The JGM BitBlog: How do skilled racial minority migrant women achieve success in a White labor market?

Journal of Global Mobility

Thora H. Christiansen, School of Business, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland

Erla Solveig Kristjansdottir, School of Business, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland

How do skilled migrant women of minority racial backgrounds manage to reach middle- or upper-level management positions in the White Icelandic labor market? What barriers have they had to overcome, how have they overcome them, and what kinds of barriers remain?

Seeking to answer these questions, the article sheds light on the pervasiveness of gender, racial, and ethnic barriers, even in a socially and gender-equal Nordic country. Moreover, the narratives of skilled migrant women of racial minority backgrounds illuminate how their self-efficacy and agency allowed them to source strength from their background and experiences of challenges. Through reframing, they adopted a mindset of resilience and determination, proactively redefined the context, turned negatively stereotyped identities into positive assets and engaged strategically with barriers based on gender, language, or migrant status. In contrast, the subtle and covert nature of racial prejudice, in the context of the invisible norm of Whiteness, felt impossible to address.

Iceland, being one of the Nordic countries, provides an interesting backdrop for the study. Immigration has increased rapidly in the past two decades and is projected to continue to grow well past 20% of the population as labor shortages persist and the healthcare- and tech sectors are in serious need of highly skilled labor, beyond what the local education system can provide. The small population has historically been very homogeneous and White, and the findings illustrate how the labor market is just starting to come to terms with the challenges of managing an ethnically and racially diverse workforce.

The skilled racial minority migrant women interviewed for the study all hold middle- or upper management positions. Such professional success is rare for racial minority migrant women and to gain access to those positions they all described having had to tap into their migrant experiences and adopt a mindset of resilience and determination. They typically reframed obstacles as experiences that made them even stronger and more determined. The quote: “I don’t see obstacles; I only see steps” illustrates this mindset.

Although Iceland is a frontrunner in gender equality, all the women described having experienced the gender barrier. The article outlines how they reframe and deploy various strategies that have allowed them to overcome this and other barriers. Nevertheless, one major barrier remained firmly in place; Whiteness. The racial prejudice that the women experienced in the workplace tended to be very subtle, yet they found it threatening. Racism is such a taboo topic that they felt that the only option was avoidance; to avoid standing out or to walk away, because confrontation was unthinkable.

The article discusses the need to recognize the invisible norm of Whiteness in Iceland and the implications of inclusion for managing an ethnically and racially diverse workforce.

To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication:

Christiansen, T.H. and Kristjánsdóttir, E.S. (2022), "“Whether you like my skin or not, I am here”: skilled racial minority migrant women's experiences of navigating career challenges in the White Icelandic labor market", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 496-514. (Open Access)