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Racism and sexism are a double whammy for BME women

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My colleagues would sometimes make impressions of callers which can be very racist and uncomfortable. These jokes are often made out of hours when there is less staff and people of authority present...These comments make me feel very very uncomfortable and angry but I don’t feel I can call it out. I would not report it for fear of losing my job.

We all want to spend our day in a workplace free of any form of abuse or discrimination but this is not always possible, especially if you're a BME and a woman. The environment that Jamini describes is not an one that anyone should have to work in, but she has no choice but to listen to these comments and stay silent.

The TUC's, Is Racism Real? report aims to raise awareness of racism and discrimination and give a voice to BME people. The accounts might surprise some people but for BME people and trade unions, these stories are common. 

The key findings related to BME women’s experience of racism are:

  • 42% of BME women did not feel able to report their experience of discrimination to their employers and 44% did not report incidents of bullying and harassment.
  • 41% of BME women who had experienced bullying and harassment in the workplace said they wanted to leave their jobs but could not afford to.
  • 37% of BME women had left a job as a result of assault or physical violence.
  • 57% of BME women polled reported that the bullying and harassment they experienced at work affected their mental health.

There were three points that we identified in the report when looking at the experience of BME women. They were as follows

  1. Racism and sexism are a double whammy for BME women

BME women do not only experience different forms of racism because of their race but also because of their gender. The experience of dual discrimination stands out in the findings of the report.

BME women’s gender and race is a major factor when hearing racist comments and jokes directed at them or someone else, or seeing racist material being shared. There is also double discrimination when faced with bullying, assault and physical violence as well as experiencing excessive surveillance.

BME women are stuck in low paid jobs in the public and private sector such as cleaning, caring, catering and retail. BME women struggle to access permanent work and have seen an 82 per cent rise in temporary contract work in the last five years.

  1. Reporting

Reporting racism and discrimination is a major concern for BME women in particular as many do not report their experience to their employer but instead will report the incident to family members and friends.

Nearly half of BME women chose not to report their experience of bullying and harassment to their employer. One of the reasons why many women do not report their experience is fear of repercussions at work such as being treated less well at work or losing their job. In some workplaces managers are not aware of what procedures are in place to even deal with the racism.

  1. Effects of racism and discrimination

There is a serious consequence of racism and discrimination on BME women’s wellbeing that we found in the report. The shocking findings show that nearly 60% of BME women who experienced bullying and harassment reported that the incident affected their mental health.

The other effect that shines through in the findings is the impact on BME women’s performance at work. In some cases many women wanted to leave their jobs but couldn’t afford to leave. Whilst some women did end up leaving their jobs following on from their experience.

When we talk about racism, it's mostly in the context of racist abuse but there are other forms of racism and racial discrimination that have been ignored by employers and government for far too long that needs addressing. Many BME workers suffer in silence and are fearful of speaking out formally.

This needs to stop otherwise many BME women will not be able to reach their full potential and will be stuck in low paid insecure jobs. As the report shows the physical and psychological impact for BME women can have a detrimental and long lasting impact on their career.

Racism is real and happens in many workplaces. We are calling for the government and employers to take action to combat and eliminate racism and discrimination at work now otherwise many BME women will continue to suffer in silence.

*not her real name