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Women from ethnic minorities face barriers to work in some areas

A new report has found that in some localities in England Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black African women were six times more likely to be unemployed than White women living nearby.

Although the proportion of women who hold good qualifications has been rising fast in almost all ethnic minority groups, this is failing to be reflected in their position in the workplace, according to a new study, Ethnic Minority Women and Access to the Labour Market published on Thursday 13 July 2006.

The report, written by experts at Sheffield Hallam University, looked at the experiences of ethnic minority women in five local authorities in England and found strong evidence that labour markets are operating in ways which often disadvantage ethnic minority women. It argues that local analysis of these problems is crucial, as key aspects of this unfairness are not visible in the national figures.

In the localities studied, around half of ethnic minority women were born outside the UK. These women were frustrated and perplexed by their difficulties in accessing English language training and said finding advice and guidance on employment and applying for jobs had also been a struggle.

Another significant issue was that women with qualifications from outside the UK often found their skills and talents weren't recognised. As a result, some were working in low level jobs well below their potential.

The women in the study also reported that experiences of racism, discrimination and harassment were common in and outside work, and that these negative experiences had a long term impact on their confidence. Many had encountered rejection and exclusion in their attempts to enter employment or progress at work.

Professor Sue Yeandle, lead author of the study at Sheffield Hallam University explains, "England’s 2.1 million ethnic minority women of working age deserve a much better deal than they currently get in the labour market. Some ethnic minority women are finding it very difficult to get jobs commensurate with their abilities. This affects women who have been born and educated here, as well as those brought up outside the UK, and leads to clustering of different groups of ethnic minority women in particular types of work, often in jobs which are low paid or where long-term prospects are poor.

"Our study shows the danger of making stereotyped assumptions about how any individual woman's personal situation or cultural background may affect her aspirations and experiences in relation to work. We need much stronger national policies to address the problems our study has highlighted. But these will not work unless local agencies have detailed information about the different groups of ethnic minority women in their area, and an understanding of their needs and circumstances.

"If the Government and employers fail to engage with women from ethnic minorities they are missing out on a huge pool of talent and are failing to properly reflect our society in the workplace."

This study forms part of a larger investigation, The Gender and Employment in Local Labour Markets (GELLM) research programme, which was funded by the European Social Fund, with support from the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Trades Union Congress and the English local authorities where the research was undertaken. The findings will be presented at a major conference, Promoting Gender Equality in Local Labour Markets, at TUC Congress House on Thursday 13 July 2006, when the programme’s six new reports will be launched.

Lorna Branton | alfa
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