Updated: Mar 23
The purpose of a case study is to shed light on a specific topic of interest or real life problem, through research and analysis with the aim of identifying solutions or sharing results.
The topic of this case study series is titled, “Ethnic minority women and career development – what are the challenges and case for change?”
‘Women are an untapped resource’. We hear this infamous quote often. As a collective, our hands are up in agreement! We say this with the conviction that empowered women empower! As individual women, this might not be the case. For some of us, we haven’t even scraped the surface of our potential, for various reasons that development programs seek to address, levelling the playing field. There are so many layers, not limited to structural, economical or environmental factors but it also comes down to personal choice based on personal circumstance as to why this is the case. I will only focus on what I have experienced and what the evidence has demonstrated here in the UK, regarding women from a BAME background in the workplace. The acronym BAME stands for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. In my case study, I will use BAME and minority ethnic interchangeably.
I arrived in the UK over 15 years ago, to join my husband who was serving in the British Army at the time. My ambition was unrivalled. I couldn’t wait to join the UK workforce, after starting a family. I had a good career and educational background, so I felt I was employable albeit lacking UK work experience and of course, confidence due to spending 2 years at home to start a family. Long story short, I started working when our son turned a year old and was fortunate to get into work that was interesting and enabled me to use my skills and build my work experience.
Upon reflection, it helped having friends who supported me in getting back into work, here in the UK and in Germany. They gave me the heads up about upcoming jobs and also provided invaluable insight into the roles, which gave me the confidence to perform well at interviews and land the job! During those years, I wasn’t fazed by my skin colour or the fact that I represented a protected group (being a minority ethnic woman). I was grateful for the opportunities and did not look back or looked around me.
However, that's the beauty of hindsight. I can now reflect on those experiences which I am sure is very familiar to most women who are married to service personnel. But these experiences have enriched my life and led me here. It is precisely because of those experiences that I have the courage to speak openly and frankly about my passion to help women in similar circumstances.
The growing Fijian and Pacific Island diaspora in the UK will rise steadily into the future. We have witnessed an influx of Fijians living here in the UK and Europe. There are more Fiji-imported goods and foods than ever before. There has been increased efforts towards raising cultural awareness through wider community engagement. All of which has definitely brought our Pacific Island home closer. However, there is much to be done around social integration, career development and capacity building.
With regards to career development, there is a lot of potential in the talent pool. Fijians, generally, possess a solid educational background and have a good command of English. Most have enjoyed a successful career prior to coming to the UK. However, for this case study, it will primarily be about women and their career journeys.
Let’s face it, there is always a demand for care, cleaning, catering or clerical (entry-level administrative) work. This has meant that there is always a job available to Fijian women in the community, across the UK. This type of work offers flexibility and requires minimum qualifications and experience, as training is provided on the job. Some experience of life in the UK helps and English proficiency too.
There is a sense of reassurance and comfort working with people from your own ethnic background, particularly important when English is not your first language. This is also the case for the Nepalese community. It has been a stepping-stone towards a career change; most women have transitioned into nursing, successfully. However, there are a small number of women who work in administrative roles in mid level management, in the civil service or in banking. There are a few who work in schools as teaching assistants or in the kitchen. And an even smaller number who have broken through to more senior levels. Perhaps in a military context, given the right training and support, this is possible. However, their experiences are not going to be considered here as their army career is mapped out from the start. So let’s take a moment to review the evidence presented, you will discover it is not surprising either.
Research by Demos for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (Wood and Wybron 2015) affirms that, ‘people from ethnic minority groups are often at a disadvantage in the labor market. They are more likely to be unemployed than white British people, are overrepresented in poorly paid and unstable jobs, and are less able to secure opportunities for job progression or employment which matches their skills and abilities.’ And yes, this is expected especially being a minority here. But, there is one key point here, worth mentioning, this group of people are not able to secure employment that matches their skills and abilities. So they settle for something unsuitable, and skill fade sets in and they end up having to completely retrain in a new field of work. This is the most obvious dilemma. I can’t help wonder if this point here, is where appropriate learning and development intervention is needed to help them secure employment that matches their skills and abilities. This intervention can be in the form of mentoring and coaching. But for now, stay with me as I explore this context some more.
A slight detour is necessary to highlight a relevant point as it’s still fresh and its impact will be forever etched in our hearts and minds, so bear with me. The point I am alluding to is that the BAME community remains vulnerable even in this part of the world, in the face of a major global catastrophe. The recent pandemic hit hard on BAME communities due to the close-knit communal living conditions. But also attributed to the fact that people from BAME backgrounds account for 1 in 5 of the social care workforce in England, and were at a higher risk of death. However, closer observation showed that workers from black and ethnic minority backgrounds were found to be working in a key sector, i.e. food production, process and sale sectors within key public services, particularly in London. The statistics show that 12% of the UK workforce is from ethnic minority groups. With regards to key workers, 13% are workers from ethnic minority groups. From that 13%, London has the greater share of 42%. Basically, ethnic minority groups represent a fair share amount of key workers across the UK, of which nearly half are in London.
So where does our community fit in, in all of this? According to a study undertaken by Think Pacific on behalf of Marama Alliance UK, it highlighted that as of 2011, there were 6285 Fijian born residents in the UK. Therefore, Fijian residents only make up 0.01% of the UK population. We are a very ‘microscopic’ community in the grand scheme of things, or more importantly, in terms of numbers. Perhaps Marama Alliance UK was ushered in, ‘to connect people of similar background and advocate for a minority group’ – for such a time as this? When it comes to politics and policy making, it is a numbers game. Its a catch 22 in a way, we are diverse and dispersed across the UK, small enough to matter but not big enough to be heard. Funnily enough, there is a national consensus underway so it will be interesting to see how we fare.
At the grass root local community level, we mind our own. We tow the line as long as we have a life line to provide security and support. We know that HM Forces have provided a lifeline for as long as can recall and will always remain a lucrative employer. For those who are serving and are veterans, it provided more than we hoped for, coming from a small island nation in the South Pacific. So its only fair we maintain the status quo. What is the status quo? The status quo is our current landscape, it is the context in which we live or thrive in.
I might even go a step too far and say we are secure in our thinking that as long as there is a demand for Commonwealth recruits than we are okay. Women are resourceful and resilient, always have been. Even though they are left behind. They fall back or have to work twice as hard to balance work and life. The career struggles are the same for both, white-British spouses and spouses from BAME backgrounds. But ethnic minority women are further disadvantaged as their immigration status is not guaranteed, costs a fortune and is always at the forefront of their financial planning. And without the support of wider family networks, their options for training and development are very limited and consequently, impact on their career choices. This pandemic has potentially exacerbated this situation. And it has taught us one important lesson, nothing is secure. I believe that the landscape is changing, whether we are prepared or not. I believe that all hope is not lost yet.
In the next section, I will adopt a more focused approach and in-depth analysis into career development and ethnic minority women in the workplace. To be continued…
Thank you for reading, and as always, I really appreciate it and kindly ask that you please share your own views and comments. I would love to capture these in my upcoming posts.