BAME women in the workplace

Gender inequality does not stand alone. For most people, it intersects with other aspects of their identity including, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, religion and disability that shift experiences of inequality between people. The double discrimination faced by BAME women from both their gender and race or ethnicity impacts equal representation, opportunities and experiences in the workplace. 45% of Black women say that the place they experience racism most frequently is in their workspaces [1].

BAME women continue to be underrepresented in most industries at all levels. Just over one in twenty chief executives of FTSE 100 Index companies are women, but none are BAME women [2], less than 0.1% of UK-born Black women are in the top 1% of earners in the UK (compared to 1.3% of UK-born white men) [3], and just 25 of the 21,000 UK university professors are Black women as of February 2020 [4].

Underrepresentation in the workplace can create barriers to the reporting and challenging of discrimination as individuals may feel that their experiences will not be understood or taken seriously. Companies also may not have adequate policies to address instances of racism and/or sexism. 34% of BAME women have experienced racist jokes at work, yet 74% of BAME workers report that they do not feel comfortable raising issues of racism and sexism with their managers [5]. Experiences of racism and sexism might take the form of micro-aggressions (read about micro-aggression and unconscious bias here), for example:

  • Feelings of exclusion and/or invisibility

  • Assuming a coworker is at a junior level, or holds secretarial or assistant roles as oppose to leadership roles

  • Sexist and/or racist humour

  • Derogatory or demeaning language

  • Expressing surprise at being a BAME woman upon first meeting

  • Sexual objectification

  • Underestimating professional capabilities

  • Unfairly passed over or denied a promotion at work

  • Being singled out for more unpopular tasks

  • Inappropriate contact, including touching women's hair

Or macro-aggressions, such as:

  • Unequal pay

  • Harassment or violence of any kind based on race and/or gender

Research carried out by Louise Appiah (2020) [6] found that the most commonly cited coping strategies amongst Black women for dealing with micro-aggressions in the workplace were to ignore them, build resilience or look to their social circles outside of the workplace. It is the responsibility of employers to ensure that employees are aware of ways to report discrimination in the workplace and feel encouraged and safe to do so in the knowledge that these will be acted upon. There are a number of steps employers can take to support BAME women in the workplace:

  • Build diverse workspaces and teams at all levels. This includes diversity in managerial and decision-making roles.

  • Educate team leaders and managers on the double discrimination faced by BAME women in the workplace, the types of discrimination they might experience, and how to respond appropriately.

  • Track and monitor how BAME women are progressing in your company and what opportunities they have.

  • Appoint designated, trained staff to deal with complains of discrimination, and take all claims seriously and act on them.

  • Amplify diverse opinions.

  • Create clear, open lines of communication for employees to talk about their experiences.

  • Work to embed inclusion into company culture.