Women of colour still need to change their identity to match corporate expectations

Many women of colour feel compelled to ‘whiten’ in the workplace to cope with discrimination and conform to sterotypical ‘norms

It’s a sad fact, but discriminatory prejudice still asks underrepresented people to run away from their true identities. According to a recent report published by the gender equality organisation, The Fawcett Society and the race equality think tank The Runnymede Trust, more than 60% of women of colour in the UK change to conform to workplace norms.

The same report reveals that to resemble the dominant majority, they have adjusted the language or words they use (37%) and their hairstyle (26%). And to avoid name discrimination by recruiters, 22% of women of colour also change their names. 

A lot of inconsistencies

Hira Wasif, a Pakistani victim of name discrimination, said she was not surprised by the findings. With her background in non-inclusive environments, she noted that “many companies pretend to embrace inclusive cultures and processes in the workplace, but as these statistics show, many women of colour still feel compelled to give up their identity at work, to ‘whiten’ themselves to feel seen and accepted.”

After graduating with a Master’s degree in psychology from Lund University in Sweden, Wasif faced this dilemma. As a recent graduate, she was navigating the job market and, to no avail, decided to do something that could speed up her access to employment.

“I felt compelled to consider legally changing my first and last name when after eight months and more than 100 applications, I failed to get the first-phase interview, while my equally qualified coursemates had landed the jobs I was applying for,” she said.

A very flawed system

Wasif did what she had to do to get what she wanted and is now the Customer Success Manager at Alva Labs. This digital hiring platform enables UK companies to remove bias from their recruitment through psychometric testing. But she admits that it is an insidious way of gaming a very flawed system. For her, this compulsion to hide minority identities only exacerbates the problem, as workplaces and corporate cultures remain geared towards a majority, homogenous type of employee. 

In fact, even with all the good intentions of companies, for many recruiters, the name alone is still used as a means of deciphering a potential employee’s suitability. They make sweeping judgements based on a random series of letters to imagine how a person might act, think, speak and ultimately behave at work.

Racism in all sectors

The report further reveals other microaggressions in the recruitment process; 52% of women of colour are discriminated against, for example, when asked about their UK qualifications or English as a first language and when asked about their ethnicity outside of selection processes. 

Even when they have managed to get a job, the study shows that the workplace is not a safe place for women of colour. As far as institutional racism is concerned, it is widespread across all sectors and organisations: 75% of women of colour have experienced racism at work, 27% of whom have been subjected to racial insults.

When it comes to career progression: 28% of women of colour (compared to 19% of white women) said that a manager had blocked their progression at work, and 42% said that they had not been considered for promotion despite good feedback (compared to 27% of White women).

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