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Bridging the ethnic minority pay gap

GAP: black African, Caribbean or black British employees and those who identity as other or white other on average earned between 5% and 10% less than their white British counterparts

ANALYSIS BY the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed a stark ethnicity pay gap between white British employees and most other ethnic groups.

The report which was published July 9, found that across Britain, Pakistani and Bangladeshi staff have experienced the largest ethnicity pay gap compared to white British employees. In 2018, Pakistani staff saw a 16.9% gap while Bangladeshi employees faced a 20.2% ethnicity pay gap.

In addition, black African, Caribbean or black British employees and those who identity as other or white other on average earned between 5% and 10% less than their white British counterparts between 2012 and 2018.

Looking at these figures reminded me of my early adulthood and my father’s after-dinner talks about the hostile world of employment awaiting me if I didn’t heed his advice to emigrate following graduation from university.

The obstacles faced by ethnic minority individuals such as my late father came in the form of the restricted access to employment permitted by the gatekeeping patriarchy of the time. The challenge faced by ethnic minorities and to some extent women today is as much about fair assessment of their performances and their worth after having been let through the door.

It would be too simplistic to attribute residual inequities at work to the protectionism or even the malevolence of the current gatekeepers; although undoubtedly, a proportion may demonstrate those characteristics in their dealings with minority candidates and employees.

Closer consideration shows instead that these inequities are more likely a feature of the truth that pure objectivity is impossible and that in terms of recruitment decisions and performance assessment, many ethnic minorities can be subject to the ‘distorted lens’ of the gatekeepers.

Recently, the US psychologist, Jennifer Eberhardt in her work Biased: The New Science of Race and Inequality writes of ‘a distorting lens that’s a product of both the architecture of the brain and the disparities in our society.’ She also makes the great point that white males are not the only ones afflicted with this distorted lens and that at any given moments even minorities can use it.

Whatever the reasons for the distorted lens, the fact remained that, it exists and its complex nature makes it less amenable to being addressed by government legislation than the type of outright sexism and racism outlawed by the Equal Pay Act and the Race Relations Acts of the 1970s.

And given this little complexity, the effects of the lens will triumphantly persist long enough to cast its shadow over the working lives of generations to come.

As a veteran of its strafing and given the centrality of performance assessment in the employment world, I thought I owed it to future generations to provide a roadmap to navigate a safer passage to a life where their worth and their performances can be assessed more fairly, because the ONS analysis is not all bleak.

The fact that workers of Chinese descent earn more hourly than even British workers, demonstrates that by making judicious choices, an ethnic minority member can in fact avoid the distorted lens. But to do so, he or she has to avoid employment strafing zones and to seek employment zones of enhanced objectivity.

Strafing zones to avoided:

- Organisations with line management structures where work efforts are visible only to the individual reported to or to a narrow audience. A single or a narrow audience magnifies the determining influence the owner of a distorted lens can have on the viability of a career.

- Low-skilled work where there is little scope for performance quality differentiation. Given the marginal difference in quality in these work endeavours, and the ease of recruitment, there is little or no jeopardy to practising the bias that flows from the distorted lens.

- Work in areas where an organisation faces little or no jeopardy for financial failure. This applies very much to public sector organisations where funding is derived from tax or licence levy and where performance is not so relevant to the financial viability of the organisation. Again, in such organisations there is little or no cost to practising bias.

The lack of diversity in professional membership bodies and in our regulators can be attributed to the low cost of practising bias given that future funding is assured irrespective of performance.

- Work or employment where output is not clearly measurable or cannot be objectively assessed. An example would be work in a policy think-tank or any organisation that deals almost exclusively with the formulation and implementation of ideas or policies the success of which may not be evident for years. In addition to difficulties in objectively assessing the relative worth of competing ideas, the larger the organisation and the more junior the minority staff member, the greater the risk of misattribution of work.

Work that combines two or more of the features mentioned above.

Zones of enhanced objectivity to seek

- Work that involves performance being witnessed or experienced by many. Sport, music performance, electoral politics and entrepreneurship provide excellent examples of areas where performance is intended to be evident to multiple parties. A broad audience militates against the distorted lens of an individual having undue influence. For example, in sport, even a biased sports umpire will lose credibility if he or she attempts to exercise bias before a live audience and cameras broadcasting to a public.

- Work where performance assessment is measurable and can be objectively assessed. This will include work where the assessment is undertaken by inanimate and therefore unbiased objects such as a counter or a clock. Tele-sales or any form of remote selling such as trading is therefore a good option because performance is objectively measurable and the identity of the seller is less evident to potentially biased members of the public.

- Employment where owing to the extended efforts required to qualify and the high skill level involved, practitioners are scarce and remuneration is relatively high.

- Work in the private sector where financial jeopardy for failure exists and where competition and substantive differentials in performance quality exists. Again sports teams and sales teams are examples of organisations that exhibit these characteristics. The practice of trades including plumbing, make-up artistry and carpentry are also zones of enhanced objectivity.

- Work that involves combinations of these features. The black, female make-up artist and entrepreneur Pat McGrath, is an exemplar of an individual operating in Zones 1 and 4 of the enhanced objectivity zone. She operates in a trade where performance differentials are evident to the public and in a competitive entrepreneurial environment where financial jeopardy exists.

Of course, the ability to avoid strafing zones and to enter zones of enhanced objectivity such as sport will depend on an individual having the talent and in the case of practising medicine, having the kind of family background to support one during the long years of dependency required to qualify. However, for an ethnic minority person for whom attaining fair value for talent is important, awareness of safer spaces can motivate you to work harder to overcome any other obstacles.

Gadfly David ©
Twitter – @DavidGadfly
Website –

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