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Sheffield has a racism problem, commission finds

Initial findings from Sheffield's Race Equality Commission reveal that racism and racial disparities remain "paramount concerns for the city".

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Sheffield Town Hall.

Tim Green (Wikimedia Commons)

Over the course of the past year, the Race Equality Commission has heard and reviewed evidence across many areas, including education, business and the arts, receiving more than 150 pieces of evidence and speaking with more than 165 witnesses.

Last week, the Commission published an interim report which found that racism and racial disparities remain "paramount concerns for the city." Commissioners found a number of examples of racism that could be described as "individual, institutional, microaggressions, direct, indirect, stereotypes, gendered, conscious, and unconscious bias."

Within the city's organisations these disparities are not limited to workforce issues like recruitment or staff retention, but also more rooted issues in communication. Failures to engage with diverse communities, language limitations and a lack of cultural knowledge were just some of the factors cited in the report.

This deeply embedded racism has meant that organisations are at real risk from becoming "permanently disconnected’", the commission says.

This disconnect is also reflected in the makeup of many organisations, especially at the top. The commission found that many organisations in Sheffield were not representative of the city’s diverse population and that "people rarely stray outside their own universe when looking for new leadership or board talent." This has led to many missed opportunities to reflect the lived experiences of people in Sheffield through the city's decision-making boards.

Racism has also manifested itself in the workplace through higher and disproportionate levels of grievance and disciplinary cases against people of colour, as well as more cases of bullying and harassment. Commissioners said people of colour were "managing" the racism they were subjected to in an attempt to make the best out of their working environment.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the interim report says there are low levels of trust and confidence in many of Sheffield’s key organisations, which have contributed to a disconnect between these organisations and the communities they are attempting to serve.

Over a decade of austerity, and now the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, has also had a deep impact on Sheffield’s communities of colour, the publication states. Austerity measures have "heavily depleted the availability of resources to the community by reducing public sector spending which, in turn, placed increased demands on the voluntary sector."

Not only is there an increased demand but a significant disparity in how funding for voluntary organisations is allocated. Several respondents to the commission identified a range of problems with funding levels and priorities for organisations serving communities of colour or led by people of colour.

Professor Kevin Hylton, Chair of Sheffield Race Equality Commission, said of the findings:

Sadly, racism and racial disparities remain ongoing concerns for the city. Key organisations in the city still show a lack of diversity at the higher levels, and they don’t reflect the communities they serve.

People affected by racism often have a feeling of not being understood in their workplace by management that lack knowledge of their lived experience. So, we find members of racialised groups in Sheffield often don’t feel the trust and confidence in their management that they should.

The full report of the Commission’s findings and recommendations will be published in 2022.

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