Large sections of minority ethnic women are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts, with some removing their hijabs or making their names sound more English to try to beat discrimination, a report from MPs and peers says.
Furthermore, the rate of joblessness for ethnic minority women has failed to come down in the past three decades, finds the report from the all-party parliamentary group on race and community.
The report finds that prejudice and discrimination explains a quarter of the higher unemployment rate faced by women from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black communities.
The report finds some employers assume Muslim women would stop work after having children and the MPs and peers say the government must end its “colour blind” approach to improving employment equality.
The report from the cross party group is an attempt to put discrimination issues back on the agenda, coming at a time when the official equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, is facing large budget cuts and criticism over its effectiveness.
The report found: “Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are particularly affected, with 20.5% being unemployed compared to 6.8% of white women, with 17.7% of black women also being unemployed.”
The higher unemployment rate covered all ages, dashing hopes that more enlightened attitudes mean the problem is lessening for younger women.
The report cited research from Professor Anthony Heath of Oxford University: “The unemployment rate of black women has remained at roughly double that of white women since 1972. There has been no decrease over time or over generations in ethnic minority unemployment rates overall (both men and women), and that the second generation still experience unemployment rates which are as high as those of the first generation.”
Research by Professor Yaojun Li found the same was true for predominantly Muslim Pakistani and Bangladeshi women trying to find work: “After 1983 the unemployment rate of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women has remained consistently and substantially higher than the rate for white women.”
The report found:
• Some employers’ attitudes worsened when they realised women with European-sounding names were black.
• Some Muslim women were removing their hijab to increase their chance of getting work.
• Black and Asian women complained of being asked during job interviews about their plans for marriage and having children.
• Fewer Pakistani and Bangladeshi women were taking up their children’s free nursery places than white women.
The report found ethnic minority women “deselecting themselves” from the jobs market and deciding not to apply because of the extra barriers they faced.
The MPs said the approach of successive governments must change: “We believe that evidence shows that there are varied and complex barriers facing Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women which are different from those facing white women or ethnic minority men.
“Based on this, we would argue that the government’s ‘colour-blind’ approach to tackling unemployment is not appropriate in dealing with the specific issues facing women from these groups.”
Labour MP David Lammy, who chairs the all-party group, said: “It is staggering that in 21st century Britain there are women who felt they had to remove their hijab or change their name just to be able to compete on the same terms as other candidates when looking for jobs.
“All unemployment is tragic but we simply can no longer remain so casual about women that are simultaneously the victims of both sexism and racism when they are competing in the labour market. It has massive implications for families and society as a whole.
“Getting women into jobs is the best way to break families out of the poverty cycle so it is time for the government to make addressing this a priority.”