and at the same time impatient”,

to change the status quo.

We are impatient to tackle this issue because it is a moral and economic imperative. However, we will have to be both patient and impatient—patient because we are trying to change deep-rooted behaviour and impatient because racial discrimination is both a moral outrage and a huge economic opportunity. This very important review from my noble friend Lady McGregor-Smith has the full support of the Government. We will not resort to legislation straightaway but will see how things go. If legislation is needed at some time in the future, we will, of course, consider it at that time.

I conclude by again thanking my noble friend for this report. I hope that in two, three, four or five years’ time, we can look back at this as a moment when things started to accelerate. However, I fear that we need some patience.