How to make sure you're not being paid less than your white colleagues

It is horrible to suspect that a person doing the same job as you is being paid more.

Not only is it demoralising and deeply unfair to think your company values another employee more than you, the implications are even worse if you suspect the reason for this is your skin colour.

Sadly, this is an all too common occurrence.

Research – exclusive to Metro.co.uk – revealed this week that Black, Asian and ethnic minority workers are being paid 16% less than their white colleagues – which could result in a loss of lifetime earnings of up to £255,000.

Hayley Bennett, an equality, diversity and inclusion consultant, was not surprised when she saw these figures. In fact, she has personal experience of this exact scenario.

‘I had noticed my white colleague seemed to be treated completely different to me,’ Hayley tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Despite having less experience, they were given the benefit of the doubt, but I had to keep proving myself.

‘One day, on a call with them, I was honest and they said they had noticed it too.

‘When I mentioned pay they were transparent with me and it was revealed I was being paid much less than them – exactly 16% less – despite being in the same role and I had more experience in the work.’

What can you do if you find yourself in Hayley’s situation? So often, salary information is deliberately hard to find within corporate companies, and employers will strongly discourage you from discovering what colleagues earn.

But could you actually get in trouble for asking your colleagues about their pay, or bringing it up with your manager?

The short answer is no.

Employees have the legal right to talk about pay if they choose to, and it’s illegal for employers to ban those discussions.

Thanks to the Equality Act of 2010, employees have the right to discuss salary for the purposes of collective bargaining or protection. This law means employers cannot discipline anyone for discussing their work pay, and employers can’t legally have any clauses in company contracts that stop workers from talking about their salaries.

So in strict legal terms, no, your employers can’t say you’re not allowed to talk about what you earn. But how do you bring up your suspicions without damaging your own career?

What to do if you suspect you’re being paid less than a white colleague

Hayley says it’s important to choose the right time to talk about pay with your manager.

‘This can sometimes be easiest when you are having an appraisal, Something you can ask is: “I want to check that my pay is comparable with my peers”. They may not be wholly honest with you, so the best option is to be honest with your colleagues and ask them.

‘If you don’t feel like you can do that, you could see if you can research similar roles and their salaries, or see what salaries vacancies are being advertised at.’

She adds that if you are going through a situation like this, it’s also important to think about how you can support your wellbeing. Don’t underestimate how upsetting and emotionally draining this process can be.

‘It will have you second-guessing your worth and your ability to do your job, which can damage your confidence long-term,’ says Hayley.

‘The injustice can really hurt.

‘I remember being in tears to my mum and trying to get her to help me understand how someone could undervalue me simply because of my race.’

Ash Ahmed is an ED&I and wellbeing consultant and she says that suspicions around inequality and racial pay gaps can be extremely ‘triggering’ for ethnic minority employees.

‘It may also impact their wellbeing,’ Ash tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Often, too many people are afraid to challenge their pay and continue to suffer in silence. In moments like that, its important to ask yourself whether this job is worth it, and to decide whether its time to move to an organisation that will value you and compensate you fairly.’

Ash adds that you should be prepared for the uncomfortable feelings that will likely arise if you do discover that a colleague is being paid more than you for no good reason

‘Knowing people’s pay and knowing the differences could lead to jealousy or animosity towards the person being paid more, but it’s important to recognise that this is not your colleague’s fault,’ says Ash.

‘The pay discrepancy shouldn’t be held against them. This does not mean you should then approach your manager and tell them what your colleague has said, instead you could have a conversation with your manager and ask; “Am I being paid fairly in comparison to my colleagues doing the same job?”‘

What are your rights as an employee?

‘Unequal pay on the grounds of a protected characteristic like race is illegal,’ says Hayley. ‘The difficulty is that this can be really hard to prove and often organisations put things in place to cover their tracks.

‘This can include things like slightly changing the job title, or justifying it based on a qualification or very specific experience.’

Ultimately, Hayley says that you will likely know if you are being underpaid because of your race, because the same attitudes will likely be clear in other ways that you are treated by your bosses.

‘You may notice you are being overlooked, or that your white colleague is given special treatment,’ says Hayley.

If you do bring this up to a manager and you feel they aren’t going to do anything about it – there are other things you can try.

‘You could always approach HR and make them aware that this is a matter you have bought to your manager already, but would also like for them to be aware and take action,’ says Ash.

‘The role of HR is always to do right by the employees as well as protect the business, therefore they will take necessary action to resolve the matter.’

How can you protect yourself if you choose to question an issue of inequality?

Your employer or manager might become defensive if you bring up this issue, or try to make you the problem. It’s best to be prepared for any kind of hostile or accusatory response when walking in to these interactions.

‘When I questioned my pay inequality, the first thing the director tried to do was accuse me of breaching access to personal data – so I had to be honest in where I got my information from,’ explains Hayley.

‘It might feel like you are dropping your colleagues in it, but you can protect yourself by being honest about the conversations you have had. Hopefully your colleague will be supportive and understand their role as an ally.

‘Other things you can do to protect yourself is to speak to your union, or get legal advice. Do your research to ensure you know your rights, and also what kind of pay you are expected to have in your industry. This can help you negotiate a pay increase too.’

Ultimately, this should not be a fight that minority employees have to shoulder.

A system of deep-rooted, systemic inequality and racism allows the racial pay gap to exist, and it should be the responsibility of policy makers, regulators and business owners to ensure this doesn’t happen.

So, if you do find yourself in this situation, and you don’t have the energy to fight – walking away is OK too, if that is an option for you.

How do you know if it is time to simply leave and walk away from a role? Hayley says you should trust your gut feeling.

‘Unequal pay is truly a red flag and often signals a culture which lacks transparency and trust, as well as institutional racism,’ she says.

‘Sometimes mistakes are made by companies because their processes are flawed, but if you honestly feel that you cannot stay any longer, then walking away will not be such a bad thing. You cannot thrive in an environment that mistreats and undervalues you.

‘Unfortunately it can often seem easier to leave your organisation then to take this matter further through an internal process or a tribunal. In my situation it was severely impacting my wellbeing, so I just needed to get out. It was the right decision for me at the time, but looking back I do wish I had held them accountable.’

The State of Racism

This series is an in-depth look at racism in the UK.

We aim to look at how, where and why individual and structural racism impacts people of colour from all walks of life.

It’s vital that we improve the language we have to talk about racism and continue the difficult conversations about inequality – even if they make you uncomfortable.

We want to hear from you – if you have a personal story or experience of racism that you would like to share get in touch: metrolifestyleteam@metro.co.uk

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Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.

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