Ethnic minority women significantly change themselves to fit in at work, reseach shows

Institutional racism is common across all sectors and in all types of organisation, new report says

Three quarters of those surveyed said they had experienced racism at work. Photo: Unsplash
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Ethnic minority women have reported changing their names, hair and clothes to fit in at work in the UK, a report has shown.

In addition, about three quarters of ethnic minority women have experienced racism.

The Fawcett Society and race equality think tank the Runneymede Trust said institutional racism is common across all sectors and in all types of organisations.

Their report, “Broken Ladders”, is based on a survey of 2,000 women of colour in UK workplaces, which the groups said is the largest representative survey of women of colour to date.

In the report, 61 per cent of women of colour said they had changed their language, topics they discuss, hair, food they eat or their name by “a great deal” or “quite a bit” to fit in at work.

This compares with 44 per cent of white women.

Black African women were most likely to make changes, such as to their clothes (54 per cent), language (50 per cent), topics they discuss (46 per cent), hairstyle (39 per cent) and accent (29 per cent).

The report also found that workplaces “are a constant negotiation between identities and inability to progress” and that women of colour face barriers “at all stages”, from entering work to taking on leadership roles.

Three quarters of those surveyed said they had experienced racism at work, while more than a quarter (27 per cent) had suffered racial slurs.

Jemima Olchawksi, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said the results were “sickening” and added: “We just can’t accept this as a society.

“What a waste of those women’s time and energy — we need workplaces that respect and celebrate everyone’s individuality and allow women to focus on bringing their talents into the workforce.

“Given skills and labour shortages this is a waste of potential we can ill afford.”

Half of women of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage and 48 per cent of women of black African heritage said they had been criticised for behaviours other colleagues got away with at work, compared with 29 per cent of white British women.

About 39 per cent of women of colour said their well-being had been affected by a lack of progression, compared with 28 per cent of white women.

Women of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage (37 per cent) and of Indian heritage (32 per cent) were most likely to report a manager having blocked their progression at work, compared with 20 per cent of white British women.

Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, said women of colour face a “double jeopardy”.

“From school to the workplace, there are structural barriers standing between them and the opportunities they deserve,” she said.

“Our landmark research exists to support these women to thrive in their workplaces and to challenge employers to harness the talents, skills and experiences of their employees or risk losing them.”

The groups are calling on the government to introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting for employers with at least 50 staff members.

The government should also move to ban employers from asking salary history questions and to require salaries to be published on job advertisements, they say.

They also called on employers to enact antiracism action plans with clear targets that are regularly evaluated and undertake regular “stay interviews” (an alternative to exit interviews), giving women of colour opportunities to give feedback.

“This data shows there is still a way to go in addressing racial and ethnic equality across society,” said Eugenia Migliori, principal policy adviser of employment and inclusion at the Confederation of British Industry.

“Businesses must be doing all they can to build an inclusive workplace which allows each and every one to bring their whole selves to work without fear of discrimination.”

A government representative said of the issue: “The government takes the issue of racism extremely seriously and believes that all workplaces should be safe environments for people of all backgrounds to work together and thrive, free of discrimination.

“This why we recently announced our Inclusive Britain Action Plan, which sets out plans to build a fairer and more inclusive society, including promoting fairness in the workplace and action to tackle the ethnicity pay gap.”

Updated: May 25, 2022, 6:24 AM