I’m Kevin Tan, and I’ve been a Data Scientist in DWP Digital since April 2016. As a Londoner from an immigrant family with Chinese, Malaysian and Portuguese ancestry, I believe it’s important to raise awareness of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
I want to highlight the importance of standing-up against prejudice and recognising not only obvious racial discrimination such as abuse and physical violence, but also subtle discrimination in everyday life.
The Sharpeville massacre occurred on 21 March 1960, at a police station in a South African township. After a day of demonstrations against the Apartheid-regime, a crowd of about 5,000 to 7,000 black protesters went to the police station. The police opened fire on the crowd, killing 69 people. In commemoration of this atrocity, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is celebrated on 21 March each year.
I was raised in a culturally Chinese household and, like most children of immigrants, I’ve grappled with my identity for a long time. As a born and bred Londoner retaining my parents’ nationality, I struggle to define what it means to be British and whether or not I fit into that undefined category.
When asked where I’m from, I only feel comfortable saying London as I believe I’ve had experiences that have helped shaped my world view, which are shared by those who were also raised in London.
A common challenge that I, and many minority colleagues I’ve spoken to, have faced at work is the difficulty in finding mentors and ethnic minority role models in visible leadership positions. So it’s great that, in the Civil Service, we have the Positive Action Pathway programme, a year-long learning programme to helps colleagues in under-represented groups build skills and confidence. While it doesn’t guarantee promotion, it helps to ‘level the playing field’.
In my current role in DWP Digital, I’m working with data analytics and am building my software skills to drive better decisions across the business. I mostly work on projects that aim to improve the build and design of Universal Credit. It’s reassuring to see a growing mix of ethnicity across the varied professional roles in Digital including Mayank Prakash, our Chief Digital and Information Officer Director.
Whilst there have been moments when it’s been difficult to discuss issues surrounding racial discrimination at work, these have been rare. I’m blessed in my current role to be part of a team who are open and engaged on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation and their intersection.
However, it’s not my only experience, which is why I feel we need to highlight racial discrimination. For example, I had a recent conversation with a colleague about an upcoming event at DWP on race equality in the public sector. My colleague said they “didn’t see race”, therefore indicating they did not think the event was of any significance. For me, this view point doesn’t acknowledge that structural racism exists and denies the existence of any challenges or issues an individual may face as a result of being an ethnic minority. In order to eliminate racial discrimination, we must first take account of race.
During social gatherings, when I say work in the Civil Service, conversations often converge to the topic of diversity and how the Civil Service is building a diverse and inclusive organisation. Whilst implicitly praising the progress the Civil Service has made in improving minority representation, I’ve often been told how lucky I am to be Chinese and how I had an easier time getting in the Civil Service than a white person would. Their certainty that my race was an asset implied that I could be as mediocre as I wanted and still succeed. I was now the culprit and them the victim. Moments like this underlined to me that to be an ethnic minority in the UK is to be coveted and hated at the same time.
So it’s great that ethnic minority colleagues like myself, have representation through staff networks and talent programmes. I take part in several network groups, such as the Inspire and Achieve Self Help Network. The network holds talks from speakers from under-represented groups, who’ve found success in the public sector. This space allows an open and honest conversation about how the intersectionality of gender inequality and racial discrimination affect working in the Civil Service. I also participate in outreach work and mentoring, primarily through our Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) Network. The Civil Service is committed to improving diversity, for example our Summer Diversity Internship Programme gives people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to see what a career in the Civil Service is like.
Whilst I admire several individuals at DWP, I haven’t found any role models from the Department or the wider Civil Service that resonate with me personally. However, I understand the need and importance of role models, especially for ethnic minorities given the perceived lack of representation. So despite my difficulties in finding a role model, I hope that I can act as a role model for others, representing minorities at DWP through the outreach work and mentoring I do.
Working in DWP Digital has opened up a range of opportunities for me, using new cutting-edge technology and tools that weren’t available in my last role, such as Hadoop, Tableau and Git. The fast pace that we work at, and the interesting problems and challenges that we’re solving to make a positive impact on the lives of others, make it a great place to work. I’m pleased that diversity is a key factor in our recruitment campaigns; we’re encouraging applications from women to achieve gender parity and encouraging people from minority backgrounds to join us. I know that the Civil Service is committed to diversity and equality and, across it, we’re making progress: it’s highlighting dates like the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that will help to end the myth that tech roles are just the domain of white, cisgender men.
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