Racism in the workplace
Continuing on in my series on British Asian women in the workplace, this week I’ll be looking at racism. My thoughts are based on comments that came out of a Twitter chat I hosted a couple of weeks ago on behalf of Asian Women Mean Business (AWMB). What was clear from all the experiences that women tweeted was that for British Asian women, the glass ceiling is tinted. Both our gender AND our race are barriers to career progression. In this age of political correctness, tolerance, equality and all those other buzzwords, it’s clear that in the workplace, some things still haven’t changed.
In particular, negative stereotypes surrounding the role that women play in the Asian community have proved problematic. Many women feel they have to work harder to prove to their bosses and colleagues that they are committed to their careers, due to the perception that Asian women are expected to settle down, raise a family and give up on working life.
I have written before about the limitations that South Asian culture and community places on us women. But being a part of AWMB has shown me that there are plenty of British Asian women today bucking these trends. There are those occupying senior roles; those with business vision and plenty of entrepreneurial spirit. Some do this with the support of their family, others forge on despite of cultural pressure.
So to hear from my AWMB peers that many still put up with narrow minded, racist attitudes every day at work is disappointing and frustrating. We’re overcoming- to some extent at least, the double standards of South Asian culture, and yet we still face discrimination in the workplace. Two women at last week’s chat tweeted that they were asked by their managers whether they were going to have an arranged marriage and get pregnant straight away. Does doing both of these things mean you can’t also be ambitious?
Everyone assumes that racism is calling a person of colour “Paki” or “Nigger” to their face, but what about the subtle levels of racism that go on every day, when someone is passed over for promotion due to the notion that they’ll have an arranged marriage and be locked away; or sniggered at due to the sound of their name (I worked somewhere once where the Director’s PA hung up the phone on a caller from laughing too much at her Asian name). One contributor to the twitter chat had an interviewee refuse an interview with her because she was Asian (apparently they showed him the door- thank goodness).
For many British Asian women it means “acting white” as one woman said she had to do in order to overcome this. Why should we have to do that? In a country that boasts countless curry houses and once considered Chicken Tikka its national dish, why on earth do we have to hide our culture and our difference just to get by at work?
But perhaps not hiding our diversity is the answer. Ignorant comments aside, many employers and colleagues are simply not savvy about different cultures as one woman pointed. It’s up to us to be our true selves at work, and share our strong family and work ethics as a positive thing. By doing this we add value to our workplaces. If Britain is a multicultural place, we should be the ones who prove how much worth the British Asian community has.
I think the idea that we add value to our workplaces just by sharing our diversity is so inspiring. It gives me hope- amidst the prejudice and frankly stupid comments we have to battle with on a daily basis. As someone recently said to me, if all the British people stay in one neighbourhood and all the ethnic minorities congregate elsewhere how will integration, and eventually understanding and acceptance of each other ever happen? Well the answer is that it won’t so it’s vital that as British Asian women we ‘own’ our ethnic minority status and culture and share it as a positive.
Yes that’s going to be frustrating as we are time and again faced with racism. But to me turning racism on its head is better than playing the victim card.
Asian Women Mean Business meet every Wednesday night on Twitter between 7-8pm. Just tag your comments with #asianwomenmeanbiz to join the discussion