Most women of colour ‘hide’ their heritage due to UK workplace racism | Race

Women of colour feel forced to change their behaviour, and in many cases their names, because of widespread, structural racism in the workplace, new research has found.

Three-quarters of women of colour have experienced some form of racism at work, while just over a quarter have faced racial slurs, according to a significant report by the gender equality organisation the Fawcett Society, and the race equality thinktank the Runnymede Trust.

The organisations surveyed 2,000 women of black and Asian heritage and more than 1,000 white women across the UK, highlighting the problem of workplace culture.

A majority of women of colour felt they needed to hide their identity at work in some way, with more than 60% modifying their language, hairstyle, clothes or diet in order to fit in.

More than half of Muslim and black African women said they had changed the clothes they wore at work, while a quarter of those with Indian heritage said they had changed their name.

The research also found persistent obstacles to career progression, with more than half of women of colour reporting discrimination in the application or interview process and 42% saying they were passed over for promotion.

“Women of colour face a double jeopardy,” said Halima Begum, the chief executive of the Runnymede Trust. “From school to the workplace, there are structural barriers standing between them and the opportunities they deserve.

“They know first hand the myth of meritocracy, from the mental gymnastics of constantly code switching to being repeatedly passed up for promotion.”

About a third of respondents from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian heritage said a manager had actively blocked their progression at work. This compared with 20% of white British women.

The report calls on the government to force companies with more than 50 employees to publish ethnicity pay gap data, which it has resisted, leading to accusations that it lacks the “will or care” to create a fairer and more equal society.

In 2018, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy launched a consultation that stated: “The government believes it is time to move to mandatory ethnicity pay reporting.”

The consultation closed in January 2019, but the government is yet to publish a response.

The report also calls for all employers to put anti-racism plans into action, including publishing salaries on all job advertisements and to stop asking candidates their past salaries.

Jemima Olchawksi, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said women of colour were being held back and forced to hide their identities.

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“What a waste of those women’s time and energy,” she said. “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.”

Responding to the findings, Caroline Nokes, the Conservative chair of the women and equalities committee, called for “positive action from the government”.

“It’s really shocking when you hear about women feeling obliged to change their name just to get on at work and when you hear about the level of racist abuse that still exists in the workplace,” she said.

“It requires positive action from the government. It’s not enough to say that we’re creating more opportunities for everybody. We have to target those opportunities to make sure that levelling up is not just about geography or the north and the south.”

A government spokesperson said: “Our inclusive Britain action plan 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.”