Close the Gap’s new research finds three-quarters of BME women have experienced racism, discrimination and bias at work
At a conference last week, we launched our new research Still Not Visible: Research on Black and minority ethnic women’s employment in Scotland.
Providing an important insight into the lived experiences of BME women at work in Scotland, the research captures data on key aspects of employment across recruitment, development and workplace culture.
The key findings include:
- Almost three-quarters of respondents reported they had experienced racism, discrimination, racial prejudice and/or bias in the workplace.
- 47% of respondents believing they had experienced racism, discrimination, racial prejudice, and/or bias when applying for a job.
- 42% of respondents indicated they had experienced bullying, harassment or victimisation because they are a BME women.
BME women reported that they face many forms of overt racism, discrimination and implicit bias including colleagues giving them a nickname or alternative name that was seen as ‘easier to pronounce’, or being subject to stereotypical assumptions about the type of work or position they would hold, for example presuming they are a secretary or cleaner.
Despite this, just over half (52%) of respondents who had experienced racism, discrimination or harassment in the workplace said they did not report it and of those who did report, less than a quarter were satisfied with how their complaint was handled.
Reasons for not reporting included feeling that their line manager would not support them; feeling it would not make a difference; a belief that their complaint would not be kept confidential; and a belief that reporting would make things worse. This highlights critical failings in current reporting mechanisms and suggests poor employer equalities practice.
Caring roles also emerged as a key barrier to the labour market for BME women, with 62% of respondents specifying that their caring roles have affected their ability to do paid work. BME women also face additional barriers to accessing affordable, accessible and appropriate childcare with a third of respondents saying that a lack of cultural diversity, specifically, the under-representation of BME women among childcare staff, and a lack of cultural sensitivity in service delivery would prevent them from using paid-for childcare services.
The conference was a great opportunity to explore the issues raised by the research and to turn our attention to what should happen next. Kaliani Lyle, former Independent Race Equality Adviser to the Scottish Government, chaired the event and conference speakers included the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn MSP. We also held a panel discussion with wide-ranging expertise across academia and the third sector including Dr Ima Jackson (Glasgow Caledonian University), Carol Young (Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights) and Satwat Rehman (One Parent Families Scotland).
Discussion highlighted that tackling BME women’s inequality in employment had the potential to reduce BME people’s higher levels of poverty and inequality in housing. The public sector equality duty came in for criticism for failing to realise transformative change for BME women. Jamie Hepburn reiterated the Scottish Government’s commitment to reviewing the duties, with a view to making changes.
Establishing race- and gender-competence among employers and policymakers was viewed as critical, ensuring that data and policies can be analysed, designed and developed with a gender- and race-sensitive lens.
A poignant comment at the conference was that it feels as though we are constantly retelling the story of BME women’s inequality, but it’s now time to change the ending.
So what needs to happen?
Critically, one of the points emerging from the conference was that the development of solutions needs to actively involve BME women. There was a feeling that BME organisations are asked to articulate the problems, but are not consistently involved in shaping solutions.
The research highlights that BME women are not a homogenous group, but rather a diverse and complex group with differing experiences in employment based upon their ethnicity, race, migrant status and, in some cases, religion. Consequently, tackling this inequality requires transformational change, with policymakers and employers adopting intersectional approaches and targeted solutions.
The conference discussion highlighted that, to date, policy responses to BME women’s employment disadvantage have focused on increasing the employability of BME women, rather than focusing on discrimination in the workplace and what employers can do. It’s important that we move from supply-side to demand-side interventions and stop producing responses that treat BME women as deficient.
The problem of BME women’s inequality at work requires structural solutions that challenge the status quo. The challenge for policymakers, employers, trade unions and other stakeholders is to commit to substantive action that will meaningfully tackle the barriers BME women face in the workplace.