The government is to launch an investigation into what holds back women from ethnic minority backgrounds in the workplace.
Minister for women and communities, Ruth Kelly, said the enquiry would be the next phase of the government’s response to the Women and Work Commission.
The commission, which reported in February, made 40 observations about what was preventing women achieving parity with their male colleagues in the workplace.
The report made it clear that discrimination by employers was not to blame, but said poor career advice and lack of quality flexible working were the key factors holding women back.
Ethnic minority communities have a lower employment rate than the rest of the population, and for Bangladeshi and Pakistani women it is particularly low – 24% and 24.2% respectively, compared to an average employment rate for women of working age of 70%.
A separate report, Engaging with Muslim Women published by Department for Communities and Local Government found many Muslim women feel that economic exclusion is a major issue for them.
Kelly said finding practical measures to raise employment levels for women from ethnic minority backgrounds into the workplace was a key priority.
“There is an obvious case here for bridging that gap – this is not about preferential treatment but about tackling the barriers to Muslim women entering the labour market, where there are genuine shortages, and making the most of that pool of talent,” she said.
Last week the government set out a range of general proposals to help women in the workplace, including creating equality representatives, funding for employers to push flexible working in senior positions and an ‘exemplar employer’ scheme to highlight good practise.
However, government ministers are split on whether to impose compulsory pay audits on companies to close the pay gap.