Blog: Empower Struggle

Augustina Jämsä
Peer support shares experiences, to equip multicultural workers with skills that they need in order to work in a transcultural environment in Finland.
Kuvaaja: Augustina Jämsä

I found an article stating that ``Racism is the minority status´´. In my research I came across another author who could not comprehend what racism is. He was not sure whether to call it ``Racism´´ or `` Unfair-ism´´. Based on my own experiences, I have been trying to figure out the statements.

I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in nursing from Turku University of Applied Sciences in 2011. I have been lucky to have always managed to get employment after that. However, I have noticed that in many workplaces equality was mentioned in organization's strategic documents. Unfortunately, implementation was not ensured and those values were not emphasized.

Racism at work

My last experience of racism that I faced at the workplace included: 1) Having been referred as a ”dark lady” instead of being referred by my name; 2) Colleagues and managers assuming that I am incapable of performing a task without consulting with me; 3) Subordinate staff refusing to recognize my role; 4) Been excluded from the social groups at work and been treated as ”invisible” to a point that some colleagues performed pair work alone because they did not wanted to work with me. In worst cases, colleagues ganged up and decided that none of them speak with me, not even saying greetings or responding to me when I greeted them. I remember an instance, where colleagues decided not even to respond to my questions relating to work and I remember getting responses like, ”Who are you asking?” or  ”Are you Mad?” 

Speaking up about the problem did not always help. When I spoke about it, I was labeled the one who does not cope, or I told the cause of my problem is poor Finnish language skills. The managers did not accept that there was a team work problem that needed to be fixed. In the beginning the trade union representatives of my workplace were not responsive either, but eventually my union took the issue seriously.

After being treated like that I felt broken and in need of empowerment, peer support from someone who would understand what I had gone through, and acquisition of coping skills. To my surprise, few organizations and individuals wanted to speak about this topic or to be involved in any work concerning this area.

Peer support

To my luck, when participating an anti-racist event in Helsinki, I came across with representatives of Against Racism (Ei rasismille) -project and Liikkukaa - Sports for All ry. Through the project’s Report Racism service I received more information got connected with the peer-to-peer activity run by Liikkukaa ry. They are an umbrella organization for multicultural sports that works to develop societal harmony and cooperation. As a partner in Against Racism Liikkukaa ry is developing peer-to-peer activities for people who encounter racism.

So they requested me to be part of creating a solution to the problems I had had by conducting a peer support group that focused on racism at workplace. The aim, in addition to sharing experience, was to equip multicultural workers with skills that they need in order to work in a transcultural environment in Finland.

Being part of solving the problem though peer support with Liikkukaa - Sports for All ry was really empowering. Also the working team in this organization was diverse and they work with harmony which was inspiring. It was also encouraging to encounter many Finnish natives who are working hard to enhance harmony, tolerance and equality through different projects.

There were positive news coming from the professional field as well. Eventually, by educating their staff my workplace took action so that the unfair treatment which had happened to me would not repeat itself. The education was about the company principles on equality, work ethics, law on equality and human rights.

How to prevent racism at work?

So, is racism ”a minority status”? Is there ”Racism” or is it ”Unfair-ism”? Does speaking up help? Will reporting ”Racism” (or is it ”Unfair-ism”) more than one time cause me to be labelled the one who does not cope? Will the complain be turned against me? Will the trade union representative who has the same boss as myself handle this sensitive case without being afraid of ruining her position in the work conflict resolution meetings? These are the kinds of things one reflects upon after encountering discrimination.

I have been now in Britain for a few months. I have been finalizing my studies, and I might live here longer and work. The difference between the social life in Britain and Finland is that I have not been attacked on the street here because of being ”different” at all. With this I do not mean that all Finnish people attack foreigners in the street. I love Finland and Finland is a good country. But the probability of walking in the street and coming across a native who will yell ”vittu”, ”paska” or ”neekeri” to me without any sound reason is much higher in Finland. There I have came across this on at least monthly basis.

Finland is a good country, but…

If I compare the healthcare sector in Finland and England as diversity management is concerned, the scale is different. England has more workers and clients from more diverse cultures, and different cultures are well presented. Inclusiveness is here the goal of every healthcare organization, equality is highly emphasized and any violation on equality rights is taken seriously. In Finland, healthcare sector is still on the journey towards achieving all the above. On the other hand, Finland is ahead of many countries in healthcare technology, safety and in quality healthcare services.

I love Finland for is the country that gave me the wings to fly. It is my second home after my homeland in Africa. I would also like to point out that my life in Finland has not been a disaster but full of countless blessings and happiness. Challenges empower and educate us so that we are able to face tomorrow. I have a dream that one day multiculturalism will be an asset in the healthcare sector and not a challenge.  In the meantime, nurses and other staff members from vulnerable groups require empowerment and support to work successfully in healthcare in Finland.

-Catherine

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