Race pay gap reporting is a landmark moment


It is now 50 years since the Race Relations Act received royal assent. It’s also a year since the government published its first race disparity audit. One area where more progress is still needed is in the workplace. We know that black and ethnic-minority people are doing better in education and are attending university in unprecedented numbers. Yet success at school and university is not translating into the workplace as much as it should. Ethnic-minority employees are far more likely than their white colleagues to feel that their talents will not be recognised: 52% believe they will have to leave their current organisation to progress their career, compared with 38% for white workers, according to a report published this week.

And we know that ethnic-minority people are not yet represented as they should be in leadership positions. For example, in the public sector, despite making up 14% of the working-age population, ethnic minorities make up only 6.4% of NHS “very senior managers”, 3.7% of police officers ranked chief inspector or above, 3.4% of headteachers and 2.4% of armed forces officers.

In practice, this means that talented people are not being given the chance to contribute as much as they could. In sporting terms, we are leaving some of our best players “on the bench”.

Against this background, the announcement by the prime minister on Thursday that the government will introduce ethnicity pay reporting is an important step. Larger companies and public-sector organisations will have to publish data showing whether they pay their people fairly. And talented ethnic-minority people will be able to see which organisations have turned their commitment to diversity into action.

This isn’t about “quotas” or promoting people who don’t deserve it. Employers need data to identify what steps to take to improve fairness in the workplace. And the fact employees can see where pay gaps are greatest will encourage leaders to take stronger action.

During a roundtable discussion with the prime minister, the chief executive of RBS, Ross McEwan, said: “All of us here know that the greater the diversity within our businesses, the more shareholder value we can create. With more women, black, Asian and minority ethnic staff we’re more productive, and better reflective of the communities we serve ... As with gender pay gap monitoring the time has come to tackle the ethnicity pay gap.” As a black nurse, I see the crushing racial inequality across the NHS. This has to stop

It’s also encouraging that more than 80 high-profile businesses and organisations, including NHS England, Standard Life Aberdeen, Norton Rose Fulbright, Saatchi & Saatchi, KPMG, RBS, the civil service and WPP have signed up to a new race at work charter, committing themselves to action and leading the way on increasing ethnic-minority representation in the workplace.

There are many other issues on which we also need to make progress. The government’s own web page, Ethnicity Facts and Figures, shows how much more work there is still to do in other areas such as justice, education and housing.

Nevertheless, I hope in years to come we’ll be able to look back at this date as the day prime ministers and business leaders finally opened up meaningful opportunities for locked-out ethnic minority talent; and that the businesses that fully embraced this challenge flourished.

• Simon Woolley is chair of the government’s race disparity unit advisory group