Reseach identifies challenges facing female BME leaders in the UK

Reseach identifies challenges facing female BME leaders in the UK

A major new study into the lives and experiences of black and minority ethnic (BME) women leaders has identified the key qualities that enable BME women to rise to the top of their careers.


A major new study into the lives and experiences of black and minority ethnic (BME) women leaders has identified the key qualities that enable BME women to rise to the top of their careers.

Demonstrating the cross cultural experience that enables BME women to offer diverse perspectives in business, the Different Women, Different Places report outlines eight factors that, when combined, distinguish BME women:

• Bi-cultural competence
Familiarity with British and ethnic values enables them to manage across cultures.
• Multiple perspectives
Gained from cultural breadth.
• Cultural capital
Experience gained through voluntary work and activities within the community.
• Transformational leaders
Challenging the status quo whilst delivering results.
• Self-mastery
Discrimination has enabled them to develop a sense of assuredness and resilience.
• Power, presence, passion
Communicating their views with conviction.
• Values driven leadership
BME women are driven by the desire to make a positive contribution.
• Spiritual belief
Many women credit their religion or spirituality as fundamental to their success.

Responding to the study, – the online resource for women in business – gathered seven senior female business leaders alongside the report’s authors and diversity experts from IBM, to discuss the findings and add their own experiences as BME women working in global corporations.

A series of questions around the research were debated with the following specific issues raised:

• Is the issue of not feeling able to be authentic in the workplace a uniquely BME issue?
• Are stereotypes around BME women more significant than the gender issue?
• What can organisations do to better understand what motivates BME women?
• Do BME women experience a lack of support from white female colleagues?
• Are BME women ‘invisible’ within their organisations?

The participants agreed that they were aware that certain stereotypes can hold back BME women in some organisations (although not necessarily the organisations they were representing).That said, in overcoming biases BME women have had to show themselves to be more assertive which can sometime be perceived as aggression. This does not however explain why there are so few senior BME women in global corporations.

The research identified that “presence, passion and power” are an asset to BME women, helping them be more assertive in the workplace. However women need to understand when best to maximise this and when to tone it down.

Responses were mixed to the question of authenticity in the workplace. Whilst some admitted to trying to blend in, others were more driven by the desire to make a difference. That said, all were adamant that the reward of their professional success came with a responsibility to implement change.

All the participants agreed that opportunities for BME women in senior leadership roles are improving and the landscape for BME women is changing. However those with experience of working in the US believe that in Great Britain there is still a lot of ground to make up. BME women in the UK have pushed past some formidable barriers to achieve professional success and in the case of those present, in traditionally male-dominated environments: technology; banking and finance; and consultancy. The participants agreed that whilst doing their utmost to be successful has resulted in significant career achievements for them all, the system and business environment must change, in order to realise their full potential.

So what did these women believe they had done that has resulted in their success?

Without exception, all participants recognised their responsibility as senior women in business to change the landscape for future generations of BME women. However it was acknowledged that changing corporate culture was an impossible task without support from other BME colleagues and that if businesses are committed to fundamental change, there need to be pockets of BME women to enable them to flourish.

Karen Gill, co-founder of, comments, “Corporations needs to utilise the talents of BME women for greater business success. This research is vital in helping to identify what needs to be done to enable these women to achieve their potential.”

Elizabeth Loker, event host and head of IBM UK Workforce Diversity and Inclusion, adds: “we believe that a diverse workforce is key to opening the doors for future innovation in our business, so as an organisation we’re thoroughly committed to achieving a truly diverse and inclusive working environment. Enabling BME women to reach their full potential is a fundamental part of this.”

The groundbreaking report is the first study into the factors that guide successful BME women and offers a crucial insight into how HR and diversity professionals, government bodies and global businesses can benefit from multicultural experience.


For further information please contact Victoria Harris at Luchford APM / 020 7631 1000

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Name: Victoria Harris
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