A report by the government's Social Mobility Commission, published on 28 December 2016, has found that British children of Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds find it difficult to secure employment in the UK, despite outperforming (educationally) many of their counterparts from white British backgrounds. Although students from Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds are more likely to go to university, they are less likely to find employment or be offered managerial and professional roles. In particular, there is ongoing discrimination against Muslim women.
Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, the Rt Hon Alan Milburn, said: "It is striking that many of the groups that are doing best at school, or improving their results the most, are losing out when it comes to jobs and opportunities later in life."
Although British children of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin have achieved marked improvements at every level of education, factors such as discrimination, cultural expectations and even geographic location have impacted their likelihood of obtaining employment.
One of the report's key recommendations was that "schools, universities and employers should provide targeted support to ensure that Muslim women are able to achieve their career ambitions and progress in the workplace".
Despite the outmoded view that some people hold of Muslim women, the majority are highly educated, independent and ambitious. They have made a positive impact and helped to quash stereotypes. Nevertheless, women still struggle to be respected and to control their own destinies, in a male-dominated society. Inequality in pay, healthcare and education still exist in a society where women - from all cultures and countries - should be treated fairly and equally. It will still take a collective effort to break the ongoing stigma.
The employment prospects for British-Bangladeshi women would be far greater, were it not for prejudice in our society and the fact that women's voices are often excluded from national and global decision making. Nevertheless, we are now seeing a new wave of young, educated citizens taking the reins.
Winner of the Great British Bake-Off, Nadiya Hussain, who is also of Bangladeshi origin, said: "I'd like to think that this is a starting point for other Muslims in the future. Originally I remember feeling like: 'Will I be accepted? It is going to be a big deal that I wear a headscarf?' And then [I remember] actually coming out and thinking: 'Yeah there's negativity but I'm comfortable in myself. I'm really comfortable being me.' It's not about whether you choose to cover your hair or whatever religion you are, it's about finding the confidence within yourself to think: 'Yes, I'm different, but I can do this.'"
Older generations in Bangladeshi families had clear-cut roles for men and women. These generations accepted men, primarily, to be the breadwinners, whilst were expected to take care of the home and family.
Currently, Bangladeshi women have to juggle demanding household tasks and work life. In some cases, married women's in-laws place restrictions on their freedom, not permitting them to pursue a career. There are also assumptions that women are expected to stop working following life-changing events such as getting married and having children.
However, younger Bangladeshi women are serious about their educational and professional goals and are performing exceptionally well in GCSE exams. They are determined to enter the workforce, integrate better into society and move towards a more cohesive society.
Current Participation of British-Bangladeshi Women in the UK Job Market
Of all the major ethnic groups in the UK, Bangladeshi women have the lowest level of participation in the formal labour market and economic inactivity rates are significantly above the national average.
From less than 18% in 2001, this rate had more than doubled by 2012 to a significant 40%.
The good news is that an increasing number of British-Bangladeshi women are breaking out of the traditional mould and seeking employment. Despite this, the employment opportunities do not meet the demands. In 2011, the unemployment rates among Bangladeshi women was 20.5 percent and the overall unemployment rates for women from ethnic minority groups stood at 14.3 percent in comparison.
Challenges faced by British-Bangladeshi Women Seeking Employment
As any migrant population, the Bangladeshi community experiences ethnic penalty, particularly in the job market. Finding a job as a woman from an ethnic minority group is a challenge, but amongst those who are fortunate enough to find employment, Bangladeshi women in particular earn less than those from other ethnic minority groups.The APPG (All Parliamentary Group on Race and Community) reported that some Muslim women have even removed their hijab to increase their chances of finding work in - what is supposed to be - a cosmopolitan society, whilst others have deselected themselves from the job market because of the discrimination they face.
These challenges certainly need to be addressed, as they can be a demotivating factor for women who are unemployed and seeking job opportunities, while facing other hurdles. On the positive side, the recent success of numerous British-Bangladeshi women in the UK is reassuring and proves that these women have the determination to succeed, despite the odds.