Achieving a supportive and inclusive workplace environment for ethnic minority groups is crucial for promoting diversity and inclusion in the UK. However, it's important to recognise that some groups face additional challenges and inequalities.
There are more than 1.2 million women identifying as Black or mixed-race in England, all working across a diverse range of sectors. But, according to recent research at the University of Manchester, Black professional women in England face a ‘concrete ceiling’ when it comes to career progression. Despite their consistently valuable contributions to their workplaces, they come up against numerous barriers meaning that their progression to leadership positions is too rare. The stereotypes of (and biases against) Black women has made them feel voiceless, and often they are forced to ‘neutralise’ their cultural identity in the workplace.
And that’s before we even begin to discuss motherhood.
Worryingly, studies have shown that postnatal depression rates in black mothers in the UK are higher than in any other racial group. It’s also clear from data that black mothers are less likely to receive support and are at a higher risk of complications during pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes.
In this blog post, we’re exploring these issues and the UK data behind them, and considering how workplaces can better support black mothers.
Inequalities Faced by Black Mothers in the UK
Research here in the UK shows that black mothers face several inequalities that can massively affect their mental and physical health. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists states that black women in the UK are five times more likely to die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth than white women. Black women are at a higher risk of complications during pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and premature labour.
Unsurprisingly, research has also found that postnatal depression rates in black mothers in the UK are higher than in any other racial group. According to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, 35% of black mothers in the UK experience postnatal depression compared to 19% of white mothers. If you want to read about the lived experiences of Black mothers receiving maternity “care”, not just the data, we recommend this report by FiveXMore. It’ll open your eyes and demonstrate why workplaces need to do more.
This disparity can be attributed to several factors, including social and economic stressors, lack of access to mental health services, and a sense of isolation or disconnection from their support systems.
Supporting Black Mothers in the Workplace
To better support black mothers in the UK, workplaces can adopt several tried and tested strategies.
Here are some examples of things your business can do:
Providing Diversity and Inclusion Training
Coqual, a global equity-championing think tank, has released a report revealing that 52% of Black women in the U.K. plan to leave the workforce. Partly this is due to Black women disproportionately facing microaggressions and racial inequalities in the workplace.
Offering diversity and inclusion training to all employees can raise awareness about the experiences of Black women - but particularly Black mothers - in the workplace. This training can promote empathy, reduce biases, and increase understanding of the challenges faced by black mothers.
A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, showed that providing high quality diversity training can improve employees' attitudes towards diversity and reduce workplace discrimination. So this will have a lasting impact and begin to change the overall culture.
Offering Flexible Work Arrangements
If your workplace provides flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting, flexible schedules, and extended maternity leave, you are on the right track to supporting black mothers in the UK.
Black mums face systemic racism everyday in their maternity appointments, so giving them support and encouragement to stand up for their rights is vital.
Flexible arrangements can provide more opportunities for mothers to balance their work and family responsibilities, reducing stress and promoting well-being. Studies across the globe show that employees with flexible work arrangements have higher job satisfaction, lower stress levels, and are more productive.
That’s a win-win!
Providing Resources for Mental Health Support
Offering access to mental health resources, such as therapy or counselling services, can help black mothers in the UK cope with postnatal depression and other mental health challenges.
For example, research shows that cognitive behavioural therapy can reduce symptoms of postnatal depression in black mothers. This can be achieved by partnering with mental health providers, offering employee assistance programmes, or providing access to online mental health resources.
And there’s an array of resources available to Black mums on the fiveXmore website including free hypnobirthing. They’re empowering women with free materials and information on their rights and what to expect through pregnancy and labour.
Promoting Health and Wellness
Promoting well-being can support the physical and mental health of black mums in your workplace. This can include offering health and wellness programmes, such as nutrition and exercise programmes, and providing information about prenatal and postnatal care. Perhaps you can work with a local yoga teacher to provide gentle stretch sessions or breathwork for mums-to-be, or invite your neighbourhood smoothie place to do a demonstration.
Or it can be as simple as providing opportunities for the black mums to meet and talk about the issues that matter to them. Encouraging openness and talking about our mental health is the first step to breaking the stigma around it.
Black mothers have different concerns, and that needs to be acknowledged - for example Sickle Cell Anaemia. Can you work with a charity to help raise awareness, host a support group or invite them in to provide info that would support your employees?
Studies show that wellness programmes can improve employees' physical and mental health, reduce absenteeism, and increase productivity. Because when your pregnant employees are feeling supported and cared for, valued and seen, they’ll be loyal.
Black women already face huge challenges in the workplace but Black mothers in the UK are up against significant inequalities that seriously play a role in their mental and physical health. The data is brutal and devastating. It is crucial for workplaces to recognise these challenges and implement strategies to support black mums.
When workplaces offer diversity and inclusion training, and provide flexible work arrangements, alongside free resources for mental health support, as well as creating a workplace culture that promotes health and wellness all builds up to creating a more supportive and inclusive workplace environment for black mothers.