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Employment

One in four women of colour have experienced racial slurs at work, report finds

More than a quarter of women of colour say they have changed their hairstyle to feel more accepted at work, and one in five have even changed their name.

Three in four women of colour have endured racism at work and one in four have been exposed to or been called racial slurs, according to a new study highlighting entrenched racism in British workplaces.

The findings come from a new report from leading gender equality organisation The Fawcett Society and race equality think-tank The Runnymede Trust that documents the varying experiences of women from different ethnic minority groups and religions across the UK. 

Dr Halima Begum, CEO, Runnymede Trust, said the findings revealed the “structural racism” faced by women of colour from school to the workplace that prevent them from achieving the opportunities they deserve. 

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Begum described the “mental gymnastics of constantly code switching”, which can involve changing your mannerisms, appearance, language to “fit in” at work. 

The research found that 61 per cent of women of colour reported changing one or more key aspect of their identity to feel more accepted at work, compared with 44 per cent of white women. More than a quarter of women of colour say they had changed their hairstyle or the food bring to work, and one in five had even changed their name. 

“Women of colour are being forced to hide their identity in workplaces across the UK; things like changing their hairstyle or what they eat, just to try and conform. What a waste of those women’s time and energy – we need workplaces that respect and celebrate everyone’s individuality and allow women to focus on bringing their talents into the workforce,” said Jemima Olchawksi, CEO, Fawcett Society. 

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The study looked at the experiences of 2,000 women of colour in workplaces across the UK, as well as a survey by Survation of over 3,000 women of different races and ethnicities.  

“This evidence and the stories women have shared with us must be a rallying call to government, to employers and to our educational institutions to drive real change,” Olchawksi continued. 

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The report reveals that women of more colour were more likely to report that their wellbeing had been impacted by a lack of career progression than white women, 39 per cent and 28 per cent respectively. 

Speaking anonymously, one Muslim Bangladeshi woman told the researchers that when she questioned why she wasn’t given access to training, or why in a restructure, all the Black managers were downgraded, and posts held by white managers protected, she was “labelled as ‘aggressive’.” 

“Assertiveness is rewarded to, let’s say a white man, but for me as a Muslim, Bangladeshi woman, it was seen as aggressive,” she said.  

Researchers found the data to be consistent across all sectors and in all types of organisations, leading to a cumulative negative impact on women of colour at work. 

The government recently released its new race equality strategy, Inclusive Britain, calling for a clamp-down on online racist abuse and an investigation into the causes of “ethnic pay disparities”, among other investigations. 

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It did not, however, challenge the claim made in the earlier Sewell report that there is “no evidence of institutional racism” in Britain, nor does it mention or address structural or institutional racism. 

The Fawcett Society and Runnymede Trust are calling on the government to set-up and back a business-led initiative focused on addressing the ethnicity and gender pay gaps.

While gender pay gap reporting is mandatory for companies with over 250 employees, ethnicity pay gap reporting is voluntary, meaning that it’s true size is difficult to calculate. 

Earlier this year, a cross-party group of MPs found that ethnicity pay gap reporting would be the “first step” to addressing inequalities in pay between employees from different ethnic backgrounds. 

The UK’s gender pay gap stands at 9.8 per cent, meaning that women in the UK were paid just 90p for every £1 earned by a man in 2021/2022. 

Legislation to ban salary history questions and a requirement for job adverts to publish the salary on offer, has been touted by campaigners as the number one way to tackle gender and ethnicity pay gaps in the UK. 

The researchers also want “stay interviews” – an alternative to “exit interviews” that have grown in popularity as employers struggle to retain staff during the Great Resignation – to become a workplace staple for women of colour to give feedback on their career experiences. 

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