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Navigating the Intersection : The BME Women's Journey in the Workplace

In today's increasingly diverse workspace, it's imperative for leaders to recognise and address the unique challenges faced by Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women,


It’s worth noting that the research from ‘Women in the Workplace’, the largest comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, will serve as a vital resource in understanding the challenges faced by BME women in the workplace. You can read it by clicking the report.

 

Incorporating findings from this study into organisational diversity initiatives and policies can significantly impact the experiences of BME women.


By highlighting the intersectional dynamics of race and gender, the research will inform strategies aimed at fostering inclusion and equity for all employees.


This is especially true if they are stuck at "broken rung", which refers to the first step up to management positions within corporate structures, which women, particularly women of colour, struggle to access compared to their male counterparts.


BME Women & The Workplace

The report reveals that this initial promotion to manager is where gender disparities are most pronounced, creating a significant barrier for women aiming to climb the corporate ladder.


This phenomenon perpetuates the lack of gender diversity in leadership positions, as fewer women enter the pipeline at the managerial level.


Addressing the broken rung is crucial for achieving gender parity in corporate leadership and requires proactive efforts to identify and remove barriers to entry for women, particularly those from underrepresented groups.

 

We cannot ignore these issues, it should be woven into discussions surrounding the experiences and perceptions of BME women, reinforcing the importance of addressing their unique needs within corporate environments.


According to award-winning the Board Level POWER Coach; ex-midwife and Director in public services Dion Johnson

“It’s a new day in business leadership. Business as usual is obsolete and there is new and high demand for better business outcomes, beyond profit.
To meet these demands, we must find ways to invite and welcome new, diverse and powerful voices to every level of the decision making process, black and brown women included!
Almost every business will have some form of mission statement professing commitment to doing good in society and the world, however, it’s true that there is often a dissonance between what companies profess in their mission statements, and what they actually practise.
If this is going to change, we need a new kind of powerful expression in leadership, we need leaders who will show up authentically, speak up powerfully and shake things up confidently and credibly.
I predict women will lead the way for this new expression; but in a world where their voices are often marginalised, silenced or shutdown, women who want to answer this call successfully, must prepare!"

Dion is not alone in this thinking. It's no longer enough to just say you're doing something in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion. The benefits to BME women have to be tangible and they have to visible.


Another report, published in March 2024, was entitled Inclusion at Work Panel which included numerous recommendations and set out how organisations can improve diversity and inclusion practices through evidence here in the UK.


This panel, appointed by Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, spoke to more than 100 people across 55 different organisations and reviewed the latest research into how employers make decisions about diversity and inclusion policies and practices here in the UK.


The report comes as part of wider cross-government plans to outline steps to tackle unjust disparities, promote equality of opportunity and encourage aspiration.


Following its publication, Kemi Badenoch, writing in The Telegraph, also recently said:

"Education, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives should unite rather than alienate and some 'clumsy diversity drives are no substitute for proper action'.

Kemi goes on to say;

“.....while millions are being spent on these initiatives, many popular EDI practices – such as diversity training – have little to no tangible impact in increasing diversity or reducing prejudice,”

If it's proper action that's needed, it's proper action we should pursue and something the NBWN is laser focussed on. So let’s see what the research shows.


Belonging: The Quest for Inclusion

Belonging is more than just being physically present in a workspace; it's about feeling valued, respected and included.


For many BME women, navigating this sense of belonging can be particularly challenging. Often, they find themselves grappling with the intersectionality of their identities, facing unique pressures due to their race and gender.

 

One worrying trend is ‘Covering’, a concept by sociologist Erving Goffman, involves BME women downplaying parts of their identity to fit into mainstream workplace culture. This affects their sense of belonging, mental health and career advancement.


By hiding aspects of their racial or cultural identity, they risk feeling disconnected and may face challenges in career progression.

 

Moreover, 'covering' perpetuates a culture of assimilation, erasing diversity within organisations.


To address this, workplaces must foster inclusivity where individuals feel safe to be authentic. This involves celebrating diversity and providing support networks for BME women to thrive professionally without compromising their identity.

 

Sadly, research consistently highlights the struggles BME women encounter in finding their place within organisational structures.


Despite efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, many workplaces still lack the necessary support systems to foster a true sense of belonging for BME women.


They may feel like outsiders, constantly having to prove themselves or conform to mainstream norms that don't fully encompass their experiences.

 

Microaggressions: The Silent Sting

"Microaggressions are defined as the everyday, subtle, intentional - and oftentimes unintentional - interactions or behaviours that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalised groups." - Kevin Nadal, Professor of Psychology

Microaggressions, often subtle and unintentional, can have a significant impact on BME women's sense of belonging and self-worth in the workplace.


These subtle forms of discrimination manifest through comments, behaviours or actions that convey derogatory cultural messages towards marginalised groups.

 

The 'Women in the Workplace' report highlights that microaggressions have a profound impact on women's careers, particularly for BME women.


These subtle yet pervasive forms of discrimination, ranging from assumptions about competence to racial or gender stereotypes, create a hostile work environment that undermines women's confidence and sense of belonging.

 

Additionally, BME women face intersecting layers of bias, amplifying the negative effects of microaggressions on their professional trajectory.


The report underscores the need for organisations to address and mitigate these harmful behaviours to foster a more inclusive workplace culture where all women can thrive and advance in their careers.

 

For BME women, microaggressions can take various forms and are unique to this group of women. From assumptions about their competence to being subjected to racial or gendered stereotypes.


These daily slights chip away at their confidence and contribute to a hostile work environment.


Moreover, the cumulative effect of microaggressions can lead to feelings of isolation and disengagement, ultimately hindering career advancement and personal growth.


Women in the Workplace: Unveiling the Realities

Numerous studies have shed light on the experiences of women in the workplace, but few have specifically focused on the intersectional challenges faced by BME women.


However, recent research has begun to address this gap, providing valuable insights into their unique struggles and triumphs.

 

One such study surveyed BME women across various industries to understand their perceptions of workplace dynamics.


The findings revealed a complex narrative, where BME women often felt overlooked and undervalued compared to their white counterparts.

 

Moreover, the study highlighted the prevalence of microaggressions and the detrimental effects they had on BME women's career progression and overall well-being.

 

Are Women Feeling Valued?

The question of whether women, especially BME women, feel valued in the workplace is multifaceted and warrants careful examination.


While some organisations have made strides in promoting diversity and inclusion initiatives, there is still much work to be done to ensure that all employees feel valued and appreciated for their contributions.

 

For BME women, feeling valued goes beyond mere recognition; it's about being seen and heard, both professionally and personally.


It requires creating an environment where their voices are amplified, their perspectives are valued and their accomplishments are celebrated without tokenism or stereotypes.

 

Dion advocates 3 Ways For Women to Get Ready to Speak Up & Lead More Powerfully


1. Own Your Authority

Our world will be changed by women (like you) who dare to use their voice boldly to call forward the change they want to see, but first you must do the work to deeply know, understand and believe in your right, your qualification and the call on your life to have and share your views and professional conclusions.


2. Develop Your Unique Sound

It’s noisy in leadership - very noisy!


If you want to speak up and be heard you must find a way to pierce the discord and penetrate the attention of the people you want to influence.


Nothing does this better than original thinking and nuanced ideas delivered confidently and with conviction.


Investing in the support to develop your well thought out, carefully put together, professional point of view and your unique sound in your marketplace, will pay dividends in the long run.


3. Be Visible, Vocal & Publicly Powerful

This is no time for hiding! If you want to be seen, heard and taken seriously as a powerful leader with something to say and if you want to develop your voice and message, You must share - and share NOW!


No more waiting until you are ready or everything is perfect, it’s in the sharing, and the witnessing of your ideas and insights that you, as a presenter of new thought and your message itself, begins to grow, take on form and evolve powerfully.


The good news is that in this technological and information age, it has never been easier to set up your platforms and just begin today... Start now! SHARE!


So moving forward, what do senior leaders have to do to foster inclusive work spaces?


It's crucial to advocate for meaningful change that empowers BME women and addresses the systemic barriers they face at work.

 

Here are some actionable steps organisations can take to support BME women in the workplace:

 

  1. Offer comprehensive diversity training programmes that raise awareness of unconscious bias, microaggressions and the intersectional experiences of BME women.

  2. Establish mentorship and sponsorship programmes specifically tailored to support BME women in their career development and advancement.

  3. Foster a culture of psychological safety where BME women feel comfortable expressing their concerns, sharing their experiences and advocating for change without fear of retaliation.

  4. Actively seek out and amplify the voices of BME women in decision-making processes, leadership roles and public forums to ensure their perspectives are represented and valued.Hold leaders and organisations accountable for creating inclusive environments through transparent metrics, regular evaluations, and proactive measures to address issues of inequality.

 

Finally, the journey of BME women in the workplace is fraught with challenges, but it's also marked by resilience, determination and a relentless pursuit of equality.


It's essential to advocate for policies and practices that uplift and empower BME women, creating a more inclusive and equitable workforce for all!


As Kemi Badenoch said,

“No group should ever be worse off because of companies’ diversity policies – whether that be black women, the disabled or white men.”

By addressing issues of belonging, microaggressions and the broader question of value, we can collectively work towards a future where every individual, regardless of race or gender, can thrive and succeed. Who's with us?

 

If you found this article insightful, we encourage you to take action and join the conversation by becoming a member of the NBWN and help be part the change we all want to see.


Have you personally experienced any of the barriers discussed, such as microaggressions or the "broken rung" phenomenon? Your experiences are valuable, and sharing them can help shed light on the challenges faced by women, particularly those from underrepresented groups, in the workplace.


By commenting below and sharing this article with your own network, you can contribute to raising awareness and advocating for change.


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