South Asian Women and Employment in Britain: The interaction of Gender and Ethnicity


Why is there such diversity in the employment profiles of British South Asian women? Numerous studies, including the Fourth National Survey of Ethnic Minorities, have shown considerable diversity in the employment profiles of British South Asian women, but the reasons behind this have remained unclear. Through the innovative use of complementary quantitative and qualitative methods, including detailed interviews with seventy London Asian women, this new study investigates some of the complexities behind the statistics and explores attitudes towards education and employment.

South Asian Women and Employment questions stereotypes of South Asian Women that present a simple contrast between ‘educated’ and ‘uneducated’ women, and challenges a modernist-traditionalist research dichotomy. The study examines family, employment and educational histories; experiences of, views about and attitudes towards work and study, domestic roles and family life; views on marriage and identity; and asks key questions about motivations. The authors suggest that younger South Asian women are confidently expressing their identities through at least two facilitative and dynamic frameworks: gender mediated through ethnicity and gender mediated through religion. The research calls for interpretative approaches that move beyond simplistic monocausal and culturalist explanations to ones that recognise fluidity and diversity within the religious and cultural frameworks that some women may choose to adopt.

This study offers new insights into the lived experiences of British South Asian women, and suggests ways in which policy makers and employers could develop more culturally sensitive equality policies. It will be of interest to those working within the fields of ethnicity, gender and employment.