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What’s in a name – for ethnic minority women, a job

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 09/12/2012

 

BEING unemployed does not do much for anyone’s self esteem. When you have sent countless job applications (I have sent at least 50 in the last two months alone), you begin to doubt yourself: “Is it my lack of qualifications”, you wonder, or “perhaps it’s the effect of the recession we are in”.

Or maybe it is because I’m too ‘ethnic’ for some employers?  The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) said in its report that ethnic minority women face discrimination “at every stage of the recruitment process”, which has led to BME women having to ‘whiten’ their CVs by dropping ‘ethnic’ names.

One woman, who is half-Bangladeshi and half-Arab, explained that changing her name to seem less typically Muslim had resulted in “a clear increase in interview offers”, and eventually led to a permanent name change by deed poll.  As if that was not bad enough, she then faced even more discrimination in her workplace for not being white enough.

I was tempted to pretend to be shocked and incredulous (we’re living in a multi-cultural country after all!) but why bother? I am not surprised at all.  We may all be British, but we are most definitely not equal.  Your race, religion or ethnicity are still defining factors that affect your employability and there has not been a significant improvement in the last few decades.

A friend of mine faced discrimination while on work experience during university. “When they saw my name on an application, they joked about having too many Arabs in the department already,” she said. “And I’m not even Arab!” As though that should even matter.

In 2011, the overall unemployment rate for ethnic minority women was 14.3%, compared with 6.8% for white women. Among Pakistani and Bangladeshi women it rose to 20.5%, and 17.7% of black women also being unemployed.

Muslim women who wear the hijab reported discrimination and women of all three ethnic groups reported questions asked about intentions regarding marriage and children, which was often tied to assumptions based on ethnicity – for example it was assumed that Muslim women would want to stop work after having children.

Sara Khan, Director and Co-founder of Inspire, believes this report  highlights how BME women face discrimination at every stage of the recruitment process.

“I’ve delivered empowerment training and worked with many Muslim women including Pakistani and Bangladeshi women who are identified as being particularly affected by high rates of unemployment,” she said. “These women fully recognise the even lower glass ceiling that faces them and this is highly dis-empowering. Much more needs to be done by the Government to assist these women, who remain colour-blind and whose policies, the cuts in particular, are hitting women the hardest in particular those from BME backgrounds.”

I could not agree more. As a female media insider, rather lamentably, told me, “the glass ceiling is still there. In fact, it has been cemented over.”  It is frustrating being told to “keep at it” and “just hang in there”, especially from my white, male associates who are in no position to talk, as most of them have no inhibitions and do not understand how it is to struggle financially.

I thought the reason for my lack of success may have been down to lack of experience in certain areas, geographical location, or even certain cultural factors, such as not being able to move out (though that is an article for another time), but now this report has made me doubt my abilities and qualifications.

Maybe my ‘ethnic’ hard-to-pronounce name (I am often, quite frustratingly, called ‘Imran’ instead of Iram) is holding me back?

Perhaps, dear readers, I should do a James Caan, and ‘whiten’ my name. Any suggestions?

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Written by Iram Ramzan

December 23, 2012 at 9:24 pm

One Response

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  1. This is true and it affects Muslims as a whole in terms of recruitment. It is frustrating the amount of talent is put off from working inside this ‘exclusive’ club. The sad thing is you find out that often it is a club normally you wouldn’t want to be a part of (i.e. with raving loons, despotic editors and of course the ingrained prejudices) …

    sajhoffmanhussain

    January 8, 2013 at 1:03 pm


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