- Coqual, a global equity-championing think tank, has released a report into the experiences of Black British people. The report has revealed that 52% of Black women in the U.K. plan to leave the workforce.
- 68% of Black employees in the U.K. have experienced racial prejudice at work. The report suggests that these hostile work environments are essentially driving Black women out of the workplace.
- Coqual has proposed a three-step framework to support employers to prevent or reverse this trend and bring about real change for the U.K.’s Black female working population.
What do the statistics tell us about Black female employees in the U.K.?
Coqual surveyed 1,035 people from different backgrounds and genders in the U.K. According to their report on Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women in the workplace (Being Black in the United Kingdom), there are over 20.6 million women of working age in the U.K. 2.9 million (14%) of these women are from a BME background.
Black women represent a significant portion of this group (25%). One of the most remarkable findings of the report was that 52% of Black women intend to leave the workforce; this compares to only 34% of all white respondents to the survey.
The most recent U.K. Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index revealed a complete absence of Black Chairs, Chief Executives and Chief Financial Officers within these blue-chip companies. Black men and women across the U.K. are still overwhelmingly underrepresented in top managerial positions (the C-Suite).
A survey of 250 Black female professionals in the U.K. revealed that four in ten believe they are not offered the same career advancement opportunities as their non-Black female colleagues, and over half stated that they will be overlooked for promotion in the future. The survey also revealed that one-third of Black women had resigned due to discriminatory practices at work.
Coqual’s report supports these findings and suggests that hostile work environments are contributing to an exodus of Black female employees in the U.K. A recent TUC Equality briefing has also revealed that many Black women leave their jobs to set up businesses. Being their own boss enables many Black women to escape the daily obstacles and inequalities they face in the workplace.
The briefing paper also highlights the insecure nature of many jobs undertaken by BME women (without benefits and often on zero-hour contracts). This type of work often renders employees powerless and prone to discrimination.
In the U.S., discrimination in the workplace has been well-documented for years, yet major research in the U.K. has only recently revealed the parallel experiences of Black employees (compare the groundbreaking 2019 study Being Black in Corporate America to Coqual’s new report Being Black in the United Kingdom).
“This new report sheds light on these experiences while illustrating what’s at stake for companies that choose to ignore the bias and barriers Black employees face,” said Lanaya Irvin, Chief Executive Officer of Coqual.
How does this exodus of Black women from the U.K. labor market relate to the Great Resignation?
The exodus of Black women from the workforce cannot be examined in isolation from the Great Resignation. According to a U.K. multi-agency report, the pandemic disproportionately affected BME people in terms of poverty and debt, employment security, domestic and care work and health and mental wellbeing.
Alongside these challenges, Black women in the U.K. also continue to face daily prejudice and unfair treatment in the workplace. When many others experienced an existential crisis during and immediately after the pandemic, Black women were reprioritizing their lives whilst confronting a plethora of inequalities. Black women in the U.K. are joining the Great Resignation — but not for all the same reasons as their white counterparts.
The pandemic exposed some deep-rooted racial issues on both sides of the pond. The murder of George Floyd (and the subsequent debate around racism in the U.S.) forced the U.K. to confront its own problems with race. Many companies spoke about positive change and committed to eradicating discrimination within the workplace. Much was said about tackling unconscious bias and addressing historical racial inequalities.
The political environment at this time also encouraged many Black women to examine how society valued them; they began to question their differential treatment within various sectors (health, education and employment) and focus on some stark unequal outcomes.
More research is needed in the U.K. to identify where Black women who leave their jobs are migrating to. Are they leaving for other companies, different sectors and new careers, other countries or simply leaving the labor market altogether?
One thing we do know is that there has been a substantial rise in the number of Black female entrepreneurs in the U.K. Some of these women have started their own businesses whilst continuing to work full-time, but they plan to leave their jobs as soon as they have the financial means.
It should be no surprise that Black women are setting up their own businesses given that entrepreneurship can offer relief from being made to feel undervalued (and underpaid).
Is this a one-off phenomenon or a trend that will impact the future of work?
Based on the findings of the Coqual report, the exodus of Black women from the U.K. labor market does not appear to be an isolated phenomenon. It could become a long-term trend unless positive action is taken to reverse it.
The exodus of Black female employees will have a negative impact on diversity within the workforce. Employers need to invest in this group if they want to retain the expertise and unique talents of Black female employees.
Companies must take a more nuanced approach and recognize that individual employees can belong to more than one group (in terms of ethnicity, race, gender, physical ability, faith, sexual orientation and so on). Close attention also needs to be paid to the intersectionality of these groups and the variety of needs that arise from this convergence.
In April of this year, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) set U.K.-listed companies three targets to bolster diversity within their senior ranks. These targets include one board member from a non-white ethnic background.
The FCA expects companies to comply or be ready to explain why they are not meeting diversity targets. In accordance with these requirements, Coqual’s report also recommends that senior leaders are held to account in terms of diversity and inclusion targets through regular performance evaluations.
Coqual’s recommendations are based on a three-step framework — Audit, Awaken and Act. The first step involves assessing the culture within the workplace, the second is to gain an understanding of the Black experience in the U.K. and the third stage is to dismantle barriers for Black employees at every level of the company.
The framework is designed to transform workplace culture in a way that is both sustainable and feasible.
Black women disproportionately face micro-aggressions and racial inequalities in the workplace
According to Coqual, Black respondents stated that they are 81% more likely to report inequitable or unfair hiring practices. Additionally, 76% of Black employees (compared to 30% white, 42% Asian and 52% of mixed heritage) felt that they have to work harder than employees from other backgrounds.
Pay is also an issue, particularly for Black women. In the U.S., a 2021 report highlighted that Black women are paid 36% less than their white male counterparts.
In the U.K., strong pressure is mounting for the publication of ethnicity pay gaps. Exposing inequalities is often the first step to addressing them.
Julia Taylor Kennedy, Coqual’s executive vice president said, “Black professionals in the U.K. are experiencing harsh daily realities. While many companies are having more conversations about race at work, they are not leading to much action, which can be incredibly dispiriting.”
Coqual’s report states that 68% of Black employees have experienced racial prejudice at work. Microaggressions account for much of this prejudice and have been cited by Coqual as underpinning the creation of hostile work environments.
Black professionals experience 13 different microaggressions more frequently than their white and Asian counterparts.
Examples of microaggressions include racist jokes (often called “banter” in the U.K.), tokenization, negative stereotypes and generalizations. Black women often feel the need to conform to certain westernized standards of what a professional should look like.
There have been several reports highlighting how young Black women feel pressured to change their hairstyles and names to fit in at work. 22% of young Black people reported changing their name on a job application, and many more reported being made to feel uncomfortable wearing their hair in its natural state.
Erika Brodnock, research officer at the Inclusion Initiative, London School of Economics (LSE), said, “Black women working in finance, tech and professional services faced a ‘most perplexing conundrum’ of often being very visible because they were typically the only Black women in the room, while simultaneously being invisible when thinking about their ability to be authentically themselves.”
Coqual’s report highlights that Black female employees no longer want to be “the first” and are seeking out companies where they can be accommodated and promoted without tokenistic labels.
Underpinning the phenomenon of Black women in the U.K. leaving their jobs is an unwillingness to continue to accept microaggressions at work. Employers must commit to a zero-tolerance policy on bullying, discrimination and harassment. They should also explore how the ethos set by leaders within their organization has led to a culture that has enabled prejudice to endure.
Black women in the U.K. report needing to be constantly aware of microaggressions. These experiences are less obvious (compared to direct discrimination); but just as psychologically damaging when confronted regularly.
There should be no doubt that discrimination is fueling the exodus of Black women from the U.K. labor market. Unless meaningful action urgently occurs, many diversity, equality and inclusion advancements could be reversed.