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(Photo: Stocksy)

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The BAME pay gap might be bigger than the gender pay gap – so, why do we ignore it?

This year, companies were forced to make their gender pay gap public. Yet barely anything is being done to address the underpaying of ethnic-minority staff, says Yomi Adegoke

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By Yomi Adegoke on

For years, damning reports detailing Britain’s gender pay gap have surfaced with very little fanfare from the government. But this April, after the conversation reached its tipping point, hundreds of companies were required by law to report their gender pay gap and make the figures public. The figures revealed nearly eight in 10 large firms pay male workers on average more than female workers. Men were, unsurprisingly, also found to be over-represented in the highest-paid roles. Since then, companies in their droves have taken action to address pay disparity across the genders.

In the wake of the data going public, pressure began to mount for companies to publish their pay gap figures concerning ethnicity, too. Just as it has been known for years that women are usually underpaid compared to their male colleagues, ethnic-minority staff being underpaid compared to white staff is an open secret that many have been impatiently waiting to leak. For ethnic minorities, especially ethnic-minority women who are negatively affected by both pay gaps, the need to discuss how race impacts wages, too, became even more obvious when the gender pay gap conversation came to the fore.

But pay-gap reporting is indicative of how we talk about race and gender in this country. We are reluctant to discuss inequality between the sexes but unwilling to talk about race, at all. Conversation about how the combination of how the two impedes one's lived experience is almost non-existent. Off the back of the gender pay gap reports, there have been far more reports outlining the disparity between races, with very little conversation about how we address it.

Discomfort discussing race paired with an awkwardness around talking about money has allowed the silence surrounding the ethnicity pay gap to flourish. But this year, there has been a wave of reports and articles outlining the issue. For instance, a report from the Greater London Authority (GLA) found that ethnic-minority public-sector workers in London were paid up to 37.5% less than their white colleagues last year. Non-white police earn up to 16% less, per hour, than their white colleagues and Transport for London has an ethnic pay gap of 9.8%. The GLA itself has an ethnic pay gap of 16%.

Just last week, damning new research showed that between 2007 and 2017, black male graduates earned a whopping £7,000 less per year than their white counterparts. Perhaps ironically, the very same study showed that black men were continuing on to higher education at an increased rate of 24%. White men’s participation, on the other hand, had only risen by 15%. While black men have been more likely to invest in higher education, they have been less likely to benefit from their increased engagement with it. This chimes with a report last year from the Equality and Human Rights Commission that stated “broadly speaking, in the period 1993 to 2014, there has been very little narrowing of ethnic pay gaps and for some groups they have actually increased, particularly among men.”

Discomfort discussing race paired with an awkwardness around talking about money has allowed the silence surrounding the ethnicity pay gap to flourish

Days after the report on the ethnic-minority graduate gap, ITN, which produces news for ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, revealed that staff from black, Asian or other minority-ethnic background typically get paid a fifth less than their white colleagues. The median hourly pay for an ITN employee from a BAME background was 20.8% lower than that for white colleagues. The median bonus gap is 50%.

The disparity in pay for BAME staff compared to white staff is even worse than that for women at ITN, where there is a median gender pay gap of 18.2% and bonus gap of 50%. This, of course, doesn’t even begin to take into account the plight of women of colour, who are likely to earn even less due to occupying both groups.

ITN have since disclosed a range of targets and initiatives to tackle the inequality, such as interviewing at least one BAME candidate for every job vacancy. But it is crucial we note that ITN voluntarily published the data showing how ethnic-minority earnings fared. Legally, companies are only obliged to report gender pay gap figures, which begs the question: why does one pay gap seem to matter more than the other?

In February last year, The McGregor-Smith Review found that the UK economy could benefit from a £24bn-a-year boost if BAME people had the same opportunities as their white peers in the workplace. It issued a number of clear recommendations, the most obvious being that, similar to the gender pay gap, all listed companies, along with all businesses with more than 50 employees, should publish a breakdown of their workforce by race, ideally by pay band, on their official company website and in their annual report. And yet BAME pay gap reporting remains opt-in for organisations and bodies, despite there being no clear reason why it should be any different to gender pay gap reporting. If ITN’s data is anything to go by, the BAME pay gap may be even worse, but we implicitly question its very existence by not feeling the need to force institutions' hands.

We’re a long way from obliterating the gender pay gap, but the pressure applied by the publication of the shocking figures has brought us closer than we were before. In order to even begin closing the BAME pay gap, we need to first acknowledge, en masse, that it is there.

@yomiadegoke

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