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Refugee women half as likely to find employment than women born in UK

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Bias could be blocking refugee women from jobs as a new report reveals they have been employed at half the rate (35%) of those born in the UK (71%).

The data was published this week in a report from Economist Impact, which also found that refugee women are at a particular disadvantage within the first few years after arrival in their new countries.

Rather than a lack of motivation from the women themselves, the report pointed to a unique set of challenges blocking their path to employment.


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Allyson Zimmermann, executive director EMEA at non-profit Catalyst, which helps more women leaders into business, described the challenges faced by refugee women as ‘a glass door’.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Refugee women are double disadvantaged when it comes to work – not only do they face the same obstacles as other refugees when fleeing to a new country and having to start over, but as women they may have more care-giving responsibilities, as well as facing the additional barrage of issues around gender inequality in the workplace.

“It’s an opportunity for organisations to be part of the solution for refugee women – to recognise that oftentimes it’s not a glass ceiling, but a glass door.”

Far from a UK-only problem, the report found that refugee women’s employment rates remain relatively low at 45% across Europe, compared with 62% for refugee men.

Germany is currently the largest host of refugees on the continent, home to 1.8 million refugees, yet refugee women there still had an average employment rate of just 13% in 2017, compared with 74% for the native German female population. 

To help solve the refugee women’s employment crisis, Catalyst has partnered with the Tent Partnership for Refugees (Tent) to create a pan-European mentorship programme.

Through partnership with 24 global businesses including Accenture, Adidas, Barilla, BNP Paribas, H&M Group, L'Oreal, and Sodexo, the programme aims to mentor 1,200 refugee women over the next three years, helping with CV writing, interviewing and networking.

Zimmermann said the scheme offers people professionals a chance to support positive change.

She added: “The challenges these refugee women face are unique and having a mentor can make a difference not only in the lives of women, but the lives of their families, communities and societies as a whole.

“HR can leverage this opportunity to engage employees to mentor, be part of the solution, but also to create cultural bridges along the way.”

In the coming years the UK government has pledged to resettle a further 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan alone, and with the right action HR has proved that employers can help.

In addition to mentoring, the Economist Impact report recommended setting clear goals for the employment of refugee women; the promotion of inclusive recruitment and culture; and collaboration with external partners that have knowledge of the local context of the people they employ.