Disparities Faced by Women of Colour in the Workplace

As a woman of colour, I have faced and witnessed many female peers and co-workers face challenges in my workplace and community. In addressing these challenges that my female peers or I have met, I would like to express ways that these discrepancies, such as pay inequity, discrimination, racism, sexism, and unfair limitations, can be reduced significantly and efficiently.

 Being a woman has historically been difficult in most societies. With additional difficulties because of differences in ethnicities, religions, and gender orientations — it is a growing hurdle in society and the workplace, even in the 21st century. Women have had to fight for everything that they have wanted, even if it was their fundamental rights like voting or education; protests and demands were necessary. However, these issues come hand in hand with many obstacles, such as discrimination, racism, and sexism, especially for women of colour. As mentioned by Archer (2022), a non-profit organization, Women of Color Australia, ran a poll during the pandemic with a focus on the qualitative responses from respondents. Many of these responses often disclose traumatic and intensely intimate employment experiences. The study was completed by more than 500 women of colour, including 7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents. Despite 59% of participants reporting that their workplace had a diversity and inclusion policy, 60% of respondents indicated they had encountered discrimination in the workplace (Archer, 2022). This signifies a flaw in policies and implementation.

Women of colour are stereotyped and categorized according to their race and ethnicity. The hyper-sexualization of Latina, Indian, and Black women in the workplace is a prime example. There is a risk that prejudices about women of these races being overly exoticized or sexualized undermining their professionalism and effectiveness in doing their job. Indian women face stereotypes such as having lower and limited career ambitions. According to Budhwar (2011), historically, roles in Indian society are based on gender, where women are expected to devote themselves to internal household affairs and men are required to work outside to provide the economic maintenance of their households (Budhwar, 2011). With this being said, the misconception that Indian women prioritize their families over their jobs and, in turn, are deemed less goal-oriented is a significant challenge they face in the workplace due to these medieval stereotypes set by society. Indian women are perceived as soft, humble, and more suitable for household chores and serving their families (Budhwar, 2011). Their professional development may be jeopardized by these stereotypes, giving employers an excuse to deny them employment in the first place.

Along with these stereotypes, women of colour face additional disparities, such as being denied employment based on their English proficiency or the sole ‘assumption’ that they possess lower levels of education or skills to thrive in the workplace. These generalizations based on the specific ethnic background of women create the idea that women in these groups have certain identities and that they must “perform” these identities all while facing intersectional racism, sexism, and discrimination (Archer, 2022).

There is no end to the large abundance of problems that women face in the workplace but pay inequity has been and remains a persistent issue. Studies have shown that in recent years, women have been underrepresented in management positions, and the gender pay gap has been more prominent for certain groups of women (Office, 2022). Racial wage gaps and limitations to professional opportunities exist for women of colour across various occupations, though regardless of their job or field, women of colour experience the greatest wage gaps compared to white, non-Hispanic men (Austin et al, 2021). The pay gap was larger for women in the majority of historically neglected racial and ethnic groups than it was for White women when compared to wages for White males. For instance, Black or African American women earned an estimated 63 cents for every dollar earned by White men, Hispanic or Latina women earned an estimated 58 cents (a pay gap of 42 cents on the dollar), and White women made an estimated 79 cents (a pay gap of 21 cents on the dollar) (Office, 2022). These structural inequities impact not only their immediate circumstances but establish harsh economic inequalities, which follow them into retirement (Austin et al, 2021).

People assume that women, especially women of colour, are more “agreeable” and won’t want to argue when discussing how much we should be paid. This is another reason women, especially women of colour, are paid a lower wage than their male counterparts. This presumption about how agreeable women of colour may be has prevented many women from advancing in their careers or developing personally and financially. It has also resulted in a general decline in their self-confidence, self-esteem, and reinforces the systemic downgrading of their talents and contributions. In higher leadership and management roles, you don’t see many women but the handful of women that you do see are predominantly white women. Along with the alarming wage gap, women of colour face challenges accessing higher-paying positions. Although they made up an estimated 44% of the workforce overall, managers accounted for an estimated 41% of all female workers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (Office, 2022). Women of colour are looked down on and not taken seriously because no one believes they will have the confidence to voice their opinions. Even when women are more qualified than their male counterparts, they are still denied promotions or raises because they are women and are deemed not to be ’emotionally fit’ to handle the intense workload. The few women who advance to management or leadership positions, such as CEOs of self-made businesses or leaders chosen by political parties, are typically strict, systematic, and present a solid/dominant presence in the workplace, so they are forced to be taken seriously.

Gender inequality, as we know it, is a deep-rooted social issue caused by norms set by us as a society. These societal norms have caused a gender bias, which keeps growing larger and more significant because we keep feeding into the fire. As I am a woman of colour myself, I have been able to identify the evident disparities and difficulties women of colour encounter.

In the summer of 2021, I landed a position as a sales associate at Old Navy. I’ve always been fascinated by various fashion trends, so I was thrilled to land my first job in the retail industry. I didn’t know that there were many disadvantages and difficulties for young Indian women/women of colour in the workforce. Most of my managers were all white women, while most of my coworkers were similarly young people of colour. I had thought that working with people from a similar cultural background would be a learning experience full of growth, but I was quickly corrected of that notion. Despite being women, our bosses would speak down to the rest of us, especially the other girls. There was a lot of scrutiny, and we were spoken to as if we had no professionalism or idea of the sense of the work that had to be done. This shows that even women will restrict the growth of other women, whether in personal or professional settings. I assumed this was typical of how things will be in the real world as a freshly young adult, and I quickly learned that this is where the baseline systemic gender inequities root.

I was constantly reminded by society that as a woman, and particularly as an Indian woman, I should keep my voice down, agree with superiors, and keep up with my duties without making a fuss. My parents have always raised me to be a strong, independent woman, but insight of the discrimination and insubordination I was experiencing at work, there was frankly nothing I could do aside from quitting. Unlike some of my male coworkers, I wasn’t given the same leniency in changing my shift or taking a few days off for exams or personal reasons. I finally decided to quit this job three months in when some of my friends also decided that they had had enough. The managers I worked with hired a diverse staff but did not treat them equally. Many women of colour are hired for reasons similar to this so that it can make these companies/ businesses look better. Women of colour encounter obstacles, prejudice, and discrimination at work due to these employers. With policies in place to fill a diversity quota, this does not reflect the treatment given to these hires. My experiences in positions like these have influenced how my gender identity and ethnic identity coincide, which also makes me more determined to advocate and promote for change.

Ultimately, I have learned that these disparities will only grow if we as a society let them. The best way to end racial and gender discrepancies in the workplace is by recruiting a more diverse staff, implementing sponsorship and mentorship programs, and guaranteeing pay equity across all levels. This is just the beginning of what is an exceedingly long road ahead. Minor differences cannot change this dire situation overnight, but they do give society a reason to change its attitude and mentality toward certain scenarios. As a proud woman of colour, I strive to promote ways to address these disparities so that the next generations of strong, talented, and beautiful women of colour, forthcoming me, will have a chance at a bigger and brighter future.


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