Agencies are sitting on the next pay gap time bomb

This article originally appeared on PR Week

Why agencies are sitting on the next pay gap time bomb

Comms professionals should be sounding the warning bell and providing counsel on what the ethnicity pay gap consultation and its findings could mean.

Cindy Gallop writes in her Twitter biography: 'I like to blow shit up'. At last week's Inclusion, Diversity and Equality in Advertising Summit in Toronto I was pleased to inform her that, even if I agree with the sentiment, as a Muslim I don't have the privilege to say such things.

In today’s climate I have to be very careful about any war-like references I make, and so I don’t use the words ‘time bomb’ lightly in the headline.

You may have heard that Theresa May has announced the Race at Work Charter. 

Developed jointly by the Government and Business in the Community (BITC), it commits businesses to a set of actions designed to transform the recruitment and progression of ethnic minority employees.

It’s a real step forward and could be as divisive as Gender Pay Gap reporting, which completely shifted the narrative on equality for women in the workplace.

It’s reassuring for our industry to see that May appointed WPP’s Karen Blackett OBE as race equality business champion. 

She’s someone who has established an Inclusion Board at the holding group and states that she’s ‘committed to helping businesses address inequality at all levels’.

From experience, being from a minority presents a myriad of problems, not least for people of different ethnicities.

One problem can be something as simple as your name.

In conversation with another agency CEO last week, I retold a story from when I was an account executive.

A colleague and I created an experiment.

We took turns sending out similar releases to journalists and found his hit rate was unusually higher than mine.

I refuse to believe it was anything to do with our pitches.

It may have been because of the news agenda, but we couldn’t help but wonder if him being called Sam, which is both gender neutral, and implies he’s from the majority, made a difference to how receptive people were to responding.

From speaking to Sarah Garrett, who holds an MBE for her work in the diversity and inclusion space and heads up the Investing in Ethnicity and Race Awards, the Race at Work Charter is a step in the right direction; organisations are much further behind on collecting ethnicity data compared to gender.

It’s not mandatory to disclose ethnicity, and companies need to push for transparency in communicating the value and reasons for asking for it.

What’s more, the banding of ethnicity isn’t clear, and there needs to be consistency as to whether this includes non-white and white comparisons, or self-identifying markers.

For example, what if someone is mixed race but self identifies more with one of their ethnicities? Do they tick the ‘mixed race’ box, even if that isn’t how they see themselves?

These are systemic issues that businesses need to get to grips with - and fast.

As communications professionals we should be sounding the warning bell and providing counsel on what this consultation and the results could mean - particularly given how widely debated identity politics and migration are right now.

However, as of writing, not one PR agency is on the current list of signatories for the Charter - extremely worrying given the PRCA called 2018 a defining year for diversity in our industry. 

If we don’t now collectively sign up and take responsibility for sensitively tackling the barriers facing ethnic minority people in the workplace, then I predict things are only going to get very explosive. 

Asad Dhunna