Inequality report draws criticism over failure to back mandatory ethnicity pay reporting

The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has drawn criticism for its failure to acknowledge institutional racism and to promote mandatory reporting on ethnicity pay gaps.

African American businesswoman with colleague


The Government-backed Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has been criticised after it failed to back mandatory publication of ethnicity pay gaps and refuted the idea of systemic racism.

The Commission was created by Prime Minister Boris Johnson after the Black Lives Matter protests last summer and attracted scepticism from the offset due to the appointment of Munira Mirza, the head of the No 10 policy unit who is known to oppose the idea of institutional racism, to lead it.

Its report acknowledges that “impediments and disparities do exist”, but says they are “varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism”. Moreover, it suggests that these are more to do with perception. It adds: “Too often ‘racism’ is the catch-all explanation, and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined.” Moreover, it says some white British communities are ‘stuck’ and need support.

It recommends that employers move away from funding unconscious bias training towards sponsorship and a focus on training opportunities and says that ethnicity pay gaps should not be compulsory. However, if employers choose to publish their pay gaps, it says they should “also publish a diagnosis and action plan to lay out the reasons for and the strategy to improve any disparities”. It says: “Reported ethnicity pay data should also be disaggregated by different ethnicities to provide the best information possible to facilitate change [and] Account should also be taken of small sample sizes, in particular, regions and smaller organisations.”

It wants the Government to work alongside academics and other experts “to develop resources and evidence-based approaches” in order to improve equality within the workplace. There are detailed suggestions in the report for what programmes could be more effective than unconscious bias training. It states: “The Commissioners were not impressed by those companies that pointed to their ‘unconscious bias’ training as proof of their progressive credentials. We were impressed by more conscious attempts to foster talent from a wide range of backgrounds.”

One suggested idea is “the use of sponsorship to ensure wider exposure of ethnic minority individuals to their peers, managers and other decision makers.” Another is “training and routine skills support for all employees in their professional and personal lives . . . which could disproportionately benefit more disadvantaged groups.”

The report also discourages the use of the term BAME. It says: “The term ‘BAME community’ feels like a group that is held together by no more than what it is not.”

The report also criticises the ‘negative’ approach of calls for decolonisation of the education curriculum and says this should be replaced with a focus on a more positive approach to Britain’s influence on the colonies. It says the media focuses too much on negative stories and not enough on ‘success’ and it outlines three main routes for progress based on building trust, fairness and innovation.

Sandra Kerr, Race Director at Business in the Community, criticised the report, saying: “There are some fine words in this report, but nothing which we haven’t seen before. Instead, we have 260 pages of jam tomorrow. We don’t need 24 new recommendations; we need action on those set out in the 2017 McGregor-Smith Review. Most of all, we need the introduction of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting. The report doesn’t paint the full picture: it highlights how much better some ethnic minority groups do in education, but not that this fails to translate into senior representation in the workplace. And whilst discouraging the term ‘BAME’ is not bad, it doesn’t tackle the real issue revealed in our research: people are still just not comfortable talking about race.

“Frankly, I am not sure why they think that the UK is better than the rest of the world when we can’t even start something as basic as mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting. Voluntary action has led 635 companies to sign the Race at Work Charter, covering over 5.5 million employees – but now businesses are asking the government to step up. It’s time for the government to work with the groundswell of employers publishing voluntarily, not take credit for their hard work. The Commission has missed its opportunity, but I hope the Prime Minister does not. The business world is watching.”

BITC and the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development have today issued a new practical guide – Meeting the BITC Race at Work Charter – to support organisations pledging to sign BITC’s Race at Work Charter to combat inequalities and improve inclusion among their employees.

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