Workplace discrimination prompts 'whitened' job applications

By Holly Wallis & Stephen Robb
BBC News

image captionThe report found ethnic minority women faced "persistent barriers to employment"

Ethnic minority women face discrimination "at every stage of the recruitment process", a report by MPs says. But what is finding a job like for those affected?

Jorden Berkeley, a black 22-year-old university graduate from London, spent four months applying for jobs but getting no responses from bigger companies, and offers from elsewhere that were limited to unpaid work experience.

Then a careers adviser suggested Miss Berkeley drop her first name and start using her middle name, Elizabeth.

"I did not really understand this seeing as my name isn't stereotypically 'ethnic' or hard to pronounce, but it was worth a try and I changed it anyway," she said. "I have been getting call backs ever since."

She added: "I have many, many friends who were effectively told to 'whiten' their CVs by dropping ethnic names or activities that could be associated with blackness. It was a very sad realisation."

Unemployment rates among ethnic minority women have remained consistently higher than for white women since the 1980s, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) said in its report.

In 2011, the overall unemployment rate for ethnic minority women was 14.3%, compared with 6.8% for white women. Among Pakistani and Bangladeshi women it rose to 20.5%.

'Double jeopardy'

"All unemployment is equally tragic but women from ethnic minority backgrounds face a greater challenge to enter the labour market than most," said APPG chairman David Lammy.

They encounter discrimination from the job application stage onwards, in interviews, at recruitment agencies, and in the workplace itself, the report suggests.

It identified discrimination at job interview stage based on both gender and ethnicity, with black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women all reporting being questioned about their "intentions regarding marriage and children".

"This was often tied to assumptions based on ethnicity - for example it was assumed that Muslim women would want to stop work after having children," the report said.

Highlighting rates of economic inactivity - not seeking or available for work - which stood at 27.5% for white women, but leapt to 63.6% among Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, the MPs acknowledged some would be choosing to stay at home to care for families.

But the report added: "Inactivity rates could be high partly because some women may be giving up searching for work due to difficulties in finding employment and the decreased confidence this brings."

Vivienne Hayes, head of the Women's Resource Centre charity, said ethnic minority women were facing "a 'double jeopardy' of oppression for both their race and their gender".

She said: "Discrimination in the workplace against black and ethnic minority women can be subtle or it can be explicit, either way we know for a fact it exists and it affects the opportunities those women get and the power they hold in society."

After facing discrimination as a child of Caribbean parents growing up in London in the 60s and 70s, Edwardine Lochhart says it is particularly in the workplace that she has continued to face discrimination as an adult.

"I found that I had to consistently work harder and put in more hours than my white and/or male counterparts," said 52-year-old Ms Lochhart. "It was definitely the case that I had to be not as good as, but better than, others in order to receive the same recognition."


Another woman, who is half-Bangladeshi, half-Arab and asked not to be named, explained that changing her name to seem less typically Muslim had resulted in "a clear increase in interview offers", and eventually led to a permanent name change by deed poll.

But she said she had encountered still more discrimination when she later attempted a move from the public sector into private sector employment.

"Whilst my non-Muslim sounding adapted name landed me an interview in the marketing department of a large and prestigious department store, the attitude of the face-to-face interviewers changed when seeing I was not white or Asian/white mixed-race," she said.

"I was explicitly asked to adapt my look to appear more 'white' and 'glossy'... which I simply couldn't pull off no matter how light-skinned I was. I was asked to do this despite the fact that there was little customer interaction in the role."

image captionMiss Berkeley fears that "ingrained racism within British society... will never disappear"

The concentration of black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women in public sector work was highlighted by the MPs, who expressed fears those groups' employment levels would suffer further from ongoing public sector cuts.

But the MPs also highlighted "an appetite for more support to set up businesses from black women".

Miss Berkeley certainly believes that the obstacles she faced immediately on entering the job market have made her more entrepreneurial.

With two other black women, she co-founded the non-profit Young Black Graduates UK organisation.

"Due to the economic climate, we encourage our members - who are mostly of Afro-Caribbean origin - to create their own opportunities seeing as it is becoming more difficult to gain employment through traditional avenues."

She added: "British society will always be run by the pale, male and stale; but at least now there are groups and individuals trying to change this."

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