Report shows 75% of women of colour have experienced racism at work

A new report from the Fawcett Society and Runnymede Trust finds many women of colour are being held back in their careers as a result of bias and racism.



Three quarters of women of colour have experienced racism at work and 27% have suffered racial slurs, according to a new study by the Fawcett Society and the Runnymede Trust.

The report, entitled ‘Broken Ladders’, is the largest representative survey of women of colour and explores and documents the experiences of 2,000 women of colour in workplaces across the UK. It found that:

  • 50% of women of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage and 48% of women of Black African heritage stated that they had been criticised for behaviours other colleagues get away with at work, compared to 29% of White British women.
  • Black women of Caribbean heritage, and women of East Asian and Chinese heritage were the least likely to report ‘often’ or ‘always’ feeling comfortable in their workplace culture, at 43% and 41%, respectively.
  • Muslim women were significantly more likely to make changes to themselves at work than non-religious women or women of other religions. 53% of Muslim women changed the clothes they wear at work ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a bit’, compared to 37% of Christian women and 32% of non-religious women.

Broken Ladders shows that 39% of women of colour stated that their wellbeing had been impacted by a lack of progression compared to 28% of white women, whilst being refused promotion led to loss of motivation for 43% of women of colour. Women of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage (37%) and of Indian heritage (32%) were most likely to report a manager having blocked their progression at work as compared to White British women (20%).

As well as being subject to racism, workplace cultures mean that women of colour have to change who they are in order to fit in.  61% of women of colour said that they have changed one or more of the following by ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a bit’, compared with 44% of white women:

  • the language or words they use (37%)
  • the topics they talk about (37%)
  • their hairstyle (26%)
  • the food they eat (28%)
  • and even their names (22%) at work.

Black women of African heritage were most likely to change by a ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a bit’, their clothes (54% did so), the language they use (50%), the topics they talk about (46%), their hairstyle (39%) and accent (29%).

When it comes to recruitment,  52% of women of colour say they experience discrimination – such as being made to feel uncomfortable in relation to their race or cultural background, being asked for UK qualifications or English as a first language and being asked for ethnicity information outside of monitoring processes. This carries on through to decision-making and leadership, with 34% of women of colour reporting requiring their colleagues vouch for them to have their decisions accepted, compared to 23% of White British women.

And, while 64% of women of colour say that it is important they are promoted over time, compared with 49% of white women, 28% of women of colour (compared with 19% of white women) report that a manager blocked their progression at work, and 42% report being passed over for promotion despite good feedback (compared to 27% for white women).

Urgent change is needed across all institutions and sectors. The Fawcett Society and the Runnymede Trust are calling on the Government to:

  • set up and back a business-led initiative to tackle ethnicity and gender pay gaps and accelerate change on progression and representation
  • legislate to ban salary history questions and require salaries to be published on job advertisements.

And employers to:

  • implement effective, evidence-based Anti-Racism Action Plans with clear and measurable targets and regular monitoring and evaluation of progress
  • have clear and transparent processes for reporting racism, with multiple reporting routes, including options outside of line management structures.
  • introduce meaningful and intersectional anti-racism training supported by systems and structures to minimise bias; with outcomes linked to organisational performance targets on diversity and inclusion
  • set structures that ensure line managers deliver equitable and fair promotion outcomes for all employees and make progression routes explicit and well-known rather than based on informal networks.
  • undertake regular ‘stay interviews’ (an alternative to ‘exit interviews’), giving women of colour safe spaces and opportunities to feedback on their career experiences.

Meanwhile, a survey of 4,000 employees and 1,400 senior executives by Accenture has found that just two in five employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds across UK organisations feel included in the workplace and only half feel safe to be open about their background. The new report, titled, A fair chance to advance: The power of culture to break socioeconomic barriers in the workplace, found one in five employees from low-income backgrounds are promoted once every three years, compared to one in four of their colleagues. However, in companies with more inclusive workplace cultures, over 90% of employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds feel they have the same chance of success as their other colleagues, compared to only 30% in companies with less inclusive cultures.

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