Motherhood penalty worse for women from different ethnic minorities

A new report from the Fawcett Society looks at the difference in motherhood gaps for women from different ethnic minorities.

Mother and baby holding hands


The motherhood pay penalty has affected mothers from some minority groups significantly more than other mothers, with lasting effects into old age, according to a Fawcett Society report.

The report, based on the Labour Force Survey and a comprehensive review of the literature, looks at the data for eight ethnicity groups. While mothers from all ethnic groups have suffered a pay gap which is not narrowing compared to dads, mothers from certain groups faced bigger gaps than others. Mothers of Chinese and Black Caribbean heritage did not experience a penalty in hourly pay compared to women of the same ethnicity with no dependents, but those from Indian and White heritage experienced a 1% gap, mothers from Black African heritage experienced a 10% gap and those from Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage a 13% gap.

Fathers, however – except those of Black African heritage – experienced a positive pay gap, with dads from a Bangladeshi or Pakistani heritage experience a 7% gap in their favour while fathers of Black Caribbean and Chinese heritage experienced a 24% positive pay gap.

The research found the greatest driver of the motherhood pay penalty is due to a reduction in hours worked, which is often associated with poor-quality part-time work. Whilst mothers of all ethnicities move into part-time work at similar rates, says the report, there are stark differences by ethnicity in the number of mothers who leave the work force. The employment rate of white mothers is five percentage points lower than that of white women without children, whilst women of Indian, Black African, and Chinese heritage see penalties of up to 11 percentage points. Black Caribbean mothers see a marginal increase in employment rates compared to women without children. The largest difference – 17 percentage points – is in employment rates of mothers (38%) and non-mothers (55%) in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi group.

The report states that Black and minoritised women face additional challenges to their career progression at every step of the way, from bias and discrimination in pregnancy to parental leave due to the kind of jobs they are in, for instance zero hours or temporary work. Women of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage are the least likely to receive supplementary maternity pay from their employers. Women from minority groups are also significantly less likely to take up subsidised childcare places for three and four year olds.  The report says that whilst around 90% of white British parents take up free early years places for 3–4-year-olds, only three quarters of Black parents and two thirds of parents of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage do so. It says the reasons for this include a lack of cultural awareness and inclusivity embedded within the scheme.

Flexible working is also an issue, including lack of career progression for many part-time workers. The report says over double the proportion of mothers of Black African heritage compared to white mothers reported that they had no access to flexible arrangements. Moreover, Black and minoritised workers are more likely to consider leaving their jobs due to lack of flexibility than white workers (32% as opposed to 21%).

The report says mothers of Black African, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi heritage also find it more difficult to re-enter the job market. In addition, Black and minoritised women are more likely to be in insecure work such as self-employment – one in seven compared to one in 10 white women. Nearly a third of Black and minoritised women in insecure work say they wish to move to a permanent role.

The Fawcett Society recommends an awareness-raising programme to inform parents from different ethnic groups of their entitlements, including a campaign in a range of languages and formats, proper funding of culturally inclusive childcare through training of early years staff and changes in the early years’ curriculum,  a commitment to imposing an advertising duty on employers to include reasonable flexible working options in job advertisements and the launch of public campaigns to raise awareness of the business benefits of flexibility to employers.

The report also calls for employers to ensure that flexibility is viewed as the default working practice, with advertisements offering flexible options, such as compressed hours, job sharing and working remotely. It also says employers should ensure a transparent request process with decisions not at the behest of individual managers, monitor requests for flexibility and follow through with action plans to ensure that all groups of employees are fairly treated and ensure transparent promotion processes with clear criteria for promotion.

In addition, the report calls for the Government to make ethnicity pay gap reporting mandatory for employers with 50+ employees, with a requirement for employers to publish action plans to tackle gaps and set up a government-backed, business-led initiative to focus employer efforts to tackle ethnicity and gender pay gaps. There are a series of other recommendations for employers ranging from reporting on and taking action on ethnicity and gender pay gaps to tackling recruitment bias and promoting career progression for Black and minoritised workers.

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