People have often asked me why I stayed in such a toxic environment while working for the Ministry of Justice. Why didn’t I just leave? I stayed for nearly 2 decades in various departments – it couldn’t have been that bad if I stayed for so long…right?
Well I guess just like any relationship that isn’t working out, I stayed for a myriad of different reasons. I stayed because I loved my job; I had invested a lot of time and effort. I stayed because I hoped things would get better. I deluded myself that things had to get better after the court ruled that I had been subjected to direct racial discrimination, racial harassment and victimisation on racial grounds! 'Of course things would get better. Of course the perpetrators would be dealt with'. I stayed because I was optimistic and I was naïve.
Whilst I appreciated that raising complaints of racism would cause disruption, I had no way of knowing that after I complained, the people who were bullying me would get promoted! (Read my book 'Almost British-Revisited!) And that they would be allowed to continue to bully me from their new loftier positions. (Read my book!) I actually believed I would get justice in the Ministry of Justice.
Let’s take each point in turn – I loved my job. I was good at my job, and this was something I knew to be true because people were genuinely appreciative of my craft, they regularly gave detailed and specific feedback. I met and often exceeded my annual targets. People thanked me sincerely for the work I did for them. They recommended me to others and put me forward for awards, rewards and recognition. I won awards and was actively requested to lead on certain projects by my stakeholders.
If I was to leave my job, as far as I was concerned - it needed to be for reasons unrelated to abuse!
If I was to leave my job it should be because I have gained the opportunity to move to a better position, better pay, better terms and conditions. I shouldn’t be leaving because someone is forcing me to. I was well educated, properly experienced and I loved my job. What I hated was being belittled in front of others or at all. I hated being racially stereotyped. I hated all types of abuse.
In complaining about the abuse, my hope was to put an end to said abuse so that I could continue to do the job I loved. I accepted that movement towards a harassment-free workplace would take some time and I was prepared to wait and push for change. So I did this dance a number of times like an insane person – doing the same thing and expecting different results.
Emotionally I was in a place where I pendulum swung between belligerence which fueled me digging my heels in – refusing to leave! I mean who did these people think they were? You don’t get to push me out!!! Then there would be the pendulum swing to the other extreme…’I’m a professional – Get me out of here!’ I swung back and forth for years. I applied for jobs within government, outside of government, toyed with working for myself…then I’d be like, ‘No!!! I’m not going anywhere. Why should I have to leave!!!!’
Every once in a while I would be in a good place, working with a decent and fair manager and that would give me hope. Psychologists call this period ‘Intermittent Reinforcement’. It’s where a few positive moments give you hope that the ‘relationship’, the situation can still work. Intermittent Reinforcement gives you a glimpse of what you are yearning for. It’s a powerful drug because it reinforces that 'future state' you’re so desperate to arrive at. But what it also does is bond you to the trauma. It keeps you enduring the next bout of abuse because you are holding on to that brief period of when things were good and the belief that they can be good again. You reframe the current abuse as a blip, and encourage yourself that there will soon be a return to that good place.
This swinging back and forth was because I didn’t want to leave the job I loved. I loved working with Judges, both in the UK and internationally. I loved working with Prison Governors and senior managers. What I wanted was to do exactly what my white colleagues were able to do – to get up each morning, go to work and just do a good job without having to think about people disliking me because of the colour of my skin, my ethnicity, my culture; without people actively working towards my downfall for the same reasons whilst they convince everyone else (including themselves) that their pursuit of my demise isn’t personal (Read the Book!). That was what I wanted – to be left alone to thrive. And as long as that remained my deepest motivation…I stayed. Things really changed for me when my circumstances meant I could meet that deep motivation, by working for myself!
That leads me to the other reasons I stayed – I needed to get paid like everybody else! Human beings form attachments to people, groups and organisations to ensure their individual survival. This means that when your main source of survival or a means to survive i.e. your job becomes a place where you are abused, you can end up forming a trauma bond in that you are reliant on someone or something that is also causing you harm.
It creates this contradiction where you have needs met in the same place you are suffering.
Earning a good salary was important for a number of reasons, not least because I had a chronically ill and then terminally ill mother to look after. She was my heartbeat, and I was committed to keep her in the home she loved, and give her the best care, then the best end-of-life care I could facilitate for her.
It still surprises me that people ask me why I stayed - like getting a new senior role as a black woman in Britain who has won a case against her employers for racism is gonna be easy!
Rolling my eyes!
But let’s take the fact that I took my employers to court and won rulings against them out of the picture. Let’s just see me as Black woman in Britain looking to get another job.
According to a UK report by the 'Black Women in Leadership Network' (2022)
4 in 10 Black Women do not believe they are offered the same career advancement opportunities as their non-black female colleagues
Almost half of those surveyed believe they will be overlooked for promotion
2 in 3 Black Women reported experiencing racial bias at work
33% of Black women surveyed had resigned from a professional position due to racially related unfair treatment in the workplace, a proportion rising to 52% for those in a senior executive position. Version 2 - BWIL Survey 2022 (wsimg.com)
Forbes reports that Black women are paid 21% less than white women Black Women Are Paid Less Than White Women: Here’s Why It Matters (forbes.com)
The UK Office of National Statistics report “Employees in the Black African, Caribbean or Black British… on average earned 5% to 10% less than their White British counterparts between 2012 and 2018”. Ethnicity pay gaps in Great Britain - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)
A PBS report (2018) said “women of color are not only significantly underrepresented, they are far less likely than others to be promoted to manager, more likely to face everyday discrimination and less likely to receive support from their managers.”
It goes on to report:
For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 60 black women are.
40% of black women have had their judgment questioned in their area of expertise; 27% of men have.
Only 35% of black women said their manager promotes their contributions to others; 46% of men said their manager does.
41% of black women said they never have a substantive interaction with a senior leader about their work; just 27% of men said that. Report: Black women less likely to be promoted, supported by their managers | PBS NewsHour
If you're still in doubt to the challenges we face, a TUC Report (2022) 'Still Rigged' has reported the following:
More than 1 in 4 (27%) BME people said they experienced racist jokes or “banter” at work in the last five years.
More than 1 in 4 (26%) BME workers said that they were made to feel uncomfortable at work due to people using stereotypes or commenting on their appearance.
1 in 5 (21%) said they had racist remarks directed at them or made in their presence.
And 1 in 5 (21%) said they were bullied or harassed at work.
Just a little more for good measure...
1 in 7 (14%) BME workers reported facing unfair criticism in the last five years.
1 in 9 (11%) said they were given an unfair performance assessment.
1 in 13 (8%) told the TUC they were unfairly disciplined at work.
1 in 14 (7%) said they have been subjected to excessive surveillance or scrutiny.
1 in 8 (12%) of BME workers said they were denied promotions.
1 in 8 (12%) of BME workers reported being given harder or less popular work tasks than white colleagues.
If I enjoyed a fraction of the privileges some of my white colleagues had, I would have been able to leave the Ministry of Justice on a whim and with the confidence that I could get another job at the drop of a hat. I was after all very good at my job. I probably would have been headhunted or simply had a job created for me or just promoted into a role that wasn't advertised. Yup I've seen all these things done in a place they say these things don't happen!
But knew I was a black woman in Britain and that’s a dose of realism that tempers every significant decision I make in my life!
So why didn’t I leave a toxic environment – why didn't I leave such an intolerable situation…I did. It just took me a while to leave in the way I wanted, for the reasons I wanted, and for that I make no apology.
Nairobi Thompson Blog post (c) 2022