Windrush and Employment Discrimination: My second generation story

Authors: Hillna Fontaine
  • Reading time: 5 min.
  • Posted on: July 21, 2021

At Shape we’re lucky to work with innovative partners on projects that change the world. We’re excited to publish the stories of some of them on our Hub. In this post we hear from Hillna Fontaine, Founder and CEO of Mabadiliko CIC, about her experience of racism in the UK and her work in cultural humility.

It’s been more than 55 years since the Government had to pass a law making it unlawful to discriminate against Black people in employment. Today, though, Black people are still disproportionately discriminated against in the workplace and economically held back from thriving. We are still not considered a ‘natural fit’ by many employers. 

Through our Cultural Humility behaviour change programme, we at Mabadiliko CIC invite you to take some time out to critically self-reflect and evaluate how you are showing up in the workplace and how you might be excluding colleagues, clients or service users.

Windrush Day was the first time I spoke up about my experience of discrimination in the workplace. I felt brave for the first time.  That has been one of the benefits of doing the work I do — I no longer see all white people as racists. I’ve had opportunities to address the elephant in the room and have real conversations about race and oppression with white people. Many are fully aware of their unearned privilege and get it; we do not live in a meritocracy and the impact of institutional racism isn’t something you can just get over.

I hope my experiences will enable you to understand some of the values that are important to me and gave birth to Mabadiliko CIC. 

The Race Relations Act 1965 was introduced just a few years after my birth. It was intended to send a message that the UK Government acknowledged our experiences of racial discrimination.

It didn’t make any difference.

That reality smacked me in the face when a Careers Advisor told a young and ambitious me that rather than becoming a secretary, I would be more suited as a cashier at my local Tesco.

One of my first roles was in telecommunications. After several years, when my manager was leaving, I was asked to take on their role. I discovered that working twice as hard and receiving amazing appraisals meant nothing. Unbeknown to me, I’d actually been training a new member of staff to be my manager. What was unsaid was that I was racialised as incapable of management. I haven’t worked for a company since.

Working for myself was an act of self-love.

Acts and policies do not change people’s inherent beliefs, fears, biases or prejudices.

Proving direct intent of racial discrimination (as required by most organisations’ complaints procedures) is almost impossible. Employers can still easily reject obvious instances of discrimination.  Black staff tell us that policies offer little, if any, protection from abuse, bullying, harassment and gaslighting. Some managers are uncomfortable discussing and acknowledging discrimination. Those that try are often shut down when they try to take the smallest steps.

How do we achieve antiracism when social norms have discouraged us from talking about racism for so long?

At Mabadiliko CIC our approach is rooted in Cultural Humility, which is about more than legislation and policy. It means actively listening to the lived experiences of others and critically self-evaluating the racist ideas we’ve consumed. It means tending to our biases. It means saying ‘I’m sorry’.

Being humble means actively listening to the lived experiences of others you didn’t know were being treated differently because of the colour of their skin. To validate their experience. To learn the ways in which what you say and don’t say, do and don’t do, may be excluding or oppressing others.

What stereotypes and prejudices have you unconsciously consumed? What are you doing to tend to your biases? How might you be excluding others?

If you want to find out more about protecting your staff, making sure that you and your organisation is indeed being inclusive or would like external facilitators to help initiate safe and brave conversations about racism, oppression and discrimination, you can email to book a free consultation or visit the website.