An award winning media company committed to sharing the perspectives of people of colour from marginalised genders

The ‘ethnic pay gap’ doesn’t mean we should conflate or ignore the experiences of different races

12 Jul 2019

Photography via Pixabay

It’s not unusual for the parents of young people of colour to tell them that the odds are stacked against them, because they are. Earlier this week, the ONS (Office for National Statistics) published data that demonstrated just how foul the reality is when it comes to employment prospects for ethnic minority groups in the UK.

In data-based research that has been dubbed the ethnic pay gap, it was revealed that in 2018, white British workers earned 3.8% more than British ethnic minority groups. In London, which is Britain’s most ethnically diverse city, the gap was even wider at 21.7%. When I first glossed over the stats, the overall research, all of which had been collated last year, it failed to surprise me. Employees from most BAME backgrounds are paid less than their white counterparts, what’s new? 

What did shock me was the lack of intricacy and detail with which the data was compiled. It is frustrating to think that despite multiple forms of methodology being developed by the ONS, which is the UK’s largest independent official producer of statistics, their most recent piece of research is telling us information that we already know. Filtering through the numbers, regurgitating old facts and organising the results into broad, unspecific categories does not equate to high-tech research, at least not in my mind. Poor research methodology implicates the way that such data is reported on by the media. 

“Only a very small percentage of ethnic minorities form the top strand of high-earners in Britain”

There is a clear trend when it comes to the statistic that stands out to various news outlets. Headlines include “Chinese and Indian workers in UK earn more than white British counterparts, pay gap data reveals” or “Chinese ethnic group biggest earners in the UK”.  The danger of poor research, which leads to poor reporting, is that statistics are then weaponised to demean the incessant discrimination that the people of colour do face when applying for jobs. Headlines like these paint a very different picture to the numbers that the research is rooted in.

They don’t draw attention to the fact that only a very small percentage of ethnic minorities, about 3.2% in fact, form the top strand of high-earners in Britain. Nor do they account for the fact that even though some British Chinese people are high earners, they are still one of the ethnic groups at the highest risk of poverty in the UK. The majority of ethnic groups form the lower end of the economic spectrum, particularly Bangladeshi and Pakistani employees.

The way that the research was conducted means that the categorisation of ethnic minorities in the UK was not up to scratch. Multiple black communities within Britain were all tied together under the label “Black/African/Caribbean/black British”, and multi-ethnic people were named as “Mixed/multiple ethnic groups”, even though the experiences of a black/white mixed race person can vary significantly to an East Asian/white mixed person, or a South Asian/black person. When it came to Asian ethnic minorities, the only groups of people that were given the individual labels were Indian, Chinese, Bangladeshi and Pakistani employees, with everyone else banded together under the term “Any other Asian”.

There were some nuances that did catch my eye. For example, even though Indian employees are the highest-paid in the UK, they also have the largest gender pay gap within any ethnic group, with men earning just under £16 per hour and women earning £12 per hour. But, all-in-all, intersections of age, sexuality, religion or disability weren’t properly accounted for, breaking down the accuracy of the report.

“Even though Indian employees are the highest-paid in the UK, they also have the largest gender pay gap within any other ethnic group“

As a fresh graduate who has just turned 21 and who is currently wading through masses of job applications and CV-drafts, if the methodology improves, I am keen to see how this data will change over the next few years. ONS did reveal that for people from the ages of 16 to 30, the ethnic pay gap steeply decreases from 27.9% to 3.1%, meaning that second-generation immigrants will hopefully be earning more than their predecessors. However, Britain’s Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and black employees are still suffering from an annual pay penalty of £3.2 billion compared to their white peers, which is appalling.

Researchers may have set out to achieve a clear and accurate case study, but what was compiled in the end was a rough and slightly unfinished barrage of statistics that seemed to lump BAME experiences into a few charts-worth of research. If the ONS told us one thing this week, it’s that employers’ claims to “diversity” are really just claims, nothing more.