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Camden Council Guilty of Direct Racial Discrimination

February 26, 2013

Fraser Valdez

Fraser Valdez

As a former employee of Camden Council Environmental Services I wasn’t surprised to hear of a former colleagues’ successful tribunal action against the local authority.

I worked in a depressing environment. It was an environment that rated over-qualified external candidates over qualified internal candidates, making career progression and development impossible for those with long service but few opportunities.

Resultantly, Culture and Environment, the directorate I worked within, was overwhelmingly white and middle class. The rare senior meeting I could attend often looked like the cast of a BBC serial from the 1960s; middle England and twee individuals getting together to run a borough in the heart of the city.cnj

For a long time, as a young graduate, I didn’t question it. It just seemed so normal. Of course I wasn’t meant to have any kind of seniority. Me and my afro/canerow/twist (depending on my mood) couldn’t be strategic, driven, influential. I was ‘trainer girl’ who enjoyed a drink on Fridays. My job was to competently take care of the things more important people were too good for. The better I did my job, the less they had to care about it.

Eventually, the department machine had done its job. Enough faces had come in who had careers before Camden; with experience that surpassed mine though that experience was not called upon for the role they were in. I knew if an opportunity presented itself, I could not compete with them. So I left. I didn’t have the luxury they had to build their career in the convenience of familiarity.

It worked out. Within weeks of leaving I was signed up to training courses that still benefit me today, given projects and perhaps most importantly, I was appreciated and encouraged.

That’s not to say I’ve not encountered the same incongruity from other colleagues or managers, but it is to say I’ve encountered it from individuals, not from the culture of an organisation. And thank goodness for that, because that kind of culture is toxic.

Here is the thing; I had lots of friends whilst I worked at Camden and now, after leaving, I still have a few. But after reading about Fraser Valdez’s experience I reflect on my time there and wonder “how could I be so blind?”

The answer is simple. The racism was subtle. In fact, I would go so far to say unintended. But I would say it was there.

It was in the drinking circles and the social circles. It was in the ‘acting up’ opportunities available to some but not all. I remember a few strange things; awards I was never invited to and workloads I wasn’t given, always getting the grubby side of the coin.

It wasn’t just me, I remember a colleague who was perfectly experienced losing a project to a white colleague who was not nearly as experienced.

I remember clearly the conversations I had when I said I had found another job and was leaving. I didn’t expect waterworks, but I expected some regret. I said this at the time and I stand by this, it was as if I had been kicked out of the door. As if I had outstayed my welcome and finally got the hint.

Fraser Valdez’s experience resonates with me. The CNJ states:

“The 31-year-old was the outright winner in the contest for a senior role, but his managers awarded the job to a white colleague who had scored less than him.”

When they couldn’t engineer a result by selecting an over-qualified candidate they were comfortable with, they simply lied. The ghastly thing is, not only did they lie during the recruitment process, the continued to lie when they were found out.

Judge Snelson said council evidence countering Mr Valdez’s claim of direct racial discrimination was “flawed, contradictory and false”.

Racism and discrimination breeds in environments dominated by middle class, white and English, senior and executive management. This is a fact. Race is more present in the thoughts of minorities. It’s a moral prism that we can view the world through; not to discriminate but to see discrimination when it happens because it happens to our detriment, not benefit.

Not many white people can relate to this, and understandably so. You’re less likely to see racism if you’ve never had to see your own race.

A directorate that celebrated diversity would have clearly identified the flaws in the process Valdez had to negotiate long before it had to be identified by a judge. It would have challenged the appointment of a person who scored less than him during an interview process. It would have discovered the flaws in the process during any internal investigation. And it would have done everything in its power to stop a judge airing such filthy, embarrassing laundry in public.

Many people think diversity is a misnomer. That it celebrates the elevation of under qualified individuals who achieve based on their minority status whilst honest, hard working white colleagues are punished.

I disagree with this.

In a borough that is is 47.6% minority ethnic, Culture and Environment is run by “31 senior managers of whom only one is, conspicuously, a member of an ethnic minority group”. This blatant under-representation does not happen by accident and it won’t be corrected by good will alone either. Change takes action. Let’s see what action Camden will take.

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