Third Voice: Class is the real issue for British ethnic minorities

Wanda Wyporska, press office manager, League Against Cruel Sports

My name says east European, my picture says mixed-race, but my CV says white middle class. So if I were to become a chief executive somewhere, would the organisation be accused of tokenism or would it get a pat on the back for putting a Bajan-Polish-English woman into the top job?

We clearly need to know why there are so few people from ethnic minorities in the higher echelons of third sector management, but many other questions need answering. How many of us are in middle management and will break through in the coming years? In what roles are we being employed? An organisation may have a relatively high proportion of ethnic minority staff, but are they in administration?

Sadly, at charity sector events I am struck by the same feeling I had in the senior common room and in news rooms: I am the only non-white - or, at best, one of a few.

As Krishna Sarda pointed out (Third Sector, 22 February), ethnic minorities tend to be working at grass roots in the charities connected to their communities, most of which have scant resources (92 per cent of Sickle Cell Society staff are from ethnic minorities). This personal commitment often means that people will stay with these organisations and won't necessarily seek to move onwards and upwards. Their valuable experience benefits the charity at the grass roots, where they are more likely to be in touch with those they are seeking to help. This brings its own rewards, something chief executives can forget in their headquarters as they get bogged down in strategy and planning.

Ethnicity is clearly a key point, but it may be blinding us to the real truth. Arguably, two of the most high-profile figures are Shami Chakrabarti and Trevor Phillips - and although they are undoubtedly not white, they are certainly middle class: they went to university and tend to fit more comfortably into white middle class society. These two are not representative of their communities as a whole, but of a group of middle class ethnic minority men and women.

The very idea of an amorphous ethnic minority community that can be uniformly represented takes no account of the diversity that lies within. Class and education are the real issues for ethnic minorities and their chances of getting on in British society, whatever the sector. Without a good education, the race is lost.

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