Women are not a homogenous group and face different and various barriers to the labour market based upon their multiple and intersecting identities. For example, Black and minority ethnic (BME) women face an intertwined set of gendered and racial barriers that affect their ability to enter, progress and stay in good quality employment.

There is consequently a growing consensus that an intersectional approach to policymaking and employer interventions is necessary to advance women’s labour market equality. Despite this, there remains a lack of Scotland-specific research and data seeking to understand BME women’s experiences of the labour market.

Aiming to provide insight into the lived experiences of BME women at work in Scotland, Close the Gap have just released new research which captures data on key aspects of employment across recruitment, development and workplace culture.

Some of 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 an 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.

What do the findings mean for the third sector?

Third sector organisations in Scotland have a long history of delivering employability services. For such organisations, there is a need to actively take account of the barriers for BME women in entering and progressing at work when designing employability interventions. This involves developing gender-specific employment services aimed at ensuring targeted support, information and training are available for ethnic minority women seeking employment and advice.

As employers, the third sector should be developing gender-sensitive employment practices, such as offering flexible and part-time working at all levels of the organisation, conducting equal pay reviews and analysing the data by gender and race. It is also the responsibility of all employers to show leadership in building inclusive workplace cultures, developing and implementing robust practice on reporting incidents of racism and harassment, setting out clearly that staff who raise concerns will be supported and those perpetrating harassment or racism will be held to account.

The research also highlights that BME women are a diverse and complex group with differing experiences in employment based upon their ethnicity, race, migrant status and, in some cases, religion. For third sector policy-makers, this necessitates the intersectional approaches and the use of gender- and race-disaggregated data.

There is a mounting global evidence base to suggest that the gains to employers in advancing equality and diversity are wide-ranging. This includes improved staff morale; enhanced innovation in product and service design; enhanced productivity; and being able to recruit from a wider talent pool. The economic benefits are also clear, with previous research by Close the Gap identifying that addressing women’s labour market inequality could add up to £17bn to Scotland’s economy.

Ultimately, advancing BME women’s labour market equality is a necessary step if Scotland is to realise its ambition for genuine inclusive growth.

You can read Still Not Visible: Black and minority ethnic women’s experience of employment in Scotland here.