Why we need more BAME women in business

Unposed group of creative business people in an open concept office brainstorming their next project, BAME business women

Article by Yasmin Johal, Associate, CMS

Workplace inequality affecting women manifests itself in various forms, including but not limited to the gender pay gap, the lack of career progression and promotion opportunities, limited access to social and professional networks, and experiences of workplace sexism and discrimination.

Whilst it is important to recognise the issues faced by women, it is crucial to examine the lack of female representation in business and corporate settings through an intersectional lens.

Intersectionality seeks to explore the crossroads at which race, class, gender and other diversity characteristics intersect to produce heightened inequality. It is evident that women remain underrepresented across all levels of senior management, however, the representation of women who identify as BAME remains particularly low.

The importance of diversity is evident. First and foremost, diversity and inclusion are questions of morality and equality. They are merits in and of themselves and should not be examined purely in terms of their ability to generate social or economic capital for companies and businesses. Going beyond that, however, it is true that diversity is correlated with increased financial performance. A study by the Harvard Business School examined the male-centric venture capital industry and concluded that increased similarity in terms of key attributes of the investment partners is correlated with reduced financial performance and results. On the other hand, firms which were diverse outperformed their less competitive competitors and counterparts.

Increased diversity also improves a company’s ability to capture wide consumer markets and deliver products and services that are better suited to the experiences and needs of their consumer base. Diversity also places firms in the perfect position to foster the type of novel and adaptive thinking needed to drive innovation. Particularly in the world of Tech start-ups, diversity is key to solving the issue of coded bias in artificial intelligence and related algorithms.

Many women of BAME background hold outstanding academic achievements, often outperforming their male counterparts. However, we can see that this does not necessarily translate to positions in corporate settings and in senior management. The type of education provided in school and traditional institutions does not equip women with the skills needed to survive and thrive in the corporate and business world. Navigating the corporate landscape is a struggle in itself and is a key area that drives gender disparity in the workplace.

Much of a person’s ability to progress up the corporate ladder depends on one’s ability to conform to norms and practices which do not take into account diverse backgrounds. It is imperative for companies to establish transparent and inclusive ways of recognising and acknowledging the contribution of staff, especially those of minority backgrounds, and developing ways to effectively promote talent which does not rely on the ability to conform to outdated standards. Networking, navigating office politics, and building key relationships are just a few areas where added support is needed to allow BAME women to thrive in the workplace.

Another way to encourage the increased representation of women from BAME backgrounds is to promote and adopt mentorship and sponsorship schemes. The importance of visible role models cannot be overstated. When women in top positions of leadership are visible, this may inspire and encourage other women’s aspirations to success. It also serves to highlight that success has many faces and is not reserved for a select few. BAME women in positions of leadership can and should be a normality.

Lastly, firm culture and inclusivity is pivotal to the success of BAME women in the corporate workplace. Firms should look internally and establish ways in which they can provide BAME women with the requisite tools needed to thrive and progress. Companies should seek to challenge hierarchical structures that largely serve one demographic and foster inclusive cultures where women and people of colour are able to bring their authentic selves to work every day without the fear of suffering microaggressions or bias. We all need to play our part to engage with conversations about gender and race, challenge misconceptions and stereotypes, and work to create a culture that works for all.

Equal opportunities will not become the norm until they are monitored and enforced. As studies have shown, applicants with names associated with ethnic minorities are less likely to have their applications progressed compared to applicants with names perceived as white. This is true even where the CVs presented are identical. It is for this reason that firms should seek to understand the impact of unconscious bias on recruitment practices. Accountability, transparency, and visibility are key. Diversity and Inclusion should be on the agenda for all, and in turn, help promote more women from BAME backgrounds into the corporate sphere.  

About the author

Yasmin JohalYasmin is a Lawyer at CMS and is one of the few females specialising in the regulatory aspects of FinTech. She provides expert advice to all players within the FinTech ecosystem, and helps shape trends and developments in the FinTech industry internationally. She has worked across the UK and US financial markets, helping deploy technological innovation, and frequently authors industry leading thought leadership on areas of financial regulation, FinTech and innovation. Yasmin is a Tech speaker and an advocate for increasing Female and BAME representation in Tech, and speaks at a variety of events and on podcasts, on a range of topics from FinTech, D&I and career development. Yasmin was a #TechWomen100 2020 Award Winner; recognised for her work in Fintech and has also been recognised as a Standout 35 winner in the Women in Fintech Powerlist 2020 with Innovate Finance.

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