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Black women in Parliament; a new perspective
It all started twenty one years ago in the House of Commons but we did not hear of it until a year back when Dawn Butler, openly accused the parliament of racism. Diane Abbott, being the first black woman in the parliament endured this but backed up Dawn when it finally came down to it in April 2008. Dawn Butler, one of the only two black women in the House of Commons and also the labour party Member of Parliament for the Brent South region, complained of experiencing various forms of racism in the Parliament. For instance when she was once standing in a lift, some of the other Members of Parliament commented on how terrible it was that cleaners were allowed to use the same lift as them. ( appendix 1) Another incident occurred at a party when a former minister David Heathcote-Amory questioned her reasons for being there and then commented that the Parliament were letting anyone in nowadays. The following sums up how she feels about the situation she is currently facing.
'I thought people in Parliament would be progressive. It is still a shock that they are not,' she said. 'Over the past 400-plus years, the only black people - and black women in particular - in Parliament have been there to cook and clean. For some politicians, it's still a shock to come face to face with black women with any real power. Racism and sexism is Parliament's dirty little secret' (Butler cited by Hill and Revill , 2009).
This statement from Dawn shows that men still believe in the concept of Stereotyping. A modern definition of a stereotype is that provided by Oakes, Haslam and Turner (1994): ‘the process of ascribing characteristics to people on the basis of their group membership'. In Dawn's case, they used this notion in two ways. The first was their perception of a woman and where her rightful place is, at home with the kids. The second way was them believing that black women, in particular are only meant to be house helps or cleaners. The second perception can be further proved by using a suggestion by Hamilton and Glifford (1976) which is that it is the tendency of us not to be able to appreciate novelty which causes us to associate members of minority groups with undesirable characteristics. Stereotyping in any way is due to the lack of willingness for one to change his beliefs and attitudes. This in turn has brought about sexism and racism. This case shows a strong woman fighting for her rights and another article featuring British MP Harriet Harman (appendix 1.1) will show us what women with power can do to change the current situation. Stereotyping is only one of the many criteria that this case relates to. Culture influences, power, politics, stress, conflict and the future trends for change will be talked about in relation to this essay aside from the main problems which are gender harassment and racism in the Parliament.
“Racismis man's gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason”- Abraham J. Heschel. The question is what happens when racism is not the only sin being committed, combine it with sexism and we have a very hard life for a black woman in the Parliament. According to a standard dictionary, racism is defined as the hatred or intolerance shown to a different race or people of different colour. The world has advanced greatly so the question is why does racism still exist in organisations today? In organisations a reason for racism is frustration. If one is having some sort of work related problem, they may blame immigrants for taking away their jobs or creating fewer opportunities (Abanes, 1992).
Another very important reason is organisational culture. If we were to define culture it would be the symbols, beliefs and patterns of behaviour learnt, produced and created by people in an organisation. The men in the House of Commons were not used to females in such a high post let alone females that were of another race. Crompton and Jones (2004) suggested that it was all about ‘networking' when climbing up the ladder. Such networking may occur in the form of shared sporting interests such as football or rugby which women are not interested in. Hence women evidently are left out and feel it harder to be accepted than men. Even men talk such as ‘you have to get on the team' add a language barrier for women to communicate with other men (Riley, 1983).
The Parliament has an obvious male dominated culture, not only when referring to its members' perceived attitudes towards women like Dawn but also for example, concealed within its physical decor. This forms the first level of Schein's three levels of culture.
A virtual tour of the Parliament building experienced online showed me a picture of olden day Britain. The traditional chandeliers along with its ancient British architecture emphasises the point being made. The Parliament is trying its best to preserve the olden day culture, although one must realise that as a result of this, traditional attitudes, view and perspectives will still exist. To elaborate further, what was observed was that in the Parliament's central lobby stood statues of important 19th century British statesmen. The point to be noted here is the word “statesmen”. Nowhere will you find a portrait or statue of a woman. An interpretive approach like Schein's can be used to understand the culture but does not explain where these attitudes came from. From a functionalist perspective we see that the Parliament's culture was cultivated by the men who have ruled in the past and was then modified as years went on (Trice and Beyer, 1991). Years ago, women, not being given a worthy status was not looked at as sexism, as it was simply a way of life but now that women are increasingly demanding equal rights and have penetrated as far as in to the Parliament, they are questioning the attitudes of men in the organisations they work in. The culture in most organisations see women as holding a subordinate role and none of high importance. If we were to look at the medical or engineering fields of work it is pretty obvious which sex dominates these. Furthermore why do we always assume that a ‘secretary' is always a woman. Are women forced to impersonate a man to some extent in order to be heard in an organisation these days? According to research , yes, women these days feel the need to use a deeper voice and show assertive behaviour in order to get noticed and not sidelined by the other sex. Seen as the more passionate of the sexes, they are often walked over and may be in the 72% of women in the world that have been bullied in their workplace or the 85% that believe that there is an obvious bias towards men. In conclusion the change has to be gradual and aimed at the attitudes of the members of the organisation, hence changing the overall culture.
Hofstede (1991) developed four dimensions to examine national culture. One that seemed to match our problem is Masculinity versus Femininity. Gender roles are very distinct as women and men both know their place in society. When gender roles overlap femininity comes about which causes conflict.
This conflict can bring about either of the two effects. The first being the attempt to change the attitudes of members of the Parliament and bring in more coloured people or women and the second would be the simpler more obvious way- firing the complainant or bringing negative publicity towards him so the public themselves would want him out. In other words the seniors may ask themselves “should we attempt to change the culture attitudes in the firm or simply stop hiring them.” Unfortunately what really happens if a person suspects discrimination or experiences harassment is, that he may not wish to pursue his case for fear of a backlash.
As in the case of the House of Commons, Diane Abbott being the only black woman in Parliament most likely felt that she had better remain quiet as she had no support and could easily be voted out at the next election if she did speak up. The type of conflict that Dawn experienced was interpersonal which means she was in conflict with other members of Parliament who are on the same level as her (Champoux, 1996). The two women, despite experiencing the same reason for conflict, took different approaches in resolving it. Diane preferred to avoid conflict as a whole, whereas Dawn showed more aggression and used politics to force the issues to be realised. A redefined definition of Politics is described as the attempt to manage, settle, resolve or transform a conflict or putting in the effort to recognise or win a conflict (Mitchell, 2006). In addition to this, he states that conflict analysis needs to be performed before any type of resolving measures can be put in to place. This means the Government should analyse if Dawn's claims are actually legitimate first, before they can carry on with a way to resolve the issues. Dawn mentioned that she had been told by the speaker of the house that there was nothing that could be done about it and this in itself shows a flaw in the way this body of power operates. This shows a bureaucratic mode of operation within the Government in itself. The Government may have democratic principles in mind when forming itself but eventually it all turns bureaucratic. What can one do when the body that passed laws against racism and for women's rights is one of the biggest sources of these two offences. In conclusion conflict is seen as an important mechanism for bringing about change in organizations (Chamberland and Kund, 1965). If one does not stand up and fight for his rights then he should not expect change to occur.
A woman harassed either for her gender or race will experience stresswhich will be evident in her performance. According to Cartwright and Cooper (1997, p5) stress is defined as the “force that puts a psychological or physical function beyond its range of stability.” Another conflicting theory states that the events in themselves do not cause ‘stress', rather it is how individuals appraise events that is critical (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984). Not all are strong enough to handle criticism and harassment like Diane Abbott. A nervous breakdown is inevitable and one will show lack of confidence in her work if she is constantly taunted.
The lengths that women go through just to prove their worth in an organisation is stressful in itself. Maternal leave is a big cause for stress for women too as once they return they may find that they don't have their jobs anymore. In this recession though, one can possibly argue that it's not really fair to have a woman off on paid maternal leave while someone could have taken that place and earned himself a salary. Will women stop being hired just because they are “women” a different species seen to have traits such as kindness, sympathy and understanding? The issue nowadays is that many organisations see the ability to have these traits as a positive thing. Even the ability to be a mother and hold a career is seen through a new perspective and admired by many men and women as a matter of fact. So the change we see presently is that of men feeling under threat for their jobs and feeling most defensive. This could be the reason for women still being harassed in organisations despite new trends and attitudes. Men don't want to admit that they are not fully in control these days and refuse to share power. Power is the biggest sought triumph, in this day and age. If you have no power, you have no say and that is a fact. In conclusion organisations should account how issues like these can lead to claims for stress ‘costs' like absenteeism, accidents and efficiency (Arnold et al., 1998).
Power is a big reason why women seem to have been quiet all these years. Defining power is Goltz, S. and Hietapelto, A. (2002) with the view that power is the ability to control the operant behaviour of others through the manipulation of behavioural contingencies. This means that the person who has the ability to affect behavioural outcomes and uses this efficiently is the one with power. Women have recently got the power they needed to make a change for other women. Harriet Harman (2009) stated “Equality matters to us. Because it's a fundamental human right to be treated fairly.” This woman has the legitimate power needed to make such a speech hence is the reason why we need more women up there in Parliament to represent all the other women suffering from sexism. Steven Luke (1974) believed in three faces of power and these are used to explore my point further. The three sources of power were decision making, non decision making and shaping desires. Non decision making is the ability of powerful people to ignore the demands of weaker people by either, avoiding them, delaying them or using extensive bureaucratic procedures to inquire about them. This very much applies to Dawn's scenario as she had been sidelined by those in power when she brought up her case. These issues are normally avoided by them in fear of conflict arising. Although generally, power seems to be used when a conflict of interest or a disagreement about goals does arise.
CHANGEis "the act or an instance of making or becoming different." It must be noted that the differences in attitudes are essential for change to occur although it is these differences that causes conflicts (Huczynski, A. and Buchanan, D., 1991).
When looking at how change can be implemented a PEST analysis may provide a guideline.
From the pest analysis it is observed that Political, Economic and Socio- Cultural factors play a big part in any future trends for change.
Change in organisations
On a more general level companies can attempt to reduce both racism and sexism by applying one or more of the following. The first one is the drafting of the company's policy, towards racism and sexism. This will also show guidelines for how the company will deal and investigate reports of both vices. Secondly, making sure that everyone in the company is aware of the company's stance towards harassment and understanding that it will not be tolerated. As mentioned before traditional mentality which consists of male dominated culture, attitudes and beliefs need to be changed.
These cannot be done instantly and need to be cultured overtime. So in conclusion it is not all up to the employers or managers to try to enable change. Individuals need to stand up and initiate it themselves. Dawn Butler and Harriet Harman are key examples of women speaking up for their rights.
Harriet Harman has let known that the Equality bill has been passed which strengthens the law to tackle race discrimination as it enables more MP's of Black and Asian ethnicity to join the Parliament. She also brought to the World's attention that there exists a 22% pay gap between males and females. The only way to tackle this is for the Companies to publish their wages to both men and women which enables comparison.
Change in the Parliament
In relation to the government, they may have been able to have an all British membership at one point but times have changed and the 4.4% of Asians and 2% of Africans in the British population currently have to be equally represented. Although these groups may be a minority they do not seem to be represented well in the Parliament as currently there are only two black women and not one asian. Let's be honest the Parliament is not made up of the youngest of men so their traditional attitudes and culture may be hard to try to mend but as a newer generation of MPs' come in, the prospects for change look better.
Why change must occur
Since there are dynamic changes in the business environment, gender diversity should adjust accordingly. An advantage of this gender diversity would lead to a greater contribution in increasing an organisation's competitive advantage due to the different outlooks used by the two different genders and through the various strategies used. According to an article by McCuiston,V et al. (2004) a prediction was made that by the year 2008, 50% of all those entering the US workforce would be either women or people of colour and ethnic minorities. Models of business success in organisations are to be rethought due to the increasingly competitive global marketplace. This seems to have been a reactive response to external, environmental factors and was generated
proactively in anticipation of future trends (Hamel, 1998). The article proves this, furthermore by describing how organisations are prepared to effectively align business strategies with today's demographic realities to achieve profitability, growth and sustainability. This article hence shows a trend towards the awareness of the importance of women in an organisation. As Handy (1993) summed up interpretations of many authors with the concept “change is a necessary condition of survivial”. However, despite policies on gender diversity women are still being treated inferior to men (Harriet Harman, 2009). “And because it's also the basis of a strong economy which draws on the talents of all. The economies that will flourish in the future are not those which are blinkered by prejudice or stultified by the old boys network - but those which draw on the talents and abilities of all.”
We will fight for fairness, fight for equality and - most importantly - we will fight to win.
Companies generally fear what sexism and racism can do to them mostly in the form of inferior work from those affected and perhaps lawsuits filed which brings about negative publicity to the firm.
The guardian.co.uk- The observer
Amelia Hill and Jo Revill
13th April 2008
Racism rife in Commons, says MP
Dawn Butler, one of only two black women in the House, speaks out about the discrimination she has suffered from politicians of all parties
Dawn Butler, the MP for Brent South. Photograph: Graham Turner
The House of Commons, held up as a beacon of democracy, has a 'dirty little secret', according to black MPs - its racism.
Dawn Butler, only the third black woman ever to have become an MP, said she faced such frequent racism from politicians of all parties that she had to 'pick her battles' to avoid being constantly in conflict with her colleagues. Disillusioned by what she has found, she is calling for a dedicated complaints department with the power to suspend politicians and send them on awareness training courses.
'I thought people in Parliament would be progressive. It is still a shock that they are not,' she said. 'Over the past 400-plus years, the only black people - and black women in particular - in Parliament have been there to cook and clean. For some politicians, it's still a shock to come face to face with a black women with any real power. Racism and sexism is Parliament's dirty little secret.'
She is backed by Diane Abbott, the only other black woman in the Commons, who said that she had suffered 20 years of prejudice. 'In the beginning, some of it was sheer ignorance. I remember being shocked when a Labour MP asked me once whether we celebrated Christmas in Jamaica,' said Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
'It has not helped that the Labour party powers-that-be have always seen me as "uppity" but I have dealt with the racism and misogyny by reaching out to other black women.'
Butler, who won the Brent South seat in 2005 when she was 35, described how shocked she was by the attitude of a senior Conservative who challenged her right to have a drink on the Commons' Thameside terrace, a privilege reserved for MPs.
In an article written for the Fawcett Society's new collection of essays, Seeing Double: Race and Gender in Ethnic Minority Women's Lives, Butler describes how former Tory minister David Heathcote-Amory confronted her as she went to sit in the members' section on the terrace. 'He actually said to me: "What are you doing here? This is for members only."
'He then proceeded to ask me: "Are you a member?" And I said: "Yes I am, are you?" And he turned around and said to his colleague: "They're letting anybody in nowadays."
'This man could not equate the image he saw in front of him with that of an MP. It was quite upsetting for my team and so we had to take it further.'
In an interview with The Observer, Butler went on to describe how an official complaint she made was stonewalled. 'It's not as though Parliament has a human resources department that you can complain to and expect disciplinary action from,' Butler said. 'So after being told by the Tory chief whip and the Speaker of the House that there was nothing to be done about it, I had no choice but to let it drop.'
Heathcote-Amory, MP for Wells, rejected the allegation that his remarks to Butler in September 2006 were racist. 'It is quite absurd,' he said. 'What she is actually objecting to is that I didn't recognise her as a new MP. I simply asked her what she was doing at that end of the terrace, and they are quite sensitive about this kind of thing, they think that any kind of reprimand from anyone is racially motivated.' He agreed that there was a problem with too few black and minority ethnic MPs being elected.
'The trouble is that feminism has trumped everything. We are a bit obsessed with getting more women in and I think genuinely broad-based politics is one that takes people from every social and religious group. But we are exaggeratedly courteous to anyone with a different skin colour, so the idea that anything I have said is racist is absurd.'
But Butler has also described further incidents in which she claims to have suffered explicit racism from politicians, lobbyists and police who provide security at the Commons.
'I was using the members' lift in the middle of last year, when a number of politicians started talking about how cleaners and catering staff shouldn't be allowed to use that specific lift,' she recalled. 'It was obvious they were talking about me and so I started to drop hints that I was an MP.
'They didn't pick up on my hints and continued complaining in a loud voice. When we all got out of the lift, I ran along the corridor after the particular person who had been most involved, and tried to make them realise how rude it was to talk like that; it would have been rude even if I had been a cleaner or caterer,' she said.
Zohra Moosa, editor of the Fawcett Society book, said: 'With only two black women MPs and not a single Asian woman, Parliament has never once been representative of Britain. There is no excuse for an unrepresentative democracy in this day and age but, until we change the way our institutions work, we will never have the politicians we need.'
30th September 2009
Harriet Harman: Speech on equality issues
Since last conference, we have had 12 months of determined progress towards equality. It's been a year of promises made and promises kept. Twelve months ago, I pledged to you that we would press forward on our progressive agenda to help make Britain a fairer and more equal place and conference that is exactly what we have done. For us, for Labour, equality is not just a slogan - it's what we are about. It's a way of life. It's about our values and how we do our politics. Equality matters to us because its about people's lives. Its about the right of a disabled person to work on equal terms Its about the right of a woman who works part-time not to be excluded from the pension scheme. Its about the right not being written off as too old. Equality matters to us. Because it's a fundamental human right to be treated fairly. And equality matters to us because it's the only way you can have a united and peaceful society in which everyone feels included. And because it's also the basis of a strong economy which draws on the talents of all . The economies that will flourish in the future are not those which are blinkered by prejudice or stultified by the old boys network - but those which draw on the talents and abilities of all. Equality and fairness are the very hallmarks of a modern and confident society looking to the future in which everyone is able to play their part.
And conference this Labour Government has made clear that our quest for fairness and equality is not just for the good times. Even through the massive economic challenge of the last twelve months we have not put equality on the back burner. Because, as Labour, we know that it's precisely when times are hard, that it's even more important that everyone is treated fairly and that everyone pulls together.
And so the whole labour team fights for equality - under Gordon's leadership. And Gordon Brown, as prime minister, has indeed taken a proud lead. Last year, for the first time ever, a British prime minister hosted a reception in 10 Downing Street to mark LGBT history month. We celebrate past progress like civil partnerships - happy anniversary Angela Eagle and Maria Exell - but we resolve to step up action to tackle the problems that still persist - like homophobic bullying in schools.
But advancing progressive causes is a struggle for change. The truth is that it doesn't happen because of any one individual. Progress is advanced, barriers are broken, changes are made because we are a movement of people who share the same values and because we refuse to give up the fight for what is right. And we won't take no for an answer. Labour's team is an army of equality champions - working with my committed team of equality ministers - Vera Baird, Maria Eagle and Mike Foster - demanding change.
Last year's conference demanded a strong Equality Bill. And through the National Policy Forum we've done just that. We've shaped a Bill which strengthens the law to tackle race discrimination, toughens the duties of all public authorities to ensure that disabled people can live independently and work in just the same way as people without disabilities and which bans the last legally permitted- discrimination - age discrimination - and about time too. Labour insisted that we do more to increase the number of our outstanding black and asian MPs - so we have. In the Equality Bill we will change the law so that parties can do more to increase the selection of black and asian candidates.
Trade unionists have demanded action on pay discrimination against women. Women at work are paid 22 per cent less than men. A 22 per cent pay gap in the 21st Century. That is just not acceptable in this day and age. But women who work in financial services are paid 44 per cent less than their male colleagues. So we will make every big employer publish how much on average they pay their women per hour and how much they pay their men. I know this is controversial - especially in the private sector. But, you can't tackle pay discrimination if it's hidden. Good employers have nothing to fear - but bad employers must have nowhere to hide.
Labour women MPs and Labour women throughout the party have demanded more help for families. So, we doubled maternity pay and extended it from six to nine months. And the prime minister, earlier this month, announced that now we will give families more choice by letting the mother choose to either take the pay and leave herself or, when the baby is 6 months old, let the father take the remaining pay and leave. And we remain committed to our goal of achieving a year's paid leave by the end of this parliament. And, this year, as well, we've given more parents rights to flexible work. Now its not just parents with children six who can request flexible work but all parents with children up to 16.
But we are committed to doing more, taking up new battles, recognising the big changes that lie ahead in our economy, in our family life and for the next generation. Families are not just parents and children. More and more families simply could not cope without grandparents helping out with the kids. And more and more family life is not just about looking after children and going out to work but caring for elderly relatives too. In the next 20 years the number of people over 85 is set to double - so just as we've backed up families with children, we will back up families caring for older relatives too. The lives of women today - and their hopes and ambitions are different from our mothers'. And that is the case, whether you are a girl school leaver in Scotland or a young mother in Wales, whether you are one of the thousands of wives of our armed forces. The wives of our servicemen have always held things together at home. And their task has become even more demanding with the men away fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Just like every other woman, service wives want to, and need to, get training, get work, find childcare. But that's hard if your family has to move regularly and if you are on a base miles away from your parents and in-laws. That's why Bob Ainsworth, the secretary of state for defence, and I are working with ministers across government to make sure that as well as doing all we can to support our armed forces, We are helping our armed forces wives' so they don't lose out on new opportunities to get on in their work. Our navy, airforce and soldiers make a great sacrifice for our country and we back them up. Their wives, too, make an enormous personal sacrifice for this country and we will back them up too.
And we are stepping up our action to protect women from violence and sexual exploitation. At long last we've ditched the antiquated law which allows a man to get away with murdering his wife by claiming that it was her fault because she provoked him. On rape, though 50 per cent more men are convicted of rape than they were in 1997 - because we've toughened the law, got a special squad of rape prosecutors and use the DNA data base - despite that progress we know that there are still major problems in how the justice system deals with rape.
We have got to work out where the cracks in the system are and take further action. Rapists must be caught after their first attack - if they aren't they just carry on and more women suffer. And that's why we've set up a review under Vivien Stern. We've made progress. But not enough. We're determined to make more.
And on prostitution. We know that prostitution is not work - it's exploitation of women by men - often women who have mental health problems or drug or alcohol addiction. So we're introducing a new criminal offence of having sex with a prostitute who's being controlled by a pimp.
We're stepping up our action to tackle human trafficking. We're determined to ensure that, especially in the run up to the Olympics, international criminal gangs don't trick and abduct women from abroad and sell them for sex in London.
And there is a very sinister development which we are determined to stop. You know trip advisor - a website where guests put their comments on line for others to see. There is now a website, like that, where pimps put women on sale for sex and then men who've had sex with them put their comments on line. It is ‘Punternet' and fuels the demand for prostitutes. It is truly degrading and puts women at risk.
Punternet has pages and pages of women for sale in London. But Punternet is based in California so I've raised it with the US Ambassador to London and I've called on California's governor Arnie Schwarzenegger to close it down. Surely it can't be too difficult for the Terminator to terminate Punternet and that's what I am demanding that he does.
A further challenge that we have to tackle in the months ahead is, that seeping in to many communities, is the racism and division of the BNP. The BNP pretend they've changed, pretend they're respectable. They are no such thing. They're still the same party that wanted the Nazis to win the war. They're still the same party whose constitution excludes from membership anyone who is not “indigenous Caucasian.” It's right that the new Equality Bill will ban that clause. There can be no place in our democracy for an apartheid party.
Our active and campaigning parties have proved that the way to tackle the BNP is to be on the doorstep. Showing that we are taking action for those who fear for their jobs or their homes. And showing that we are on their side
Our government is - under Secretary of State, John Denham taking forward co-ordinated government action to address disadvantage and alienation. Our active and campaigning parties are working with black and Asian communities to challenge the BNP. Tackling the hate of the BNP and showing that we are on their side.
We are fighting back against the BNP. Conference the poison of the BNP has no place in our communities - not now; not ever. We all know that unfairness, prejudice and discrimination is not just because you are a woman, or because of your race, or disability or sexuality. Overhanging all these different strands of inequality is the inequality rooted in the family you were born into and the place you were born. Your class, your region. Every one of us knows that although we've made progress tackling the massive divide that the Tories drove into society, there is still injustice and unfairness. So clause one of our new Equality Bill will bring in a legal duty on all public bodies to narrow the gap between rich and poor. It will be a law that binds all government ministers, and all government departments as well as local government.
By the age of six, the bright child from a poor home is overtaken in school by the less- able child from an affluent home. In this day and age - who really feels that is acceptable? We certainly don't. But I'll tell you who does - the Tories. The Tories were pretending to be progressive - to pretend they care about inequality. But they've ditched that. They are back to their true nature. They opposed lgbt rights.
They opposed tax credits and plan to cut childcare They oppose the new Equality Bill. We want change - they would turn the clock back. We've built up support for families - don't let the Tories wreck it. The progress we have made towards equality - don't let the Tories wreck it. Every gain has to be fought for, defended and built on This is our fightback conference.
The whole Labour team is the fightback team. We know what we must do. We will fight for fairness, fight for equality and - most importantly - we will fight to win.