Why Is Nobody Talking About The Race Pay Gap?

To solve the problem, we must address the lack of opportunity for BAME people to advance to more senior positions
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It feels as though near-enough every day, the media plays host to a new gender pay gap-related scandal. Whether it be in FTSE 100 boardrooms, BBC newsrooms or Hollywood studios, the injustice of men being paid more than their female colleagues is quite rightly being stripped bare and publicly condemned.

There is, however, another pay gap which is no less damaging or entrenched but is receiving significantly less attention.

There’s a long history of BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) people being paid less than white people. Analyses of pay by race have been carried out in several countries, and the similarity of the results is striking. Generally speaking, in every walk of life, in every craft and profession, minorities are consistently paid less than white people.

Take the BBC, for example. In November 2017, the organisation found itself at the centre of a significant gender pay gap scandal, when it was forced to reveal the pay of its top stars and performers. However, as writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch pointed out, far less attention was given to the race pay gap, as shown by the lack of diversity among the most highly paid.

The highest earning white male earned up to £2,249,999 – four and a half times more than the highest earning white female (£499,999), seven and a half times more than the highest paid minority male (£299,999) and nine times more than the highest paid minority female (£249,999).

In other words, the BBC doesn’t just have a gender pay gap. It has a substantial race pay gap, too.

The BBC is by no means a lone example. Global professional services firm, PwC, revealed a pay gap of 13% between its BAME and white staff. This gap is almost as significant as the firm’s gender pay gap of 14%.

The question we must ask is why this is the case. PwC’s senior partner, Kevin Ellis, commented on the company’s race pay gap that it “is entirely driven by the fact that there are more non-BAME staff in senior higher-paid roles and more BAME staff in junior administrative roles.”

This admission suggests that people are in fact being paid the same, regardless of race. Minority and majority staff simply happen to be doing different jobs - and so it’s nothing to do with racism. This complacent and comforting (to PwC’s partners at least) theory forces us to ask another question; why are the majority of BAME people not achieving the same opportunities as their white colleagues?

The BBC has responded by introducing a ban on all-white shortlists for jobs above a certain grade. PwC has announced similar plans in response to its gender pay gap, banning all-male shortlists to boost its number of senior women, though it hasn’t taken steps to address its race pay gap. So, should all major organisations introduce similar quotas?

Despite popular opinion, we must first recognise that quotas are not new. What’s new is the way that both PwC and the BBC have reframed their policies to create more impact. Rather than simply saying “we must always have a diverse shortlist,” they’re actively getting rid of shortlists that are all-white and all-male.

Second, we must understand that it’s relatively easy to subvert these policies. Advocates might refer to the Rooney Rule in the US, which was passed to ensure that more BAME candidates were being considered to coach NFL teams. Whilst there is success in American football, elsewhere, in my experience, there are more failures than successes. Having someone on a shortlist is not the same as appointing them.

The truth is that we’re all at risk of bias, and there’s a tendency in the workplace for managers to evaluate someone who is similar to them more favourably. They will find it easier to connect on a personal level and the individual will ultimately have more opportunities to take on responsibility and prove themselves, as well as greater access to informal mentoring and support networks.

Considering that the majority of senior roles are filled by white people, this would suggest that white staff are given preferential treatment and are able to climb the ladder more quickly. For example, research has shown that minorities are less likely to be given timely and accurate performance feedback by managers. This happens partly because managers are wary of giving negative feedback for fear of being accused of discrimination, but it might also reflect a lack of concern about improving the person’s performance and developing them further.

While the best organisations will try to be more systematic in assessing and evaluating performance, bias still penetrates these processes. Rarely are organisations willing to confront the fact that the problem is the people operating the processes. None of us are as objective as we believe we are, and none of us want to believe that we make judgements about people based on their ethnicity. As a consequence, minorities are more likely to be found in roles which have fewer opportunities for progression and which ultimately pay less.

To solve the problem of the race pay gap, we must address the lack of opportunity for BAME people to advance to more senior positions. Performance evaluations, career development and line manager support are all crucial ingredients, and the people operating these systems must receive the training and support required to conduct these processes with career and accuracy.


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