HR Grapevine - Employee forced to listen to 'n-word'

An extract from another interesting guide article written by Sophie Parrott at HR Grapevine around Diversity.

Diversity | Employee forced to listen to 'n-word' in diversity training debacle

When hosting a training session, it is crucial that employees leave learning something. Whether this is by giving employees concrete examples of how to approach a specific situation, using practical tasks to illustrate something or using collaborative group discussions to delve into a topic; employees generally leave the session feeling positive and knowledgeable.

However, an employment tribunal has ruled that a black employee was racially harassed when the ‘n-word’ was used repeatedly during a staff training course on diversity – Wales Online reported.

Theresa Georges, who had been working as a cleaner for Pobl Group Ltd for just two months, was asked to attend an equality and diversity training course in March 2018 with numerous colleagues.

The session host, who had worked as a trainer for eight years, asked colleagues to highlight words that they deemed to be discriminatory.

Staff were reportedly given examples of words deemed unacceptable which included the use of the ‘n-word’. Georges reported feeling upset because she was the only black person in the room.

The trainer wrote the ‘n-word’ on a flipchart and colleagues were asked to call out the most offensive words that they could think of. The ‘n-word’ was reportedly used on three separate occasions, despite Hearn acknowledging that the exercise could be uncomfortable for delegates.

Employee lodges complaint to HR

Georges said in her letter of complaint to the HR department that the trainer used the racially offensive words in a blasé fashion that gave the impression that they were acceptable.

She wrote: “She seemed to fixate on the ‘n’ and ‘p’ words in my opinion.

“She mentioned the ‘p-word’ again, giving an example of a racist comment and connotation ‘I am going to the p*** shop, and something about black people carrying knives’.”

Hearing the ‘n-word’ being used more than three times reportedly appalled her. When it was her turn to offer an offensive word to the training session, she said that “she refused to degrade herself”.

Though it seems as though her complaint was rejected by the senior HR business partner.

While the training session may have intended to highlight words deemed unacceptable and offensive, it seems that the session didn’t have the desired effect.

It left one employee being signed off with stress and the case was escalated to an employment tribunal where it was ruled that Georges was racially harassed by the episode – Daily Mail reports.

The firm said in a statement: "Pobl Group is a not for profit organisation that is focused entirely on making a positive difference in people’s lives. We recognise that part of a training exercise used during a diversity training course for Pobl staff caused offence to Ms Georges and apologise wholeheartedly. We have already acted and made changes.

"Pobl has been an accredited Investor in Diversity organisation since 2017 and underwent a reassessment process last year. Assessors found that Pobl evidenced a “comprehensive approach to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion”. Accordingly, our training on these issues seeks to go beyond mere tick box exercises and genuinely engage staff to understand the impact of words and actions on the people they work with and for. In this instance, however well-intentioned the motives, we got it wrong and we apologise for that."

How to conduct diversity training

To avoid HR departments from getting it wrong, HR Grapevine has collated five tips on how to conduct appropriate and informative diversity training:

  • Conduct a company-wide training session that reviews acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Perhaps packaging the session content in a way which alludes to racially offensive words rather than using them repeatedly is a better way of doing it that won’t upset delegates.
  • Promote the initiative from within and make sure that all employees are aware of the behavioural standards that they should adhere to.
  • Diversity has a place in an organisation it needs to start from the top. Any initiatives that are rolled out to promote diversity and inclusion and behavioural standards should be advocated by the Board too.
  • Reinforce the company’s values daily to ensure that all employees are on the same page.
  • Create good habits that employees can copy. Making diversity and inclusion a core value and creating a set of actionable habits can transform a workforce.