Trailblazer, Michelle Cox, on discrimination in the workplace and moving towards a culture of anti-racism

To embrace the theme of ‘Saluting Our Sisters’ this Black History Month, trailblazer Michelle Cox recently joined colleagues at a system EDI event to share her personal experiences and to inspire others to create change for the better.

Speaking at the event, Michelle who is a registered general nurse from Liverpool, spoke of her difficult experiences of discrimination, harassment, and victimisation as a woman of colour within the NHS.

Encouraging staff to always ‘speak up’ and call out microaggressions in the workplace, as well as calling upon system leaders to actively move towards an anti-racist agenda, Michelle described in uncomfortable detail the lead up to her employment tribunal against the NHS and how she plans to blaze a trail for change.

Michelle said: “Discrimination is bad for business - reputationally, financially, morally; I continue to be surprised by the number of departments, line managers and HR colleagues who are not familiar with the rights and protections under the Equality Act 2010 and the interpretation of the law. 

“Staff contact me weekly with traumatic stories of bullying, harassment, and exclusion, working in hostile environments, dreading going to work, and ready to resign. Change won’t happen overnight, but I think my judgement has been a wake-up call to system leaders, HR departments and legal teams, that incidents of racism will no longer be tolerated and should be recorded with the same rigour as any other reportable incident. 

“Discrimination is rarely overt, and articulating an event or series of events can be difficult for individuals, hence why most grievances in the workplace are not upheld. Whether on purpose or unintentional, discrimination regardless of intention is illegal. 

“I hope that by sharing my experience it will help people gain a better understanding of what it means to discriminate and be discriminated against. How institutional racism can translate through policies, processes, and practices, which sees preferential treatment given to one group of people over another. 

“I know my experience of race discrimination, harassment and victimisation resonates with hundreds of staff from the global majority in the NHS, and if that inspires someone else to take a stand against poor behaviours or discriminatory practice then I believe change can happen. I want all staff experiencing poor behaviours to know they are not alone. Speaking up and having brave, courageous conversations are needed to create the pace of change required. 

“As a nurse, I often found that it was the patient stories at board meetings, and testimonials at staff networks, that were more impactful than any mandatory training offer. What happened to me could happen to any member of staff and no organisation is immune from similar cases. 

“By sharing my experience, organisations will better understand their risks, challenges, and opportunities to see grievances through a different lens; and for staff to understand their rights and responsibilities.” 

Page last updated 19 October 2023