Page last updated at 00:12 GMT, Thursday, 15 March 2007

Ethnic women workers 'excluded'

Many employers ignore black and Asian women in areas where they are a significant part of the workforce, the Equal Opportunities Commission says.

Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black Caribbean women are absent from three out of 10 of those workplaces, the EOC said after a two-year study.

The EOC said they find it harder to get a job and win promotion.

They are more likely to be restricted to certain types of work, despite having good qualifications, it added.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly welcomed the report.

"For black and Asian women, the workplace is a complex story of ambition, skills and achievement on one hand and missed opportunity on the other," she said.

"No doors should be shut to women - and men - of talent, regardless of ethnicity or faith."

Hidden barriers

The EOC spent two years looking at the employment patterns of ethnic minority women in 22 "travel-to-work" areas where they made up average or above average proportions of the workforce.

Without tackling these unwritten rules, change will never come

As well as being completely absent from three out of 10 workplaces, these women were under represented in five out of 10 workforces.

"Time after time women told us about the 'unwritten rules' in their workplace, hidden barriers that prevent them from realising these ambitions," said the EOC's chair, Jenny Watson.

"Without tackling these unwritten rules, change will never come," she added.

The report defined the cultural intelligence needed by employers as "the awareness, understanding and confidence" to recruit and promote people from different cultural backgrounds.


The problems uncovered by the research did not just apply to recruitment.

They also affected promotion, which saw some ethnic minority women segregated into certain types of work for which they were often overqualified.

The report found that 28% of employers in the survey wanted to improve their recruitment methods, while the same number admitted they did not know how to go about this.

The CBI's deputy director-general, John Cridland, welcomed the report.

"The EOC's report sets out the complex social and cultural challenges that need to be addressed to bring more ethnic minority women in the workplace," he said.

"Employers are keen to employ more women from ethnic minorities, but better guidance is needed to support them," he said.

Among the solutions put forward by the EOC are:

  • finding out and publishing the facts about the number of black and Asian women working at an organisation and at what level
  • reaching out to schools, community centres, hosting open days and promoting opportunities in the local media
  • teaming up new employees with a mentor
  • Providing information about the different religions and cultures reflected in the workplace and among customers
  • tackling racism and giving managers the tools to set clear standards of behaviour for all staff.

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