Northern Lights: Glass ceiling even thicker for black, Asian and minority ethnic women

As a child of the Windrush Generation, when I started working at Sheffield magistrates’ court in 1983, I was the only black woman there.

By Carol Stewart
Thursday, 07 March, 2019, 15:43
Carol Stewart, executive career and business coach

This was despite citizens from British colonies in the Caribbean, Africa, India and Pakistan having been invited to the UK, with many settling in Sheffield some 30 years prior. Back in 1983 there was a distinct lack of BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) people in white collar professions. It is disappointing that despite legislation and measures to address a lack of representation over the years, Sheffield was identified as a race disparity challenge area some 35 years later.   Sheffield is one of 20 local authorities where employment outcomes for BAME people is far worse than that of white people, as identified by the government’s race disparity audit.  Something is systemically wrong. With a population of 19 percent BAME people in Sheffield, research from the Women’s Budget Group and the Runnymede Trust suggests that minority ethnic women have been hit hardest by austerity.  Black and Asian households have faced the biggest drop in living standards of 19.2% and 20.1 percent respectively. We are all aware of the glass ceiling women face progressing in their careers. BAME women not only have to contend with this, we also have to contend with what I call the double glazed glass ceiling.  A double whammy thrown at us just because of our ethnic minority status. Additionally, BAME women are adversely affected by the gender and ethnicity pay gaps, which negatively impact lifetime earnings, pensions, and are a cause of poverty in later life.   In 2017 Race in the Workplace: The McGregor-Smith Review reported the potential benefit to the UK economy from full representation of BAME individuals across the labour market, through improved participation and progression, is estimated to be £24 billion a year.  You would think that this alone would be sufficient a driver to increase representation, not to mention it being morally and ethically the right thing to do.  However, just like gender equality, the pace of change for BAME equality is also far too slow. A lack of BAME women in senior positions does not provide role models, neither does it instil hope for the generation of BAME women now contemplating the career ladder. For many who are already mid to late career, apathy towards a system that doesn’t afford them opportunity has set in. Whilst BAME women on their own cannot change what is systemically wrong, as a collective we can raise our voices and challenge social injustices.  We can support and encourage each other to overcome barriers to progression, and we can carve out and create our own opportunities.   This is where Breaking Through Your Limits, the International Women’s Day empowerment conference for BAME women taking place on Saturday March 9 comes in. With over 100 women expected to attend, at only £5 and with a creche, there will be talks and workshops to support BAME women in their career development, business start up and development, and personal lives.  The conference will empower attendees to break through those limits that keep them from progressing. The first of its kind for Sheffield, speakers from around the country are generously giving of their time. They themselves have overcome barriers and obstacles and want to support other women in doing the same. Bev Miller, social worker and one of Sheffield’s best female DJs (stage name DJ Sensi) who will be attending with her daughter said: “One of my primary concerns regarding black women and employment is the lack of black women in senior positions regardless of experience and qualifications. Furthermore, the glass ceiling in relation to career progression is long overdue to be dismantled out of existence.”  Bev is also concerned that young black women are finding it increasingly difficult to find employment in permanent jobs. Her daughter has had several years of temporary positions only. This impacts on her ability to even consider buying her own home or buying a car. Despite Sheffield City Council turning down a request for funding from the International Women’s Day funding pot, the conference is gaining a lot of interest and support because people recognise its importance.  Sheffield media have been supporting it.  Charlotte Mead and colleagues from the Women’s Equality Party are giving it their support and will be attending. For details on The Breaking Through Your Limits conference visit breakingthroughyourlimits.eventbrite.co.uk website.