While male employment levels are roughly equal between ethnicities, women from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to be employed than their white peers. Here, Professor Ruth Lupton explores the reasons behind this disparity, and how policy and data-based approaches can help address it.
- Around 75% of white men are employed, while for the larger minority groups, rates are between 68% and 72%.
- Economic inactivity for Pakistani/Bangladeshi women aged 25-49 (nationally) is still three times as common as for white women, while black women have the highest unemployment rates of all women.
- Voices of minority ethnic girls and women need to be heard more as well as more data collected about them.
The term ‘labour market inequalities’ refers to differences between social groups in the extent to which they are able to access formal employment and pay. In the UK, there remain very wide labour market disparities between ethnic groups.
The intersection between gender and ethnicity
Our research demonstrates, however, that there is a need for a gendered approach to this problem as well as an overall one. In Greater Manchester, employment rates for males aged 16-64 vary between ethnic groups but not by an enormous amount. Around 75% of white men are employed while for the larger minority groups (for whom estimates are more reliable) rates are between 68% and 72%. Of course, these figures do not tell us about the type of employment and pay.
For women, the pattern is very different. White women have the highest employment rate (71%), while for most other groups rates are much lower (52% for black/black British and 39% for Pakistani/Bangladeshi women – the group that also has by far the largest gap between men’s and women’s employment). Low employment rates for women are largely driven by low economic activity, particularly caring for home and family, and while this is partly a generational issue and trends are changing, it is not wholly so. Economic inactivity for Pakistani/Bangladeshi women aged 25-49 (nationally) is still three times as common as for white women. Meanwhile black women have the highest unemployment rates of all women.
What can be done to change this?
Our initial work with the Runnymede Trust suggested that the explanations for these disparities are complex and they demand multi-faceted responses. Employers need to tackle the under representation of women in particular occupations, increase opportunities for flexible working and avoid gendered stereotypes which may be particularly applied to minority ethnic women. In order to tackle higher inactivity rates among BME women there should be a focus on facilitating choice, for example, increasing provision of high-quality childcare, increasing mentoring for young BME women and working with parents to challenge ideas around gender and raise awareness of available opportunities.
Some of the data we need to address these issues is available, in the form of major national datasets such as the Annual Population Survey and decennial Census of Population. They just need to be taken more seriously in setting objectives and targets at a local level and in the Greater Manchester Strategy. But there are also many data gaps, particularly for smaller groups, for example, newly arrived refugee and asylum seeker groups, which need to be filled by local data collection. We have no local knowledge of issues of gender/ethnic pay or progression within firms and there are good reasons to ask larger employers to extend their legally required gender pay monitoring in this direction. In general, too, given the complexity of the economic, spatial, social and cultural issues that shape these patterns, it is vital to hear about the experiences of more marginalised groups and the ideas they have about what would help them. Voices of minority ethnic girls and women need to be heard more as well as more data collected about them. Our work suggested that this demands working alongside community groups as well as employers, and giving adequate resource and support to the community and voluntary sector to mobilise this knowledge effectively.
This article was originally published in On Gender, a collection of essays providing analysis and ideas on taking a gendered lens to policy in Greater Manchester and devolved regions across the UK. You can read the full publication here.