HOW PREVALENT IS RACISM AT WORK?
Many organizations in Kenya report that they have a non-discrimination policy based on race, gender, creed or nationality. The policy is supposed to communicate to the world that the organization treats its workers in the same manner.
Professionals joining such companies after writing high quality resumes and excelling in the job interviews, have high hopes of career advancement.
However, a scrutiny of various organizations reveals that racism is a common practice and victims are helpless since they do not know where to turn. Jim, an accountant with an international organization was shocked to be told that he could not be promoted to a senior position even though he was qualified for it. Instead, the organization brought in a person from the UK to take the position. “I came to learn that the senior positions in the organizations are always filled by foreigners.” says Jim. His greatest shock came when he learned that his new boss was not a qualified accountant but had been a sailor for many years!
It is not clear why the authorities would give a work permit to a sailor to come and work in a senior accounting position despite the country having enough qualified accountants.
Grace, a teacher in an international school also learnt of racism in her workplace the hard way. After working in the school for 7 years, Grace was promoted to head of department. However, she found the going tough because the foreign staff under her would take instructions directly from her boss. Many times, they would refuse to take her instructions and Grace would seek the support of her boss who would side with the juniors. After a year of being sabotaged and belittled, Grace left for another school. Her position was immediately filled by a foreigner. Her former colleagues told Grace that the boss was commending her for seeing sense and ‘quitting to make way for the right person.’
These are not isolated cases, as people who work in such organizations will tell you, racism is rife in Kenya. This includes discrimination in hiring, promotions and awarding of benefits including international trips and training.
The first step to confronting this workplace malaise is to bring it out in the open. This is not easy since many victims of workplace racism are afraid of speaking out lest they lose their jobs.