Threads of Constraint: Ethnic Minority Migrant Women and Employment

Article excerpt


Historically New Zealand (NZ) is a country of immigrants though these immigrants in the 19th and early 20th century were primarily Caucasians from Anglo Saxon countries. However, in the 19th century, there were a few migrants from China who came to NZ to work in the gold mines of Otago, as well as Indians who found employment as scrub cutters, fruit and vegetable hawkers in various parts of NZ and as servants of wealthy British settlers (Pio 2008). Census records of Indians in NZ show their increasing numbers thus: in 1881, six were recorded, in 1991 there were 30,609, and in 2006 there were 104, 583 Indians (Census 2006, Pio 2008). Similarly, Asians, (who include for example Indians and Chinese) show a growth in numbers in NZ as evidenced by census records: three per cent of the population in 1991, five per cent in 1996, 6.6 per cent in 2001, and 9.2 per cent in 2006. In the early and mid twentieth century, those ethnic minority women who worked primarily did so in family businesses such as market gardens and corner stores (Pio 2008). Nevertheless, in the current century, employed ethnic minority women in employment include: bank workers, call centre operators, care givers, check out operators in supermarkets, doctors, librarians, nurses, pharmacists, teachers and teaching aides.

Globally, women in the workforce have been increasing over the last few decades with part time and contractual work, flexible timings and dual career households. In a similar fashion the numbers of ethnic minority women in the workforce have soared, yet their employment experiences are frequently quite different from those of white women or women of the majority culture (Pio 2008). Many ethnic minority women face the prospect of being differentiated on the basis of their visible diversity discriminators such as skin colour and physiological appearance making it a challenge to secure work in line with their skills and qualifications (Pio 2005, 2008).

Employment is an important site where individuals encounter the wider society. With growing numbers of ethnic minority migrants globally, both for higher education as well as job prospects, there is a continuing need to understand the perceptions of these women and the complexities encountered by them in employment. Carr (2004) graphically notes that the zone of work through which migrants realise their aspirations in the host country is likely to be the place where migration promises are most likely to be broken.

This paper engages with the perceptions of national and international Master of Business Administration (MBA) students in a NZ University through the construction of parables on ethnic minority women and their employment experiences in NZ. While there is an abundance of literature on ethnic minority women in countries such as the USA and the UK, there is a dearth of research on the employment experiences of ethnic minority migrant women in NZ. This article seeks to add a multifaceted layer to the burgeoning interest in ethnic minorities through highlighting the need for a more intelligent use of the skills, qualifications and experiences which ethnic minority migrant women bring to the host country. This paper is structured as follows; first the theoretical scaffolding on ethnic minority women and employment is explored, and this is followed by the methodology section. Next the results are discussed. The conclusion deals with implications for HRM practitioners, researchers and educators along with some concluding comments.


Numerous studies relate to how the careers of ethnic minority women are affected by their ethnic categorisation, as well as various forms of discrimination (Greenhaus, Parasuraman & Wormley 1990, Ross 2004, Goldman, Gutek, Stein & Lewis 2006). For example, in the UK ethnic minority women tend to face higher unemployment rates than white women with Black African women and Pakistani women experiencing the highest rates of unemployment (Kelly 2004). …