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Image Dealing with the 'D' Word
We had barely caught our breath after the historic inauguration of President Obama when a short news item caught our eye about an undercover investigation that proved that racial prejudice is far from defeated in the UK.

An investigation carried out for BBC One's Inside Out West showed that letting agents and recruitment agencies are prepared to discriminate against people from ethnic minority groups.

A researcher posing as an employer called 30 recruitment agencies in the West of England, and said he needed a receptionist but insisted the job was offered only to white candidates. Twenty-five companies agreed to his request. Letting agents were also equally willing to discriminate, with 17 out of 30 agreeing not to offer a house to anyone from an ethnic minority background.

What's in a Colour?

While the findings were described as 'shocking', they frankly come as no surprise to many people of colour. Despite a plethora of government legislation, education, persuasion and good old arm-twisting, the discrimination word is still alive and well in all its guises.

Commenting on the survey, Professor Tariq Modood of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, said: "Past surveys have tended to suggest maybe a third of people will discriminate and (this investigation) has found that it is greater than that."

And it will take more than even the high profile success of the newly installed US President to change closed mindsets and entrenched prejudices that have been many years in the making. As some studies have shown, highly successful people of colour are often 'de-racialised' and seen as 'unique individuals' rather than a representative of their racial groups (which is why one white American basketball fan said, with no sense of irony, 'Man, NO WAY Michael Jordan is black!')

For according to this young fan's warped sense of logic, 'being black' means fitting the stereotype that he has been brought up to believe; a stereotype that does not equate black people with being successful, talented and rich.

It will take more than even the high profile success of the newly installed US President to change closed mindsets and entrenched prejudices that have been many years in the making.

So while a Black President can be a symbol that inspires some, it can perversely change nothing for those who see him as simply being the exception that doesn’t fit the rule.

Being the Change We Want to See

Dealing effectively with discrimination is a two-fold process: becoming knowledgeable about antidiscrimination laws, and paying close attention to what’s happening around you.

It's also about taking personal responsibility as leaders and as managers in the workplace for how we deal with ethnic groups other than our own. Blaming the victim is hardly the solution, but are there areas where we can all take more active responsibility for changing mindsets – including our own? Because we all have our prejudices and, as the saying goes, 'judge not lest ye be judged'.

Some of the ways we can create change in our organisations and our teams is to consider the following. Avoid playing favourites, such as offering some benefits to some employees and not to others. Keep your personal beliefs personal; your opinions on race, religion and sexual orientation have no place in how you conduct yourself at work.

Think before you speak. It's easy for an offhand remark to be misconstrued and to cause offence – or litigation.

It's also about taking personal responsibility as leaders and as managers in the workplace for how we deal with ethnic groups other than our own.

Respond quickly whenever there are any allegations of workplace discrimination and without prejudging the situation. It is also critical to establish the evidence and follow laid out procedures when acting. Finally, educate yourself about changes to the law as it affects workplace discrimination and make sure your team is also informed of what is and is not permissible.

Changing Hearts and Minds

I don't believe that anyone can legislate a change of mindset but I strongly believe that everyone can influence a shift in perception. By shrugging off stereotypes and staying focused on one's own path of self-development and success, we retain our power and cut the ground out from under our adversary. In just the same way, when we, in turn, treat others as individuals and not as part of a collective, we ourselves will be the beneficiary of that change of mind.

So, despite what seems like a never ending crusade to promote the business and social benefits of racial and cultural diversity, as Tom Hadley, of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation said: "It shows there's still a lot of work we need to do."

If we really intend to achieve Reverend King's dream of a racially equal society where all of us – and not just the lucky few - are seen as unique individuals, we all indeed have work to do.

In This Issue

In this issue, we focus on the energy sector in Africa and take a look at a new report that examines whether Ghana can escape the 'oil curse' that has afflicted other resource-rich African countries.

Staying on the subject of energy, we report on the efforts being made by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company to build its local talent and access Diaspora expertise.

If you are looking for a taste of Africa in the heart of London, the recently opened Just Freddie's might be just the place to go. We speak to Fred Quartey about the route he has taken from IT professional to restaurateur and chef.

Also in our Careers section this month, business coach Lin Sagovsky presents a new take on negotiating skills with her tongue-in-cheek look at 10 Ways to Bludgeon People into Agreeing with You.

In this economic climate, it's imperative to have a powerful and current CV and to stay abreast of career opportunities. If you need some ideas on how to make your CV work for you, our career coach tackles this question in this month's issue.

Eddy Datubo, the Executive Director of Crystek Consulting is our guest interviewee in this month's '5 Minute Interview' and shares some of the sources of his inspiration and success.

We go back into the ReConnect Africa Archives and publish again a provocative piece from Elijah Litheko. In 'Shaping Our Own Agenda', Litheko, a South African Human Resources expert, argues that the continual disempowerment of the African people is a call for us to shape our own agenda.

April sees a number of events taking place in the UK and overseas and our Events listing give you details of what's on this month.

As ever, we report on news from the UK and around the world and bring you an overview of news from across the African continent.

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