Eastern Eye (UK)

Pioneering women reflect on successes and challenges



ETHNIC minority women continue to face “additional barriers” which prevent them from climbing the career ladder, Dawn Butler MP has said.

The Labour MP’s observatio­n came during a panel discussion at the GG2 Leadership and Diversity Awards last Tuesday (7), on the eve of Internatio­nal Women’s Day (8).

Butler – who represents Brent Central – said she had seen first-hand the difficulti­es black and Asian women face in the political system. She pointed out that women of colour represent just 10 per cent of MPs in the Commons.

“There are barriers that are put in place for us, especially women of colour, who get additional barriers in their journey than other women. We do get judged more harshly,” said Butler.

“We stand out, both visible and invisible at the same time. Sometimes you’ll be overlooked for promotion. You’re not seen for your strengths or the quality of your work. I’ve always been told as a black woman that I have to work twice as hard to be recognised. It’s a reality. It’s a fact. It’s unfair.

“It’s much easier to talk about women and men, but when you talk about black women or Asian women, people start to feel uncomforta­ble. The only way to overcome that is to talk about it and expose it.”

Butler was a panellist along with judge Anuja Dhir and the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee member and economics professor Dr Swati Dhingra.

Dhingra noted that a quarter of academics in economics are women, but said a more detailed look at statistics showed a different picture.

“If you look at south Asians, it seems like ‘wow, we’re doing so well’ because there are 40 per cent (of all female economics academics) if you look at the junior level. At the senior levels, in the past ten years, there’s actually been a drop in eight per cent in the number of women in senior positions.

“Something’s obviously wrong. We’re not doing things right and much more important, women’s work never gets counted, and we end up getting massively under-represente­d.”

Dhir painted a similarly bleak picture when it came to the judiciary, explaining that the upper echelons of the sector were still made up of men, and women often struggling with “imposter syndrome”.

“The big problem in the judiciary and in the legal profession is their retention of women,” Dhir said.

“If you look at people coming in, there are more females than males in the first three or four years of practice. But the higher up people in the profession, the more women drop out.

“There are a number of reasons for that. One is starting families. Many women drop out, then they try coming back for a couple of years but find they can’t mix children with having the sort of career they thought they might have. That’s one problem – retention.

“The second is that women have imposter syndrome. Women think they can’t do it. They want to get a promotion and move higher up the rank and get bigger cases. Even if they get them, they feel they won’t do very well.

“We’ve got to do something (to retain women). We’ve got to have a better support system. We’ve got to get better at believing in ourselves.”

In 2017, Dhir became the first nonwhite judge to be appointed to sit fulltime at the Old Bailey. She has been practising law for 30 years, but said the sector hasn’t made the progress it should have since she entered the field.

“When I started at the bar, I just didn’t look like a barrister. When a client came to see me, they were surprised. It was a disadvanta­ge, because it was more difficult for me perhaps to get the cases than others,” she recalled.

“When I started, most barristers were male. Most of them were white. And most of them came from a particular background and had connection­s within the profession. My generation had to work that little bit harder and we had to be a little bit tougher.

“What troubles me is that was 30 years ago. What progress have we made? Have our generation done enough to make sure the younger generation has an easier time than we did? I’m not sure that we have moved as far as we should have done.”

When panel moderator Sangita Myska said having three prominent ethnic minority women at the highest level of their profession­s suggested the ‘glass ceiling had been shattered’, Butler responded by saying there was “always more to do. It’s about fairness in the system, about dismantlin­g the structural barriers and discrimina­tion that exists, so that people can do a job well,” the MP said.

Butler also urged the men in the audience to provide allyship and guidance to those coming up behind them in order to ‘change society’ and make workplaces more diverse.

Dhir emphasised the advantage of a diverse work environmen­t and said, “What we’ve actually got to understand is that a diverse group of people will make better decisions than a group that all look and sound the same and come from the same background.

“It’s not a question of having more women or more women from different background­s in one place, because it’s fair and the right thing to do, which of course it is.

“It’s about bringing value to that workplace, because you get a different perspectiv­e and a range of views. Diversity adds value. We shouldn’t just think of it as the right thing or the fashionabl­e thing but that it’s the best thing to do for any industry and any profession.”

Dhingra said she couldn’t understand how ’50 per cent of the population can be a minority in the workplace’ and urged for real action to address the issue, starting with the publicatio­n of statistics on gender and cultural pay gaps.

“Typically, companies publish what the gender wage gap looks like, but if you start asking them to publish what the intersecti­on between gender and race wage gap looks like, it will be even bigger,” she said.

“People not being given opportunit­ies has this massive legacy effect which we’re still having to deal with. Unless we decide to change something today, I worry time is not going to change it.

“It’s going to be a matter of really pushing until these things get sped up in a way that is going to happen in our lifetimes.”

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 ?? ?? WOMEN POWER: (From left) Dawn Butler MP, Anuja Dhir, Sangita Myska and Dr Swati Dhingra during a panel discussion at the GG2 Leadership
and Diversity Awards; and (inset below) guests at the awards ceremony
WOMEN POWER: (From left) Dawn Butler MP, Anuja Dhir, Sangita Myska and Dr Swati Dhingra during a panel discussion at the GG2 Leadership and Diversity Awards; and (inset below) guests at the awards ceremony

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