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Ethnic Minority Women Being Held Back In The Workplace


As part of its action plan in response to the Women and Work Commission, the government is to launch an investigation into the issues facing ethnic minority women in the workplace.

Ethnic minority communities overall have a lower employment rate than the rest of the population, and for Bangladeshi and Pakistani women it is particularly low – 24 per cent and 24.2 per cent respectively. The average employment rate for women of working age is 70 per cent.

As a forerunner to the investigation, the Department for Communities and Local Government has published a report, Engaging with Muslim Women, which reveals that many feel that economic exclusion is a major issue for them.

Many felt that they can’t use the skills that they have or can’t get advice to find challenging and fulfilling jobs. And many, particularly those who wear the hijab, also reported that they felt they are stereotyped by prospective employers.

The report also shows that Muslim women want to play a stronger and more active role in their mosques, communities and in society as a whole. Many felt that they are routinely excluded from mosques and community leadership.

Minister for Women and Communities Ruth Kelly said: “Finding practical measures to raise employment levels for women from ethnic minority backgrounds into the workplace is a key priority.

“Many Muslim women have said that they want to play a more active role in the workplace and we already know that helping women harness their full potential is worth up to £23billion a year to the UK economy.

“There is an obvious case here for bridging that gap – this is not about preferential treatment but about tackling the barriers to Muslim women entering the labour market, where there are genuine shortages, and making the most of that pool of talent.”

The government investigation also follows a report by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) which supports many of the findings.

The report shows that despite high achievement at school – Pakistani and Bangladeshi girls have already overtaken white boys and Black Caribbean girls are not far behind – they are experiencing difficulties in the workplace.

These include higher unemployment, a lower glass ceiling than for white women and – for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women – lower pay. Most work in a restricted range of sectors and jobs and many report they have to deal with racism, sexism and negative stereotypes.

Although 90 per cent of employers strongly agree with the business case for employing black and Asian women, only 40 per cent in areas with above average numbers of black and Asian people have a workforce that reflects that ratio – and 30 per cent don’t employ any black or Asian women at all.

The report marks the end of the first phase of a two-year investigation by the EOC into the employment prospects of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black Caribbean women.

The report makes it clear that a focus only on ‘cultural factors’ – which suggest that the problem lies with the women themselves because they don't have the skills or have families who don't want them to work – misses the point for many of today’s increasingly well educated and ambitious young Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black Caribbean women, especially those born and educated in Britain.

Jenny Watson, chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said: “The good news is that the next generation of confident, ambitious young black and Asian women have a lot to contribute to their families, to local communities and to our economy.

“The bad news is that not enough employers are tapping into this pool of talent – despite demographic predictions that suggest Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean and Pakistani women will make up, in some areas, a significant proportion of the workforce of the future.

“It’s not only employers who miss out – we all do when young women’s ambitions are dashed and we fail to build cohesive communities. More must be done before another generation of promising young women fall prey to the same negative cycle of poor pay, poor prospects, and occupational segregation.”


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