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Why many black women could have a bleak Christmas

EMPLOYMENT BARRIERS: Discrimination leaves many black women unemployed and struggling financially

THE REPORT by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community, published this November, is the most recent piece of evidence of the existing systemic and institutional discrimination against black minority ethnic (BME) women in the workplace.

The report highlights the multi-faceted discrimination that exists within the systems of recruitment and employment.

It lists the overall unemployment rate of black women as 14.3 percent, compared to 6.8 percent for white women, while Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are particularly affected at 20.5 percent.

These figures mask the economic struggle faced even by women who are in employment, as figures show that women, and particularly BME women, make up the majority of part time workers in the UK.

The report lists barriers faced by BME women in the employment market as present at every stage of the recruitment process, from applications, interviews, within recruitment agencies, as well as in the workplace itself.

Examples of this discrimination include women feeling pressured to change their 'ethnic-sounding' names on application forms or to take off the hijab for interviews.

Listing cases where BME women have had to answer questions about their plans for marriage and motherhood in job interviews, the report makes a clear argument for the "dual discrimination" that faces these women, as these questions are asked on the basis of cultural stereotyping rather than just because they are women.

We support the recommendations made in this report and fully agree with its argument that "the Government's 'colour-blind' approach to tackling unemployment is not appropriate in dealing with the specific issues facing women from these groups".

A number of recommendations are made that could improve the situation of unemployed BME women if they were fully implemented.

These include increasing the use of blank-name application forms, encouraging uptake of free childcare by BME women, and greater monitoring and data collection across all levels of the recruitment sector to unearth issues of discrimination that are currently hidden from view.

Although we welcome the findings of the report, they have not come as a surprise.

The report itself notes that evidence from the Department for Work and pensions found, back in 2009, that candidates with African or Asian sounding surnames were sending approximately twice as many job applications as those with more 'traditional British names.'

More importantly there are a number of recommendations missing that should have been made based on this evidence.

The complete lack of reference to measures of Positive Action also significantly limits the impact of this report. Positive Action is a necessary tool to help redress the deeply entrenched biases that exist particularly against black women, and the use of temporary 'special measures' is indeed recommended by CEDAW, the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

The report paid little attention to ways to counter discrimination and racism once BME women reach the interview stage, or in the workplace itself.

Recommendations could have included encouraging diversity on organisation's recruitment panels; since evidence suggests that people recruit in their own image; thus, majority male and/or white recruitment panels are likely to recruit from their own gender or racial group.

Other crucial recommendations should include the encouragement of flexible working hours to fit the needs of women (who generally act as primary care givers within their families).

These measures can go part way to ensuring that BME women are treated more fairly during the selection and appointment phases, and can help to accommodate women's needs once in work.

However, if implemented, these measures are short term and only address surface level issues. The deeper, root cause of discrimination is a issue of entrenched attitudes within society; a society which does not view the work of women, and particularly BME women as important.

Our government, our banks, our media, and our major corporations are predominantly run by men; white men.

The systems of power which this creates exclude and marginalize groups within our society, and maintain the status quo despite surface level measures.

This report, and the others before it, missed the opportunity to open a political discourse about race and gender, and how we can change power structures in the workplace, in politics, in society, and even in the home.

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