The government’s decision to reinstate the gender pay gap report earlier this year has drawn attention towards the ethnicity pay gap. There remains a visible ethnicity pay gap that continues to impact ethnic minority women and their careers significantly.
In October 2020, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) released its “Ethnicity Pay Gaps: 2019” report. Although the report suggested that the pay gap between white and ethnic employees has narrowed to the lowest level since 2012 in England and Wales, most minority ethnic employees continue to earn less than white British employees. The report disclosed that the gap varies across different regions within the UK. The largest gap (23.8%) is in London and the smallest (1.4%) in Wales. The revelation about London is particularly shocking as the capital is often projected as one of the most diverse cities in the world offering a wide range of opportunities.
Director of the race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, Halima Begum told The Guardian that she was “particularly worried to see the figures for Pakistani workers – paid lowest, against other counterparts despite holding higher degree-level qualifications.” She suggested that the government must investigate into the “underlying causes for this inequality. We can’t explain it away by degree qualifications or socio-economic factors or ethnicity. Therefore, this suggests that invisible factors are working against South Asians.”
What has changed so far?
Following the ONS report, the BBC reported that the Lloyds Bank disclosed that Black workers within their organisation earn a fifth less compared to other workers. The bank blamed the inequality on the scarcity of Black workers at senior levels with Black staff making up 1.5% of the total workforce and 0.6% at the management level. The bank pledged to take action and alleviate the discrepancy by increasing the number of Black staff in senior roles to at least 3% by 2025.
In October 2020, the CBI launched the Change the Ratio campaign in partnership with other high-profile British employers to increase inclusivity and diversity in British businesses. The campaign is partly aimed towards employers revealing ethnicity pay gaps by 2022.
Additionally, thirty business leaders wrote a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in October 2020. The letter compelled him to introduce mandatory ethnicity checks and create fairer workplaces. The Government introduced the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities in July 2020. The commission is responsible for reviewing inequality in the UK and setting out a new agenda for change.
What’s concerning about the aforementioned initiatives is that they may not be as focused on ethnic minority women. Research has shown that factors preventing ethnic minority women from progressing at work are far different than those preventing white women or even ethnic minority men. Minority women may be subjected to higher standards compared to their white or male colleagues and are assumed to be less skilled or educated despite their credentials. Perhaps even more worrisome is McKinsey & Leanin.org’s revelation that ethnic minority women are less likely to receive support from their managers and are often excluded from varying opportunities inside and outside of work. Therefore, it is important that when such initiatives to reduce the ethnicity pay gap are introduced, they are just as inclusive of minority women.
How have women from ethnic minorities responded to the ethnicity pay gap?
Michelle Gyimah the founder of Equality Pays, a gender and ethnicity pay gaps consultancy, narrated the impact the ethnicity pay gap has had on her career.
Michelle (pictured above) talked about the ways in which the pay gap curbed her ambitions in the workplace. “Many people think pay gaps is all and only about how much you get paid, but it is primarily about representation and the ability (or inability) for Black and Asian people to progress freely. In many workplaces that I’ve been in, there were very few Black or Asian people in positions of responsibility and influence at the top of the organisation. I always felt that this wasn’t due to lack of ability, but down to the culture of the organisation when deciding who looks like leadership material and who will be rewarded with leadership roles.”
“Add into the mix the double bind of gender and race and the difficulty to reach those roles is even harder. I had career ambitions to go further, but the culture of many senior leadership teams felt hostile and one that I didn’t want to be a part of. In addition to that, I saw how in particular Black women were treated in the workplace and didn’t want to expose myself to the hostility and mind games that would have been required for the price of perceived workplace success.”
Michelle’s experience reiterates the impact lack of diversity and the ethnicity pay gap has on ethnic minority groups and women in particular. Having fewer BAME women in executive and managerial positions serves as a reminder of not wanting ethnic minorities in leadership positions.
Claudine Thornhill (pictured above), HR Manager at Biglight, said “Marginalised people and people from ethnic minority backgrounds can be less comfortable about instigating performance and salary conversations that lead to a salary review or increase and will be more likely to underplay their skills and experience, possibly going as far as feeling the need to “do more” or “be more” to feel worthy of a higher salary – be more qualified, more experienced, smarter, or harder working, which goes back to the old saying of black and brown people having to work twice as hard for the same results as a white person in work.”
What can be done to address the ethnicity pay gap?
Michelle believes that in order to eliminate the ethnicity pay gap there needs to be “Transparency and data provides knowledge which in turn means you can make informed decisions. Firstly, I would recommend that ethnicity pay gap reporting is made mandatory on par with gender. I would encourage organisations to use this time before it becomes mandatory to start internal conversations about representation, equity, and structural race inequality within their organisations/sectors. This is a topic that can be loaded with emotion, but they are necessary as it is fast becoming a topic that can no longer be ignored. Upskilling staff from COO’s downwards to hold proactive conversations about racial inequality and pay gaps in the workplace will improve organisations relevance and legacy in the future.”
Claudine says that “As with Women in Leadership programs that have shown to be effective to readdressing the gender pay gap and gender representation in leadership, the business could take a similar approach by considering how they can support the professional development of colleagues from ethnic minority backgrounds as a way to address diversity in leadership and ethnicity pay gaps. I’m also fully in support of the campaign for ethnicity pay gap reporting.”
It is absolutely necessary that the government makes the ethnicity pay gap report mandatory. A 2017 McGregor Smith Review revealed that racism has a large impact on ethnic minority workers in the labor market. Instead of brushing the matter off under a rug, it is important that the government begins taking necessary measures. The pandemic has had a detrimental impact on ethnic minority workers more specifically female workers from ethnic minorities. It is important that the ethnicity pay gap is monitored as it will bring considerable improvements in the prospects of ethnic minority workers. Businesses also need to start taking more accountability as well as scrutinise inner conditions to narrow the gaps.
Ayesha Mirza is a journalism intern at Yellow Eve. She is passionate about dismantling patriarchal structures and uplifting the voices of marginalised groups.