Intersectionality and gender inequality in the Labour market

Ahead of our Diversity Dialogues event on Feb 29th, we asked Prof. Cecile Wright, Honorary Professor at the University of Nottingham to give us an insight into the challenges we face in eliminating discrimination in the workplace. It’s probably the most important read of your week.

All the woman are white, all the men are black but some of us are brave

This statement points to the tendency for the lives and experiences of black and ethnic minority (BME) women to be missing from discourses of race and gender. In relation to the debate concerning women’s positionality in the labour market it is necessary to invoke the notion of “intersectionality”, namely ‘visualising the combined discrimination experienced by being black and ethnic minority and a women’ (Kimberle Crenshaw,1989). For instance, there is a plethora of research which explores the notion that black and ethnic minority women is subject to multiple disadvantage in the labour market and within workplaces as a result of their ethnicity and gender. While there is literature which seeks to locate this situation within the developing literature on gender and globalization ,this multiple disadvantage will be addressed with respect to Britain. Focusing on black and ethnic minority women’s position in the labour market and the wage gaps.

High levels of unemployment and job segmentation experienced by black and ethnic minority women are well recorded. This is despite the fact that within the UK there is an over representation of young black and ethnic people in higher education compared to their presence in the population.  In the second decade of the century, following the worldwide recession and the imposition of austerity policies in Britain, especially cuts to public-sector employment, it is becoming apparent that women in general, and black and ethnic minority women in particular, have suffered disproportionately. While considerable attention has focused on women as victims of the recession, it can be argued that the plight of black and ethnic women has been somewhat overlooked.

The Runnymede Trust report (2014) for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community, showed that women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are twice as likely to be unemployed than white women.

The report found women from black and ethnic minorities face discrimination at “every stage” of the recruitment process. For instance, women reported having to ‘Westernise’ their names to improve their employment prospects. Indeed, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently called for employers to adopt name – blind applications to address discrimination and unconscious bias, following research showing that people with traditionally British -sounding names are nearly twice as likely to be called for a job interview than candidates from other backgrounds.

Cecile Wright

The unnaturally high unemployment rates of women in black and minority ethnic communities has considerable implications for families and society as a whole – particularly given the situation that for large numbers of black and ethnic minority families the mother is the sole earner.

Research on the patterns of women’s employment reveals patterns of gender and ethnic segmentation . Findings of a European commission report(2014)show the pay gap between men and women at 16.4% across the EU, with the UK still one of the worst offenders despite having slightly narrowed its disparity to 19%. Ethnic and gender penalties may intersect insofar that in the UK white people earn more than people from ethnic minorities on average. It is argued that the wage gap therefore derives in significant measure from occupational segregation. This occurs because ethnic minorities tend to cluster into low-paying occupations. Thus, the pay gap for black and ethnic minority women has the double dimensions of both gender and ethnicity.

With a quarter of the UK’s population projected to come from a black and ethnic minority background by 2051, in particular employers’ need to address the specificities of patterns of gender and ethnic discrimination in the labour market. This includes practical steps to increasing diversity in professional occupations ensuring they are recruiting from black and ethnic minority women and other underrepresented groups, removing barriers and creating future approaches to increasing business engagement with policies ,tackling discrimination and supporting employees as an urgent priority.


Crenshaw, K.(1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and sex. University of Chicago.

Runneymede Trust(2014) ‘All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community Ethnic Minority Female Unemployment: Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Heritage Women’

European Commission (2014) ‘Tackling the gender pay gap in the European Union’, European Commission

Professor Cecile Wright, University of Nottingham,UK . 12, February,2016

Professor Wright lectures in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham and has previously made appearances on BBC East Midlands, BBC News Online and the Sunday Politics show.

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