There hasn’t been the debate I expected about a current racism storyline in Coronation Street. I expected more negative comments, claims of political correctness being forced down the throats of viewers by out of touch script writers messing with the country’s favourite soap. I didn’t expect the story line to be largely ignored by the media.
‘Before long, every one in the office would be aware of the claims of racism and the counter claims of oversensitivity’
Most disappointing was the apparent lack of interest in the trade press. I would have expected HR journals to have seized on this − if nothing else it’s good material for equal opportunity awareness courses, or do organisations no longer provide this sort of training?
I would have expected public sector journals and web sites to have commented because as a senior manager I spent a disproportionate amount of time dealing with conflicts between individual employees that were often base on the type of “innocent” remark or “unthinking” comment that the pub scene in Coronation Street portrays.
The offended individual would report the incident to their manager and if they did not get the unconditional support they thought they were entitled to they would go to their union rep and make a formal complaint to HR. Before long, every one in the office would be aware of the claims of racism and the counter claims of oversensitivity and the team would be divided.
The line manager often felt out of their depth dealing with this type of issue, saying they didn’t get the support from senior management or HR, whose first response was often to dismiss the whole thing as a personality conflict. On more than one occasion a situation was inflamed when it was suggested one or other person should be transferred to another team or location.
‘Is the real issue that there is no appetite for addressing casual racism in an era of austerity?’
These incidents were not restricted to teams or organisations where issues around race were ignored or avoided − in fact, equal opportunity workshops and conferences where HR and senior managers made public commitments to not tolerating racism and challenging inappropriate language gave employees the confidence and permission to object where before they would probably have let things slide.
It’s not too late to kick off a discussion at team and strategic management level. I think the Corrie storyline would be great material for an equality workshop.
But is the real issue that there is no appetite for addressing casual racism in an era of austerity, where budget cuts, redundancies and falling service standards dominate the agenda?