Challenges that face Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women in the workplace

Sandra Kerr OBE

Sandra Kerr OBE, Director, Race for Opportunity


The Government Equalities Office (GEO) is carrying out an online survey on what women think the major advances in women’s position in the UK have been and what the government’s new priorities should be. They are particularly keen to reach a diverse range of women, and it led me to thinking about the challenges facing Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women in the workplace.

We know that BAME women often face the double barrier of the gender glass ceiling and racial discrimination. This is particularly evident when looking at management roles. As our Gender and Race Benchmark 2014 found, BAME women are the least likely group to hold executive or non-executive directorships, although they are more likely to be promoted than BAME men at other levels. BAME women also apply for fewer roles than BAME men, but their rates of hiring are the same. And there are also challenges facing male and female BAME employees in terms of progression; BAME employees are less likely to be rated in the top two performance ratings categories or to be identified as ‘high potential’.

69% of Black women have experienced bullying and harassment at work in the last three years, compared to 52% of women overall.

Our sister campaign Opportunity Now’s Project 28-40 also found that 69% of Black women have experienced bullying and harassment at work in the last three years, compared to 52% of women overall. However, our Benchmark found that BAME women are most likely to make formal complaints about bullying and harassment at work.

So how can employers remove these hurdles and ensure that their BAME female talent have equal opportunities to progress further? We would strongly encourage organisations to engage with them, for example through focus groups and employee surveys, and monitoring the numbers of BAME women at each stage of the application process to discover the specific barriers to progression that they face and use these knowledge to develop solutions. Organisations may also wish to implement unconscious bias training for all staff involved in recruitment, as we know from our Benchmark that organisations which do this are more likely to have similar hiring rates of BAME and white employees. The Benchmark also includes a number of other recommendations to improve BAME recruitment and representation at all levels, including transparent selection criteria, training line managers in diversity and inclusion,

The GEO survey will help to identify the issues facing women in the UK today and what needs to be done to address them, and it’s vital that this includes women from all backgrounds, including BAME women. But we also need efforts from business to ensure they are not unwittingly excluding any groups from their talent pool or leadership pipeline. We know what works in tackling these gaps – now it’s up to employers to put these steps into action.