‘So-and-so is earning this so why am I not earning that?’


Michele had big dreams

Michele would achieve these dreams a lot quicker if she was being paid the same salary as her colleague Bill.

Despite working the same role, the most glaring difference between Michele and Bill is that Michele misses out on nearly £8,500 each year. …

“Michele” in this case represents one of the many women originating from African and/or Caribbean or Black and mixed heritage backgrounds who have fallen prey to pay disparities ranging from £3,000 to £10,000 each year.

Research conducted by the #EthnicityPayGap campaign has revealed that Black (of African and/or Caribbean heritage) and Brown (Black and mixed heritage) women could consequently miss out on £105,000 to £350,000 of earnings across a working lifetime spanning an average of 35 years.

“I had a colleague within the team who was an account manager, [we both had] the same title: account manager. But the day before I was given my offer, he was promoted out of cycle with a pay rise to senior account manager... he was on a much higher salary, but we were doing the same role, bar his new title.”

Reasons for this absurd gap in pay have been attributed to differing variables. In the report, the campaign maintains that wage differences based on race and gender can be complex in origin and identifies the following factors as potential critical influences:

● Intersectionality

● Household structure and health status

● Access to spheres of influence

● Opportunities for professional development

“It’s a structural process which has been put here to be able to hold us back.”

Evidence has shown this to cause detrimental effects to these women throughout their professional careers as well as to Black and Brown mothers and their children.

However this particular study aims to do what research before it has failed to, noting that much of earlier evidence relies on statistical data that is relatively limited and omits the lived experience of Black female voices.

Instead the #EthnicityPayGap campaign’s research tackles the situation more holistically and consciously explores the lived experience of women who have encountered wage inequality and believe their ethnicity to be a factor. Further investigating when and how these pay disparities took place by inviting all participants to take part in follow-up interviews.

“You don’t get a real picture of how the ethnicity pay gap affects Black women,” says founder of the campaign, Dianne Greyson. “As a Black woman myself, I felt that the gender pay gap did not highlight the double punishment Black women face.”

The study surveyed 344 women to discern their standing on pay disparity, access to professional development and promotion, health implications, seeking redress and mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting.

When asked if they had ever experienced a salary disadvantage, 52.3% of respondents confirmed awareness that they were being paid less than their white counterparts and 31.4% stated that they were unsure.

Research from the London School of Economics and Political Science, The Inclusion Initiative supports that all women experience substantial differences in pay, hours and representation in top jobs in comparison to men, however maintain that it is Black women, regardless of whether they are born in the UK or overseas, who have the lowest probability of becoming top earners.

A respondent to the survey agrees, sharing that: “There are always impediments because the men always have an advantage. The white woman will have an advantage over me, though slightly less so. The level I’m at now, I had to kind of like fight for it. And it took longer for me to get there than obviously it would have taken some of my peers. I know that for sure. But, you know, you can’t be battling everyday all day. Coz you lose your mind. And like I said, at this point in my life, I just want some peace.”

In some cases obstructions to development and promotion can come from line managers themselves. One respondent reflects on her experiences when pursuing further education: “Me saying that I was going for my masters, that’s what triggered her. So she made it her sole purpose, every time I had to leave to go to uni for my classes, she would try and give me something that would take me beyond my time and would make me late.”

But the major trend shown by the study is that more often than not any opportunities to progress are simply off the cards. 127 women said that they had applied for a promotion in their current role, and of this number, 84 were not successful, 12 were offered the post (but asked to take a pay cut) and 4 revealed that the position was suddenly closed when they applied.

“I didn’t get [the promotion]. Someone from HR took me to one side and said ‘they’re not going to give that job to a dread’.”

“The opportunities are not there for certain, basically, BAME individuals,” discloses another survey respondent. “You’re not in the right space to find out what’s going on or somehow you don’t know where the openings are.”

“Certain people are able to get those ‘insider whispers’. And that’s how it is.”

“I found that within those organisations it’s that hyper visibility versus invisibility. All mistakes are magnified and those opportunities to grow are kind of restricted. And then moments where you’re overachieving [it’s assumed] that’s the way you work. Success comparative to other colleagues and the team was not recognised. There was a lot more grace afforded to a lot of people failing upwards, which I was not able to access.”

Part of the detrimental effects inflicted upon these women include negative impacts to their health and wellbeing. The report mentions that “one interviewee was very clear that the stress she had endured from being marginalised and having her career opportunities repressed at work caused her to have a miscarriage.” Others shared their ordeals of anxiety and depression.

It is also worth mentioning the added pressures that the COVID-19 pandemic applied to pre-existing health challenges. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) in their report, BME women and work, state: “The COVID-19 pandemic has added a more deadly aspect to this lack of workplace power and protection. BME workers have told the TUC they are frequently denied access to PPE and to appropriate risk assessments.”

“But white colleagues who were clinically vulnerable weren't questioned or cross-examined. They were treated differently.”

The report uses one interviewee’s experiences as an example, recounting that she “spoke of being pressured to return to working in the office despite being clinically vulnerable, and her request for home working was not accepted until her GP and consultant specialist intervened.”

Results looking into the general stance on the introduction of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting were as follows: “305 women (88.7%) were strongly in favour, with 9.9% holding the view that mandatory reporting would be helpful.”

And in terms of whether their organisations were already reporting: “40.7% stated their employers had not compiled and published data on pay disparity based on ethnicity, 36.9% were unsure and 22.4% confirmed that their employer was publishing data about ethnicity pay gaps.” Thus synchronising with supporting research carried out by People Management which evidenced that only a quarter of large firms are calculating their ethnicity pay gap.

“There’s this idea that if you’re employing people from ethnic minority backgrounds, that it’s somehow taking down the quality. But these people have the same qualifications if not more than the people that you’re typically attracting. You have people who face barriers to entry or barriers in their personal life and barriers from racism and sexism and [misogyny]. They’re coming into organisations with a resilience that your middle class white employees don’t have. And, actually, that person probably has a lot more to offer.”

In response to the issue, the government had run a consultation on ethnicity pay gap reporting in October 2018 which closed in January 2019. Since this time, on the 17th of March 2022, an official response was finally delivered.

Whilst serving useful pinpoints on how they hope to help organisations undertake reporting as well as a number of measures to reduce racial disparities across the country; disappointingly the report did not give an indication of any rush to enact the fundamental legislation on a mandatory basis.

In fact, research compiled by Business In The Community (BITC) revealed that if the current snail’s pace of reporting continues and is not made mandatory, it will take 53 years for other businesses to catch up. Leading to the suggestion that we may not see ethnicity pay gap data widely published by UK companies until 2075.

Research such as the above as well as the figures of companies optionally choosing to report their ethnicity pay gap figures halving over just twelve months needs a more prominent serving word than disheartening. How many more lifetimes are expected to be put at a disadvantage?

Paired with the echoes of Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch who recently reported to the country that Britain is "no longer" rigged against ethnic minorities - our next steps are clearly to take the situation into our own hands if we wish to solve the plight of institutional racism once and for all.

“We can’t wait for the government to enact any law,” says Greyson. “It’s up to us, don’t wait for them. It’s up to us as individuals to make that change and that’s really what I’m calling for.”

“There are young Black people out there who are totally ignorant to this because nobody is talking to them and we have got to have this conversation, it’s got to be from grassroots, young people up to elders. We have got to collectively have this conversation and we have got to collectively encourage people to do something about it.”

Greyson refers to a suggestion made by Lord Boateng during a webinar whereby he called to churches, synagogues and other religious organisations for their involvement within this issue. “It’s an issue that is to do with the community,” she says.

“I would say that change has to be two-fold, in the workplace and in the community,” Greyson articulates. “I once wrote an article about the relationship between community and organisations because without the community, there is no organisation. We feed the organisations, our communities feed the organisations, you can’t have one without the other.”

There are a number of other resources located on the campaign’s website which offer support. Women dealing with similar circumstances are advised to speak with their unions, get support from family members, or consider talking to a legal representative. But fundamentally coming together as a group, in Black networks, and engaging in openness with their workplaces.

“Data isn’t the sole answer to solving the inequalities that have been plaguing the UK’s workforce for far too long,” says race equality director at BITC, Sandra Kerr.

Kerr cautioned that, for organisations, the process of collecting the right data would not happen “overnight”. Employers may need to run internal campaigns to encourage employees to disclose their ethnicity whilst also remaining transparent and reassuring about how this data will be used and stored. “Building trust with employees on how the data will be used will be vital to making reporting ethnicity pay gaps a success.”

Dianne has been advocating for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting for four years and is now hopeful that the momentum will only continue to grow from its upward trajectory. Since 2022 and the release of their ‘eye-opening’ research, she has noticed more engagement and has come together with a union for the first time: “My realistic goals are to get more people engaged in the campaign, more individuals and more organisations engaged into this campaign.”

So, to reference the #EthnicityPayGap campaign slogan, the ‘time for change’ is today not tomorrow.

Meesha Cru-Hall