Last month, The Resolution Foundation launched some new research: Opportunities Knocked? Exploring pay penalties among the UK’s ethnic minorities. The research looked at pay gaps and pay penalties (which control for differences in the characteristics of workers, such as age, qualifications, region of work, hours worked and type of contract).

The report found that, although progress has been made around education and employment growth for men and women from ethnic minorities in the UK, startlingly large pay gaps and pay penalties still exist. For example, black male full-time graduates earn on average 17% less than white male full-time graduates and black female full-time graduates face a ‘pay penalty’ of 9% compared to their white peers. Pay gaps between non-graduate white workers and non-graduate black and ethnic minority workers were also uncovered. Black men typically earn £2 less an hour than white men and for Pakistani and Bangladeshi men, the gap widens to £4.

While much of the existing debate about ethnic minority disadvantage focuses on education, this research suggests that just as much focus should be placed on the situation within the workplace. The penalty gap analysis therefore provides an interesting addition to the debate by revealing the weight of discrimination that people are experiencing at work.

The launch event for the research saw an interesting panel discussion between members of the Resolution Foundation, Rt Hon David Lammy MP and Dr Zubaida Haque, Deputy Director of the Runnymede Trust. There was a keen awareness of the need to prevent systemic bias entrenched in education and workplace systems, as well as the importance of getting behind the figures to understand the lives of the people who are being discussed.

Panel members stressed the importance of addressing issues and challenges relating to intersectionality – with no parliamentary discussions on this in progress so far – and highlighted that class and regional issues underlie many of the inequalities and also need to be tackled. However, the panellists were clear that while universities and employers may talk about outreach and action, what is really important is that they are challenged to deliver on the outcomes or nothing will change.

Recent CIPD research (2017) looked at the barriers to career progression faced by employees from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background. The research, Barriers to BAME employee career progression to the top, showed a significant lack of ethnic diversity at the top of UK organisations. BAME employees were more likely than those from a white British background to say that career progression to date had failed to meet their expectations, that they had experienced discrimination and that they had felt that they needed to change aspects of their behaviour to fit into the workplace. In order to help improve their progression respondents wanted greater transparency around career paths, support from mentors and visible senior role models within their organisations.

Progress in linking government and employers is starting to show. Last month, the CIPD held a joint roundtable discussion with the Cabinet Office on improving ethnic disparities in employment. An impressive and informed group of HR leaders and consultants from our Policy Forum discussed key issues and fed their views into the Cabinet Office’s campaigns and strategy team and the work of the Race Disparity Audit.

So what can organisations do to address ethnic disparities at work and in employee progression?

  • Start with the data – do you have ethnic diversity in your organisation? If not, what are the structural and cultural barriers which are maintaining workplace inequalities? Are you sharing that data beyond the HR function to highlight the gaps or issues?
  • Address your recruitment practices to eliminate bias and discrimination - what channels are you using to recruit talent? Are you varying how and where you are doing your outreach? Are the images and language you are using inclusive and not putting people off from applying to your organisation? If you have a recruiter acting on your behalf, are they aware of your values and commitment to diversity? Are you confident that your line managers are recruiting fairly?
  • Review the rest of your people processes to retain diversity once you have it – where are the blockers for ethnic minority groups in terms of career progression? Where is the cliff edge where people start to leave? Are you taking intersectionality into account and examining progression barriers through different lenses?
  • Take steps towards building an inclusive culture – do you have a culture of inclusivity at work? Can you engage with employees to find out where the problem areas are and what needs to be done? Are your policies and practices underpinned by principles that actively celebrate and encourage differences? Do you raise awareness of different cultures, background and circumstance to help people appreciate difference? Do you have mechanisms in place through which employees can voice issues about inequality and voice their opinions on what needs to change?

There isn’t a silver bullet to building a diverse and inclusive organisation, and one solution will not work for all, but HR’s role in challenging the organisation on all of the issues that make a difference to increasing ethnic diversity and progression in the workplace is key. By calling the organisation to account on culture, leadership and people practices and policies, including importantly, decision-making around recruitment, development and progression, the business will reap the benefits that come from diversity of ideas, perspective and ways of working afforded by people of different backgrounds and identities.

About the author

Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser, Resourcing and Inclusion

Claire specialises in the areas of equality, diversity and inclusion, flexible working, resourcing and talent management. She has also conducted research into meaning and trust at work, age diversity, workplace carers and enterprise and has worked on a number of international projects. She is the author of several reports and articles and regularly presents at seminars and conferences.

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