Employment & Economy

Broken Ladders

Written by:
Shabna Begum, Alba Kapoor, Michelle Gyimah, Zaimal Azad, Lizzie Ville, Alison Henderson and Monica Dey
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Broken Ladders: The myth of meritocracy for women of colour in the workplace

75% of women of colour have experienced racism at work, and 61% report changing themselves to ‘fit in’.

Women of colour across the UK already know that experiencing racism at work is the norm.That’s why we’ve partnered with the Fawcett Society to produce our ground-breaking research, Broken Ladders: The myth of meritocracy for women of colour in the workplace.

Broken Ladders centres the voices and experiences of thousands of women of colour at work and explores the different experiences of women from different ethnic minority groups and religions.

Our research shows that every stage of the career journey, from entering work to senior leadership, women of colour are being locked out of reaching their true potential.

Our key findings show:

  • Institutional racism is common in all sectors and in all organisations: 75% of women of colour have experienced racism at work, with 27% having suffered racial slurs.
  • Forced to mould to conform: 61% report changing themselves to ‘fit-in’ at work, from the language or words they use (37%), their hairstyle (26%) and even their name (22%).
  • Well-being is being impacted: 39% of women of colour stated their well-being 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.
  • Locked out of progression: 28% of women of colour (compared with 19% of white women) reporting that a manager had blocked their progression at work, and 42% reporting being passed over for promotion despite good feedback (compared to 27% for white women).
  • Recruitment discrimination:52% of women of colour experience discrimination – such as, being asked for UK qualifications or English as a first language and being asked for ethnicity information outside of monitoring processes.

Urgent change is needed across all institutions and sectors.

Our calls for change

The skills, abilities, and experiences of women of colour should be harnessed and celebrated or our workplaces risk losing them –resulting in a huge loss of talent. That’s why we are calling on employers, the government, universities, unions and businesses to take action now.

We want 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. 
  • 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. 

We're 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. 

“Women of colour face a double jeopardy. From school to the workplace, there are structural barriers standing between them and the opportunities they deserve. Our landmark research exists to support these women to thrive in their workplaces, and to challenge employers to harness the talents, skills and experiences of their employees, or risk losing them.
"Women of colour know first-hand the myth of meritocracy, from the mental gymnastics of constantly code switching to being repeatedly passed up for promotion, in 2022 it is high time we invest in them. Until we do so, we will continue to lose them as they leave the workplace, resulting in a huge waste of talent.” - Dr Halima Begum, our CEO

Dr Halima Begum, our CEO

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