Ethnic minority workers far less likely to receive pay rises than white counterparts, research warns

Experts say representation is a ‘fraction’ of improving inclusion, as report finds employees from minority ethnic groups are dissatisfied with salaries and distrustful of leaders

Black professionals are far less likely than their white counterparts to receive pay rises, a study has found, with other minority ethnic groups also citing unhappiness with their pay.

In a survey of 7,500 professionals, conducted by Robert Walters, two in five (42 per cent) black professionals said in the last year they had not received a pay increase after negotiation – double the number of white employees. This increased to three in five (63 per cent) black women.

The research, part of the Driving Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace report, found that among those who did receive a salary increase after negotiations, black professionals were the least likely to be awarded the raise they had asked for. Just one in five (21 per cent) black professionals were given at least 75 per cent of the raise they had requested, compared to a third (35 per cent) of white professionals.

Among those who did not attempt pay negotiation, the research found the concern that employers would not agree to a pay rise was a larger deterrent for black employees than white employees (37 compared to 23 per cent respectively).

The report highlighted that a third (34 per cent) of black professionals actively distrusted management and senior leadership to ‘do what is right’ for them, increasing to more than half (54 per cent) of black women.

The report also found high levels of salary dissatisfaction among black and ethnic minority professionals.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

Half of black African employees (50 per cent) were unhappy with their salaries, the largest percentage of the groups polled. This was followed by Bangladeshi (46 per cent), black Caribbean (45 per cent), Indian (41 per cent) and Pakistani employees (40 per cent).

Habiba Khatoon, director at Robert Walters, said it was clear there were “failures” in the workplace that stemmed from a lack of “effective inclusion”. She urged employers to take a “more holistic approach” to inclusion, looking at both company culture and policies.

“Yes, representation is important, but it is just one fraction of what companies need to be doing to improve diversity and inclusion,” Khatoon said. “It’s one thing to offer underrepresented groups a seat at the table, but this only works if it coincides with them having a voice”, she said.

Nic Hammarling, partner and D&I specialist at Pearn Kandola, warned the delay to mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting was having “a profound impact on not just how businesses behave but society too – as people pay attention and respond to what the government is taking seriously”.

She added that, while analysis was still in its early stages, the pandemic has had macro and societal-level implications on inclusion and diversity, citing both an increase in anti-Chinese prejudice on an international scale and the disproportionate share of childcare between different socioeconomic groups and genders.

This was seen in the reports, which found that the number of Bangladeshi professionals who cited job security as the biggest concern over the past had quadrupled. This figure had also doubled among black professionals.

There were also issues that affected some groups more than others. Professional women with Asian backgrounds felt the least understood by managers on issues of family and culture, for example, while professionals with Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds were least likely to know how to negotiate pay increases.

However, one positive found by the report was that white professionals’ engagement in employer-led diversity initiatives increased by more than half – albeit from a low baseline – rising from 11 per cent in 2019 to 18 per cent in 2020.

Similarly, almost a third (31 per cent) of white professionals stated they did not ever intend to get involved with inclusion and diversity initiatives – a decrease of 11 percentage points compared to 2019, suggesting a growth in awareness and more widespread conversation.

Sandra Kerr, race equality director at Business in the Community, has called for business leaders to listen and be inclusive rather than dismissing or diminishing something they do not understand, while reflecting on the death of George Floyd one year on and the impact it has had on British businesses.

“We need leadership that is no longer comfortable or satisfied making decisions that impact black people and those with any diverse ethnic background without consultation, without inviting them into the room so that their voices and perspectives can be heard,” she said. “The business leaders that remain curious, courageous and committed to act are the leaders to follow today.”