Devolved HR poses racism risk

Devolving HR duties to line managers can lead to institutional racism in
organisations, one of the authors of a study told the conference.

The discrimination arises from lack of training for managers in performance management
and handling disciplinary procedures, said Jo Rick, IES principal research

In the study, undertaken at a large public-sector organisation, ethnic
minority staff were found to be far more likely to face disciplinary hearings
and be viewed as poor performers by managers.

White managers were most prone to negative assessments of black and Asian
staff. Ethnic minorities make up more than half of the organisation’s staff.

The study comes in the wake of the MacPherson report, which stated institutional
racism "can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour
which amount to discrimination through prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness
and racist stereotyping".

Managers at the organisation said they had little confidence in handling personnel
procedures because of a lack of training.

This led to unwitting discrimination, the study found.

"In the absence of an agreed set of criteria for assessment…,
individual managers’ judgements about what constitutes a good performer are
more likely to hold sway," the authors concluded.

Managers were more likely to invoke disciplinary proceedings because they
wanted to keep all dealings "on the record" and avoid accusations of
harassment, the research concluded.

Managers only felt comfortable handling sickness absence cases, because they
had been trained in the relevant procedures.

"The problem is where it [devolving HR duties] is done without
appropriate training. With that in place, as it was in this case with sickness
absence, it is not so much of a problem," said Rick.

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