Racialised Trauma in the Workplace – Professor Patrick Vernon OBE

‘Racial trauma which is the result the of racism has the following consequences on Black and Brown people, such as emotional, psychological, and post-traumatic stress that ultimately has an impact on individual self-esteem, mental wellbeing, physical health, and cultural identity.’

Racialised trauma in the workplace has become a hot topic ever since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and during the time of the pandemic. There has been a massive explosion of conversations in the workplace for Black and racialised staff, having the moral authority and permission to voice about historic and contemporary issues micro-aggressions bullying, harassment, the impacts of the glass ceiling on their mental wellbeing and their career progression.

The impact of racialised trauma is a part of a wider context of the Black and Brown experience of structural racism in Britain. From my experience working in senior management in the voluntary and public sector experience and now system equity adviser and activist I have seen this in mental health services, going back 20 plus years, my campaigning work around Black history, and more recently, the impact of the Windrush Scandal has really highlighted intergenerational trauma, community trauma and body corporate gaslighting of individuals in the workplace. I think the Government’s attempt to try and give an alternative perspective on discrimination, particularly during the time of the murder of George Floyd and Covid 19 through the Sewell report, has further reinforced and intensified this conversation around trauma.

The issue of community trauma is quite important because it highlights issues around of race, class, power, and privilege which often has a clear relationship in the workplace. The impact of micro-aggressions around race, gender and all aspects of intersexuality is now a powerful narrative around lack of psychological safety and spaces for people of colour to be an authentic person.

One of the key things which I have found through my work as an EDI consultant, particularly working in several public bodies over the last five years, is the key relationship between productivity and performance management. The business case around performance management and race equality is now the new case that needs to be made in terms of spending resources, time and system change around tackling racialised trauma in the workplace.

Guilanine Kinouani authored a fantastic book in 2021 called ‘Living While Black: The essential guide to overcoming racialised trauma’. Based on her practise as a therapist and academic, she has been able to articulate the impact of trauma on an individual level, family level, and the community level. This is quite important because you cannot look in isolation when Black and Brown staff are working in an organisation. Yes, sometimes they may bring that trauma of issues affecting them into work, but also at the same time it is also recognising that that local government and public sector is also part of society too. And the policies, the treatment, interaction of staff and the organisation could trigger people because of the inequalities that are still experienced in the workplace and in wider society.

So, the question is, what can employers do? The role of HR and OD leaders are really, critical in setting the framework, the templates and collaborating with senior leaders to ensure that there is an inclusive policy around tackling racialised trauma. The role of occupational health and EAP programmes needs to be revamped and looked at because they are not really meeting the need to support staff with experiencing discrimination. I think having specialists, culturally competent therapists, is something that needs to be considered, as well as emotional emancipation circles where a model that has been developed in America, where particularly Black staff can come together to share the lived experiences of discrimination and peer support. I think having role of EDI Champions and Wellbeing Champions are still important, but need to be well-resourced and given more credibility

From a system leadership level, we need to learn lessons of Grenfell, the Windrush scandal and Child Q as these events also have an impact on Black and racialised staff too as they are often part of the same communities being affected. I think it would be great to pilot test at a regional and national level a survey on racialised trauma which could develop some key metrics and a baseline that organisations could compare themselves as part of the journey of becoming anti racist. In addition, commissioning at a regional, national level for specialists, therapists who can support Black and racialised staff dealing with issues of discrimination in the workplace. The issue of racial trauma is the elephant in the room for all public and private sector bodies that needs to be addressed to improve service delivery and performance management and creating the environment for inclusion and equity for all.


Originally posted on https://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/our-key-themes/race-equality/race-equality-voices-across-boroughs