Don't pass the buck on racism

The sour odour of racism hangs above small pockets of the IT professional community in the UK.

The sour odour of racism hangs above small pockets of the IT professional community in the UK.

Last week Computer Weekly reported that a Palestinian IT manager had won a race discrimination claim against DaimlerChrysler at an employment tribunal in April. It emerged that Khalid Jayyosi had endured months of racist slurs, had his password changed to "suicide bomber", and was then made redundant in what the employment tribunal branded a "sham" dismissal.

His case followed similar incidents at Motorola's UK headquarters in Swindon, where two German IT consultants endured Nazi goose-stepping and name-calling.

Racism must not be tolerated in any walk of life, or in any field of work. But as a journal for IT professionals, our focus must fall specifically on the UK's IT departments.

Worryingly, some readers have responded to our story by suggesting that racism is a matter not for IT management but for the human resources department. Such buck-passing is as spineless as it is na‹ve.

The human resources department must of course ensure that the rules of racial equality are followed to the letter in all recruitment procedures and that employees are made aware of the standards of behaviour expected of them in work time. But IT managers need to keep a keen eye on the employees they line-manage and be alert to any racial tension that arises. This is one hot potato you need to keep at least a partial hold of.

Being largely male-oriented, IT departments can suffer from a culture of laddishness that, at its basest, can stray - maliciously or otherwise - into racism. Add to this the fact that other streams of business do not always understand the IT function and therefore leave it to police itself, and you have an isolated climate where latent racism can manifest itself if left unchecked.

We can only expect the influx of skilled overseas IT workers into the country to exacerbate the problem.

The issue of racism is never going to go away; so robust management is required to deal with it. Should you require any further persuasion, consider that there is a personal, as well as a moral imperative for acting. Jayyosi's case against DaimlerChrysler is set to cost the automotive firm as much as £200,000 in reparations. Unless you want to end up explaining to your superiors why you allowed departmental racism to deal a similar blow to your enterprise, you should act now to stamp out all traces of it.
This was last published in June 2003

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