PwC pledges action after admitting BAME workers earn less. But what about other employers and Government?

The professional services firm pins the blame on not enough BAME staff in senior positions where pay and bonsues are higher 

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Monday 18 September 2017 09:11 BST
PricewaterhouseCoopers says black and minority ethnic workers earn less but wants to address the issue
PricewaterhouseCoopers says black and minority ethnic workers earn less but wants to address the issue (Reuters)

The most important step towards solving a problem comes in admitting you have one.

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ publicising the fact that its black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workers earn on average 12.8 per cent less than their white colleagues, and a startling 35.4 per cent less when it comes to bonuses, counts as that.

The firm says its analysis found that it pays workers in the same roles the same amounts. The disparity is caused by the fact that it has fewer BAME workers in the upper echelons of the business, where salaries, and especially bonuses, are a lot higher.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Last year, I revealed the results of a TUC study that found that the pay gap faced by black workers actually widens the more qualifications they have.

Graduates earned 23 per cent less. For those with A levels it was 14.3 per cent. For GCSE qualified workers the difference when compared to their white colleagues was 11.4 per cent. Only among unqualified workers, in jobs paying salaries at, or close to, the statutory minimum wage was there near equality.

The figures were less jarring when workers in the wider BAME group were considered. But the disparity was still there.

Based on that, it would actually be quite surprising if PwC hadn't found it had an issue.

What is important is that the firm now says that it is its intention to address the issue.

“Our priority is to do all we can to retain our junior BAME talent and improve rates of progression to senior management levels. We’re aiming to achieve this through stronger accountability across our business to deliver our gender and ethnicity targets, monitoring our pipelines on a more regular basis and making sure that all of our people can benefit from the most stretching of client engagements,” says Kevin Ellis, chairman and senior partner.

Talk, of course, is cheap, but PwC can point to a fall in its gender pay gap, which, at a still too high 13.7 per cent in 2017, had fallen from 15.2 per cent in 2016, as evidence that it is serious about tackling issues of diversity in its workplace.

The risk of failing to show a similar improvement with BAME staff the next time the figures are published should serve to concentrate minds among the firm’s top brass, which is why publication should serve as a useful exercise.

It is not just in the interests of social justice for them to address the issue. It is in the interest of their business, which is rather obviously failing to effectively develop bright, talented, BAME workers to the extent that it should.

The next job for Mr Ellis is, of course, to publish similar figures relating to employees with disabilities.

As for other employers with the same, and perhaps even wider, wage gaps (which the TUC’s study would suggest they have), they now need to think seriously about joining in. That, by the way, includes the public sector.

Perhaps part of the reason the Government doesn’t mandate that these figures are published by all employers is that they might not cast too favourable a light on the performance of ministers, and their departments, when it comes to the issue. If I’m wrong about that, they could always step forward with the evidence.

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