Diverse Women. Strong Ambition. So why slow progress?

What can be done to ensure race equality is embedded into a business strategy asks Sandra Kerr OBE, Business in the Community Race Equality Director. 

One of the key findings from our Business in the Community Race at Work research that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people have a strong desire to progress.  An interesting fact as BAME people and in particularly BAME women are often underrepresented at senior levels. Our insight paper on the career experiences of BAME Women published today to celebrate International Women's Day highlights that their drive, motivation and ambition has not in any way diminished from when we first asked the question in our Race to Progress report published in 2011.

BAME women still do not head any of the FTSE 100 organisations or are at executive level on the board.  We also know from our Race at Work report that BAME employees are more likely to welcome fast track opportunities. It is important as employers take action going forward that they include BAME women be it for development and project opportunities or when monitoring the gender pay gap.

I have been working in this space for more than 10 years, and there have not been many inquiries focused on the participation of BAME women in the workplace. Previous reviews can be counted on one hand. I recall being part of a panel convened by the Equal Opportunities Commission in 2007 that undertook an investigation into Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black Caribbean women and work. The result was a report entitled Moving on up? The way forward. After this, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community conducted an investigation into Ethnic Minority Female Unemployment: Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Heritage Women and published a report in 2012. There was also the inquiry by the Women’s and Equalities Committee into Employment opportunities for  Muslims in the UK in 2016.

Our Race at Work survey has given us an opportunity to explore BAME women's experiences of career progression and fortunately, we now have the opportunity to use the government's review into Race in the Workplace recommendations to ensure that employers include gathering insight into the BAME women within their workplaces as they take forward action on race and diversity.

Getting race in the workplace right could deliver a £24bn boost to the UK economy, 1.5% GDP.1 This cannot be achieved without employers taking action to ensure fair access to opportunities and better outcomes for BAME women in the workplace.

What can be done?
Employers can ensure that race equality is embedded into their business strategy, encourage reverse mentoring and active sponsorship from Inclusive Leaders.  These leaders can call out the names of talented people from backgrounds in the forums in which there are no BAME people present. In addition employers can ensure that all line-managers with diverse teams have personal performance objectives to ensure they are being inclusive and helping the organisation through identifying talent to build diversity into the organisation’s talent pipelines.


1  The McGregor-Smith Review 2017