Stereotyped women


by Sunny
21st August, 2007 at 11:14 am    

I’m not a regular reader of Personnel Today magazine, it must be admitted, but I was sent this myth-busting article which is worth highlighting.

MYTH: “I know that many Muslim women are not allowed to work in certain professions, or are not allowed to work at all, for cultural or religious reasons. That’s why we don’t get many working here.”
FACT: Almost 90% of 16-year-old Bangladeshi and Pakistani girls in the UK said their parents supported their choice to find paid work.

MYTH: “We are an equal opportunities employer. We treat everyone the same.”
FACT: One in three black Caribbean working women under 35 and one in five Bangladeshi and Pakistani women have experienced racist comments at work.

The whole article is worth reading on how some companies have taken action in making sure they are becoming more inclusive and getting to grips with employees of a different religious / racial background. But that is not to say I’m a fan of ‘diversity training’. Things are surely improving with time.


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  1. Sofia — on 21st August, 2007 at 11:16 am  

    Don’t even get me started on this one..I could write a book on the comments I’ve received…the thing is you can’t really call it malicious racism..it’s more ignorance..

  2. sonia — on 21st August, 2007 at 12:14 pm  

    where are they getting their facts from? they don’t say. did someone speak to 100% of 16-year old pakistani and bangladeshi girls?

    yes unfortunately there are plenty of stereotypes about women, and asian women, and muslim women, and i’d say i definitely think asian men are just as much guilty – if not more when it comes to many things – as any other man. so don’t let asian men off the hook yet, sunny.

  3. Sofia — on 21st August, 2007 at 12:29 pm  

    although I try not to stereotype asian men as I don’t like being stereotyped as an asian woman, I do find that there are a lot of sexist traits that asian men do perpetuate.

  4. BevanKieran — on 21st August, 2007 at 12:35 pm  

    “Some even said colleagues subconsciously favoured new recruits from red-brick universities, where ethnic minority women are less likely to have studied.”

    I think that would go to explain part of the disparity, and I’m not sure how it could be considered unfair discrimination. A better comparison would be to compare employment rates excluding graduates from red-brick universities, although the difference still seems high. Also, neglecting any stats available for Indian and Chinese women is a little cheeky if you are going to discuss employment of ethnic minority women.

  5. funkg — on 21st August, 2007 at 1:01 pm  

    Now lets not get to hasty and into a drawn out conversation into discrimination in the workplace. In my opinion most large employers especially in the big cities, have totally transformed for the good since I entered the labour market. Of course ignorance in the workplace still exist, but its up to all of us to educate where mis-education exist. Having worked in a mixed ethnic environment for a very long time,. I have witnessed plenty of occasions where crys of ‘racism are incidents which are often down to personality clashes or plain bitchiness. For a lot of “ethnic minorities” like us, we often struggle in the mainstream British workplace because of the all of nuances that go with engaging and socialising, especially if you are a hijab wearing young Muslim woman.

    In regards to only wanting to employ from red brick Uni’s how can it be proven that this is a form of racism? The proliferation of new Uni’s has created a huge pool of working class graduates who once would never had a chance of going to Uni, which in most instances is good. Many graduates of these new unis have bought into the myth that somehow they should be entitled to a career because they have a degree, any degree. I personally have said to my relatives to avoid going to certain new Uni’s because many of the gradates who leave struggle to find work in their fields.

  6. sonia — on 21st August, 2007 at 1:10 pm  

    “Also, neglecting any stats available for Indian and Chinese women is a little cheeky if you are going to discuss employment of ethnic minority women.”

    yep. and also – what about all the other people who go to the new universities – they’re just as much discriminated against in the ‘elite’ system, so not much good just focusing on ‘ethnic minority women’ is it. unless we’re implying if you’re a bloke who’s gone to an ex-poly, and are finding it hard to get work after that, society simply shouldn’t be interested.

  7. Sofia — on 21st August, 2007 at 1:18 pm  

    well it would depend on whether the university was good or not regardless of whether it is an ex poly or not..i must say that I did suffer from this type of snobbery and I was very gently put in my place by someone who went to one…hats off to her and it was a lesson I never forgot.

  8. sonia — on 21st August, 2007 at 1:20 pm  

    but where is the realistic analysis of the fact that families do play a big role in employment opportunities: (without being accused of racism) – we have already discussed the old asian male syndrome too many times on PP to be accused of ‘racism’ for recognising there ARE barriers for many girls.

    I remember during the forced marriage thread where a certain someone denounced asian men for not being able to change ( i bet it would be considered racist had someone else said it!) and Rakhee kept saying that if her dad hadn’t encouraged her, she would have found it much harder to get where she is today. so that kind of encouragement/discouragement is important for all people – not just asian ones obviously. are we seriously suggesting that all asian girls of bangladeshi and pakistani origin ARE being packed off to university? And that there are no familial barriers?

    I’m confused. and I thought there was a whole point of being able to say stuff about community elders and not be accused of racism? Or is it that only asian people can do this? Otherwise we will automatically assume they are the ‘Other’ therefore don’t understand ‘our’ communities and anything someone might say about it is ‘superior’ and ‘liberal racism’?

    i really am getting very confused.

  9. sonia — on 21st August, 2007 at 1:37 pm  

    its not as simple as whether the university is any good or not is it – lots of universities are actually scoring quite high in the league tables now – for example Loughborough and Sheffield Hallam – but frankly, there is still a big perception problem out there.

    and then of course there is the fact that there are subject league tables which do not necessarily correspond to institution league tables.

  10. sonia — on 21st August, 2007 at 1:46 pm  

    anyway, back to the wording of the article:

    “FACT: Almost 90% of 16-year-old Bangladeshi and Pakistani girls in the UK said their parents supported their choice to find paid work.”

    they should have said 90% of respondents said, unless they do want to claim they have access to data which interviewed all these girls.

    Sorry Sofia – but i read this on the other thread and thought it was relevant here!

    “The mosque that i’m talking about was set up by a bunch of backward men who had retired from their jobs and had nothing better to do with their time..and who themselves had married off their daughters between the ages of 12-16. I know because most of them left school and we only saw them a year later with baby in pram…apparently girls like me were the black sheeps of the community because we went to university and got a job that wasn’t in a cash and carry owned by a dodgy illegal relative.”

    which seems to imply to me there are familial barriers to think about!

  11. sonia — on 21st August, 2007 at 1:46 pm  

    well i mean, i thought your comment was a valid one, and something Sunny might want to consider in light of his post.

  12. funkg — on 21st August, 2007 at 1:50 pm  

    I think thing haves gone full circle especially in the urban cities. It is the Bangladeshi/African Caribbean/Pakistani males that require policies and thinking that does not discriminate and stereotype. From female centred nurseries to the feminisation of the workplace, boys especially deprived ethnic minority boys are often at a disadvantage.

    I worry for the boys who often may have poorer communication abilities and lack the ‘soft skills’ needed for the contemporary labour market. We are all the poorer if we neglect the boys because all that will create is a resentful, socially deficient and unmarriageable young male populace

  13. Rumbold — on 21st August, 2007 at 1:52 pm  

    “Almost 90% of 16-year-old Bangladeshi and Pakistani girls in the UK said their parents supported their choice to find paid work.”

    I agree with Sonia on this one. It is unlikely that the survey spoke to the girls who were least likely to be allowed to find work, as they were probably stuck at home. While there is an inaccurate perception of all Muslim girls being locked up at home all the time, some of this does go on, and the survey seems to be glossing over that.

    As for the universities, Sonia is again right, up to a point. Some universities, like Loughborough, are especially good at certain subjects, but, overall, some universties are better than others and so on average the older universities will be better than the ex-polys.

    As for racism at work, that is always a difficult one. Sofia is right in #1. There are obviously racists out there, but, for the most part, ‘racist’ comments probably derive more from ignorance and general malice than any genuine hatred of the victim’s race. If they were not making racist comments they would be saying something else hurtful.

  14. Sunny — on 21st August, 2007 at 1:54 pm  

    so don’t let asian men off the hook yet, sunny.

    haha, c’mon Sonia, you know me better than that surely?

  15. Sofia — on 21st August, 2007 at 2:25 pm  

    Yes there are familial barriers to think about…aswell as “community” pressure depending on how close the family may be to its surrounding community. These are additional reasons as to why many Asian women are encouraged not to work but to be homemaker instead. It is an “either / or” situation for many. I don’t pretend to know what the statistics are but anecdotally I have seen many women being stopped from working through a mix of religious (often misunderstood) and cultural “reasoning”. Therefore I do agree with you Sonia, but think that racial stereotyping also plays its part.

  16. Jagdeep — on 21st August, 2007 at 3:28 pm  

    What are the statistics for Indian women in the workplace? Surely a fuller picture can be gained from including them in the study.

    Sonia — discussing one thing does not preclude discussing another. No need to panic.

  17. zohra — on 21st August, 2007 at 6:31 pm  

    Hi all

    1. on racism

    There are a couple of comments that are suggesting that racism is about beating people up in the street, and anything less is not actually racist. But when people use stereotypes (or assumptions based on their ideas about another person’s ethnicity/race/culture) to make decisions about recruitment and promotion in a workplace, whether out of ‘ignorance’ and even if not *intending* to be malicious (though I wonder how you’d measure that), they are being racist.

    Racism isn’t only hate; institutional racism is defined as: The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people. (From: http://www.cre.gov.uk/gdpract/cj_sli.html)

    I think we’d get a lot farther generally if we were more open to the idea that racism (just like sexism and homophobia) is quite mainstream – it’s subtle and we all need to work on our internal assumptions and prejudices.

    2. on the investigation

    Sonia, they do say where they’re getting their facts from: the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)’s Moving on Up? investigation (and there’s even a link to it: http://www.eoc.org.uk/default.aspx?page=20294). For those who didn’t get a chance to read the background on it, it’s the largest investigation of its kind in GB and took two years to complete – it’s not a MORI poll!

    I don’t think the fact that they haven’t focused on Indian or Chinese woman invalidates the findings, though agree it would be good to have info on these groups too. Here’s hoping someone manages to secure some money to do this, and to the same level of detail. And here’s the EOC’s explanation on why they chose to focus on the groups they did: http://www.eoc.org.uk/Default.aspx?page=17696

  18. Jagdeep — on 21st August, 2007 at 7:47 pm  

    I don’t think the fact that they haven’t focused on Indian or Chinese woman invalidates the findings

    If there is a significant disparity between the experience of Indian and Chinese women on the one hand and the other minorities cited, it would suggest that there may be other reasons for the differentials. I think some may be wary of investigating this fully, because they are dogmatically stuck in a trench of ‘racism-hunting’ and don’t pay enough attention to issues like internal social barriers to workplace success and employment. A comparable study with white women of similar educational attainment and class status would also provide us with a more nuanced understanding of this issue.

    institutional racism is defined as: The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.

    I have problems with this. I have problems with the implication of the ascription of collective liability for incidents of racism that may be rooted less in racism than misunderstanding. I don’t think that is racism.

    I think it’s a recipe for perpetual victimhood hunting, I have serious issues with condemning and characterising an entire institution as racist. It can also have the whiff of witch hunt about it.

  19. Jagdeep — on 21st August, 2007 at 7:51 pm  

    Ah bollocks to blockquote. Sorry about that.

    Anyway, I have heard so many times people say things like, ‘I suffer racism at work because people go to the pub after work on Fridays, and I can’t drink, it’s ignorance and cultural racism, I feel so marginalised and oppressed’

    You know, stuff like this utterly trivialises genuine racism.

  20. zohra — on 21st August, 2007 at 8:10 pm  

    Hi Jaideep

    The study does compare the ethnic minority women with white women with similar educational attainment.

    I think it’s worth looking at the actual study rather than supposing that there is something nefarious at play. After all, Black Caribbean women are an interesting group to compare Pakistani and Bangladeshi women with precisely because they don’t face the same perception that their issues in the work place are down to ‘internal social barriers’ that many (including many of the posts on this site) argue ‘Asian women’ face.

    On the other hand, think it would be helpful to brainstorm what some of the ‘other reasons for the differentials’ might be, if you have ideas?

    I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘misunderstanding’. Deciding whether to hire or promote someone based on perceptions that are to do with your understanding of their race/ethnicity/culture rather than their performance in a standardised interview (e.g. don’t just ask the women or Muslim-looking women whether they’re planning on getting married and having children!) or on the job itself doesn’t have to be malicious for it to be racist – it just has to be treating someone less favourably because of their race.

    Like it or not, this is the definition of institutional racism as used in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. Not just my opinion.

  21. Jagdeep — on 21st August, 2007 at 8:29 pm  

    Zohra, do you think that some people hunt for racism because they can’t look outside of their quasi theological racism-hunting paradigms?

    Do you not think that it devalues real racism to conflate marginal issues of misunderstanding with that term?

    Why do so many Asian women (and men) succeed in the workplace if racism is so widespread as an inhibiting factor?

    Do you not think there are internal barriers to employment success amongst some Asian women and men of particular backgrounds? Why is there such a difference in employment levels between Indians and Pakistanis and Bangladeshis?

    Is there a mechanism to address these questions?

    Do you even think they are worth asking?

  22. zohra — on 21st August, 2007 at 9:00 pm  

    Hi Jaideep

    I’m very much responding in terms of the actual study. So I don’t think it’s true that the investigation was conducted by someone from a ‘quasi theological racism-hunting paradigm’ – though I’m not sure I really understand what that is! Some of the statistics, for instance, are from the census and ONS labour force study, used by people from across the political spectrum and treated as ‘official’ data on the population.

    What do you mean by ‘real racism’? And ‘marginal issues of misunderstanding’? I’ve used specific examples of what I mean by racism: someone choosing not to hire or promote someone because of a stereotype about another person to do with their race/ethnicity/culture. That doesn’t seem marginal to me, no. And it would most certainly be treated as ‘real racism’ by an employment tribunal if exposed.

    Lots of women do quite well in the workforce too; I don’t accept that there isn’t a glass ceiling or that sexism isn’t rife just because of that fact.

    I think there’s been some real confusion about what the investigation looks at. The study is about more than employment levels – it talks to women who are actively looking for work or are already working, and it asks questions about pay gaps (getting paid less for the same or equivalent work) and their experiences in the working world. It is about women who are educated and highly qualified and are part of the economically active labour force (meaning are working or actively looking for work), not the women who are at home (for whatever reason).

    Absolutely I think the questions are worth asking. This study is quite specific in its remit though and thus far the challenges to it have not convinced me.

  23. Sofia — on 23rd August, 2007 at 10:07 am  

    Zohra, on your comment on racism, I was not in any way reducing the definition of racism or its impact on the workplace. Rather, I was questioning, the notion of racism and whether certain opinions are racist or based on non malicious ignorance. In saying this I am not just taking examples from the original article posted by Sunny, although I should have elaborated in my first post. As mentioned by Jagdeep, what does racism in the workplace cover? The 9 – 5 office environment, or the social activities afterwards where a tea total Muslim may not want to socialise down the pub? Is this in some way insensitive to the needs of the minority and therefore prejudicial and racist? I think sometimes by labelling certain attitudes as racist, these become lazy terms that people then become afraid of or unwilling to address.

  24. justagal — on 23rd August, 2007 at 11:34 am  

    Many South Asian parents have no choice but to supoport their daughters’ entry into the workforce in order that a husband arriving from overseas be allowed to come to the UK. We don’t really know the reasons WHY 90percent of the parents supprt their girls’ finding paid employment but I suspect that a fair few do not suport it because they’ve embraced the idea that girls should be able to embrace the same opportunities as boys. I also think that that, once said husband from Pakistans’ status in the UK regularised, they will expect their daughter to take on the traditional role of wife, mother and daughter-in -law.

  25. Sofia — on 23rd August, 2007 at 11:39 am  

    Justagal – not all south asian women marry from abroad. Not all south asian womens’parents “have no choice but to support their daughters entry into the workforce.” Some of us have parents that are enlightened enough to hold views on education that surpass gender. I do think that there are some cases where women work so that they can support husbands from overseas, but this is not just a South Asian phenomena…and I don’t think these are in the majority anyway…to think that South Asian women are working for this reason alone is insulting

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  27. DR1001 — on 23rd August, 2007 at 7:03 pm  

    In the Bangladeshi community working attitudes are generally changing, even within families that may not be so liberal.
    Many older women who may not have gone to university work in clothing stores, and other retailers whereas when I was growing up it was different scene.
    For the younger generattion landing a good corporate company is seen as a major achievement and so yes parents will support the girls working. It really is happening.

  28. DR1001 — on 23rd August, 2007 at 7:07 pm  

    “When Shabana Kosar was asked at a job interview: “Does being a Muslim prevent you from being allowed to work alongside men?” she was speechless. ”

    that is actually an illegal question in the USA. You are not allowed to ask anyone about race, religion or their family status (married / single etc)

    I am told it’s the same in the UK by a family member who is in employment law.
    It just shows how ignorant and the lack of training this interview has had.

  29. ad — on 23rd August, 2007 at 10:45 pm  

    MYTH: “I know that many Muslim women are not allowed to work in certain professions, or are not allowed to work at all, for cultural or religious reasons. That’s why we don’t get many working here.”
    FACT Almost 90% of 16-year-old Bangladeshi and Pakistani girls in the UK said their parents supported their choice to find paid work.

    So 10% said their parents objected to their finding any work? How many had parents who objected to their working in “certain professions”?

    MYTH “We are an equal opportunities employer. We treat everyone the same.”
    FACT One in three black Caribbean working women under 35 and one in five Bangladeshi and Pakistani women have experienced racist comments at work.

    I have heard comments at work to the effect that (white) English men are cheap. Strictly speaking, an Englishman who overheard could claim to have experienced “racist comments”.

    MYTH “They don’t speak English – that’s why they don’t have jobs.”
    FACT Around three in five Pakistani women and black Caribbean women, and nearly half of Bangladeshi women in the UK were born here. Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are more than twice as likely as white British women to be fluent in another language besides English.

    Which says nothing about the number who are fluent in English.

    MYTH “It’s too risky taking on an Asian woman. They could be sent away to get married, and chances are they will leave as soon as they have children.”
    FACT Young Bangladeshi, Pakistani and black Caribbean women with children are more likely to aspire to senior positions than white British women with children.

    Is this an argument in favour of hiring Asian women, or against hiring white ones? I imagine many of those girls who were “sent away to get married” aspired to senior positions. And it does not matter what decision they think they will make in the future: it matters what decision they will make in the future.

    Why do they not look for facts to disprove the myths? Are they just interested in telling people they are on the side of virtue, instead of actually trying to persuade anyone?

  30. Sunny — on 24th August, 2007 at 3:01 am  

    that is actually an illegal question in the USA. You are not allowed to ask anyone about race, religion or their family status (married / single etc)

    Really? That’s interesting… hmm…

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