European nations proactively ensured through legislation that women were included on boards. Now there is increasing attention on the struggles of women of color to be included in the workforce.
— By Jill Motley
Reaching gender parity is a global issue, but even more challenging is reaching parity through inclusion of all women – white and women of color. Some European Union countries have been instrumental in getting women on corporate boards by passing quota laws and implementing other measures to encourage inclusion at the top.
However, there is much more work to do at the lower levels of organizations when it comes to inclusion of women of color in the European workforce and especially breaking into management when fully qualified.
Bringing the Challenges of Women of Color Into the Light
In the EU-28, 46 percent of women were employed in 2019 per Catalyst statistics. In 2018, 48.3 percent were employed. This slippage is typical in many areas of women's employment around the globe.
Women continue to work many more unpaid hours each day due to childcare and housework responsibilities than men, making it difficult to put the time and energy into paid employment needed to advance. Women in France put in 3 hours, 44 minutes of unpaid work verse 2 hours, 15 minutes for men. Women in Germany work 4 hours, 2 minutes of unpaid daily work, versus 2 hours, 30 minutes for men. While women continue to struggle to balance work and family duties, women of color must deal with a third factor – intersectionalism.
The European Network against Racism (ENAR) is tackling the issue of discrimination against women of color. For purposes of research, women of color is the term used to describe women of ethnic, racial and religious minority background. "Color" does not refer to only skin color.
Research reported in "Racism & Discrimination in Employment in Europe 2013-2017" reveals the numerous obstacles women of color contend with in Europe. According to the research, "They are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation and sexual harassment, experience high rates of over-qualification, as well as segregation in specific labour market sectors, in particular domestic work."
Stuck in Low Paying Jobs with Job Insecurity
The ENAR "Women of Colour in the Workplace Toolkit" delves into the trends affecting women of color in Europe's labor markets. They are more likely to face barriers accessing employment compared to men and ethnic majority women.
Women of color are over-represented in low-paid employment in sectors that put them at higher risk of exploitation and abuse. According to the European institute for Gender Equality, almost 35 percent of non-EU born women hold these kinds of positions. The jobs are defined by low-pay, part-time, insecure employment contracts (i.e. cleaning, retail, manufacturing).
High rates of migrant and ethnic minority women are over-qualified for the jobs they hold. Women of color continue to experience a pay gap with men and white women, but intersectionality is not a factor in the gender pay gap calculations.
Modern and Progressive? Think Again
There are two sets of barriers women of color most overcome. One refers to structural barriers and the other to individual barriers in the workplace.
Structural barriers are things like social exclusion, and unequal access to education, social and welfare services, and healthcare. Also, most European legal institutions do not account for intersectionality in discrimination litigation, and the laws do not address multiple discrimination.
In the workplace, many barriers exist for women of color. The toolkit authors note that even companies that are considered progressive, modern or diverse continue to show bias toward women of color. Women of color are stereotyped and overlooked for progression opportunities.
Discrimination is based on many different factors. For example, Muslim women experience bias due to their religion and garb, while black women talked about employers restricting some of their hairstyles because they are "unprofessional." It is difficult to comprehend that in developed countries like the United Kingdom, 37 percent of black and minority ethnic women left a job due to assault or other physical violence. Frequent bullying and harassment cause women of color mental health issues.
Micro-aggressions in the workplace are also common. Some examples given in the ENAR Toolkit include a manager saying, "Women have the same opportunities to reach management as men here, but they choose not to," and "Sorry, I was waiting to speak with management." In the second statement, the assumption is that a woman of color is in a junior position or the woman is an intern. Even when women of color reach a leadership position, they experience micro-aggressions and negative stereotypes.
The toolkit’s goal is to provide organizational solutions around the recognition of intersectionality. The first principle is this: Diversity is not one-dimensional. The second important principle is that intersectional approaches address structures and not identity. Instead of concentrating solely on including specific people, organizations are asked to identify the barriers in place for minority groups.
Women of color who are employed should not be viewed as a statistic, but rather as people with subjective experiences, and their skills, talents, and contributions should be valued.
Collecting data plays a big role in an organization's self-assessment, but it includes much more than just checking off boxes or counting heads. Data includes pay, promotions, number of discrimination or harassment complaints, types of employment contracts awarded, recruitments, and rewards.
There should not be a focus on gender alone. In the intersectional approach, employees can identify multiple identities – race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, age, relation, gender identity, educational background, immigration status, and socioeconomic status.
Making a Plan
Organizations can begin the process of changing the reality for women of color in the EU-28 by reviewing and dismantling biased policies and procedures, putting an effective system in place that employees can use to safely raise issues of discrimination or harassment.
Review the recruitment procedures and make necessary changes to ensure people from under-represented groups are not excluded. Create additional paths of progression for women of color; develop a reward system that recognizes the additional unpaid work women do; and transform the culture so it is supportive, open and equal and not hostile.
It is difficult to comprehend that in developed countries like the United Kingdom, 37 percent of black and minority ethnic women left a job due to assault or other physical violence.
There should be zero tolerance for any form of discrimination or harassment, and managers must be held accountable for their conduct.
Finally, empower women of color by giving them access to resources that enable them to safely challenge bias, support structures, training and development opportunities, and support networks and affinity groups.
Shaking Loose the Reality of Bias
Ending discrimination is never a simple process because it emanates from deeply ingrained personal beliefs and experiences, and organizational traditions.
Companies like Coca-Cola and Sodexo are partnering with groups like the European Commission and ENAR to bring change to the EU-28. A good place for any organization ready to change is with the checklist provided in ENAR's Toolkit.