Our Pay and Progression of Women of Colour Literature Review has for the first time, brought into focus vast research and evidence into the multitude of barriers women of colour (WoC) face in the workplace.

This report highlights that whilst WoC are severely underrepresented in management and senior leadership positions, the structural oppressions and systemic disadvantages leading to their underrepresentation, begins well before they even enter the workplace. These structural inequalities, whilst changing form, start at school and university, follow them into entering employment, trying to progress at work and finally, at senior leadership stages. 

Key findings from the literature review include:

  • Compared with White British men, WoC consistently earn less per hour with pay gaps ranging from 10% for Indian women to 28% for Pakistani women.
  • At school, Black girls are twice as likely to be permanently excluded compared to white girls, and are placed in lower sets than warranted by their ability
  • When attempting to enter the workforce, ethnic minority candidates had to send 60% more job applications to receive as many calls backs as White British people
  • Ethnic minority graduates are significantly less likely to obtain employment six months post-graduation compared to white graduates. This is concerning whereby early unemployment is linked to 20-25% lower earnings per year when employed
  • Across all sectors, there is a higher percentage of people of colour in low-grade positions, reducing drastically in proportion the higher up the career pipeline we go
  • One-third (31%) of WoC report being unfairly passed over for or denied a promotion at work.
  • Just under one-third of WoC say they have been unfairly denied training or development opportunities which would enable promotion. This rose to more than half of disabled WoC (52%).
  • At senior leadership stage, WoC report that the leadership and communication styles of white women are more positively perceived than their own and having to change to fit into the organisational culture to gain seniority.
  • Whilst women make up 6% of CEOs of FTSE 100 companies and 35% of civil service permanent sectaries, not a single one of these are women of colour.

This report also presents solutions on what is needed from educators, employers and government to effectively tackle this life cycle of barriers WoC face in regard to pay and progression. It is imperative, not just to unlock the potential of WoC, but because doing so could add an extra £24 billion to the UK economy.


This report is funded by the Smallwood Trust.


Fawcett, along with the Runnymede Trust, will use this literature review to inform our primary research, talking to diverse groups of WoC at all career stages, as part of our wider Pay and Progression of Women of Colour project.