WERKIN on it

To protect the identities of our roundtable participants, this is a stock photo :), but we promise the real event looked quite similar.

To protect the identities of our roundtable participants, this is a stock photo :), but we promise the real event looked quite similar.

How companies are tackling the ethniC pay gap: A WERKIN roundtable 

*Names of our guests have been changed for confidentiality

WERKIN is all about taking meaningful professional connections beyond the screen. WERKIN is building more inclusive workplaces through modern mentorship, online and offline. But how do we get there? How can mentorship both advance individual career progression, while also making workplaces more equitable for all? The first step is encouraging open discussions on what works and what doesn’t in this brave new world of diversity and inclusion.


In the spirit of moving beyond the screen, WERKIN recently hosted our first roundtable focused on closing the ethnic pay gap in the UK. inspired by Iris Bohnet’s wonderful book on evidence-based best practises for closing the gender pay gap, we wanted to know ‘what works’ from the perspective of HR and diversity and inclusion practitioners. That is, initiatives and policies that have been shown to create real change. As a company, WERKIN is turning good intentions into real action. We wanted our roundtable attendees to come away with real actions to introduce at their organisations.

On a temperate London summer morning, industry leaders from private and public sectors joined WERKIN in its HQ. It was fascinating to hear first-hand experiences from the attendees, and learn about their individual drives for changing the world by making it a fairer place. All attendees shared a vision of a workplace where people from all backgrounds and social groups would be interviewed, shortlisted, promoted or hired based on their skillsets and knowledge rather than their name or ethnicity. Below are some highlights and lowlights from the discussion.

For many, the ethnic pay gap was the tip of an iceberg of issues related to people from different communities, ethnicities or upbringings not feeling comfortable when searching for employment, when interviewing or in a room with their new colleagues on the first day of their new job. For example, Ashley* highlighted that she was passionate about eliminating this discomfort in her organisation and believed this should be done,

by empowering BAME talent to take the lead on work, be encouraged to have important – albeit sometimes difficult - conversations, to talk about opportunities, to be empowered on projects and by everyone taking accountability to change.” 

Bella* explained that one of the ways her organisation is encouraging accountability is through employee resource groups. Bella detailed Robert Rodriguez’s 4 C’s model that was adopted in her talent management role:

“We provide our employee resource groups with budget to empower them, however, we also provide guidelines to ensure accountability and guarantee relevant actions are being taken.”

Bella further explained that the 4 C’s represented,

“culture, communications, commerce and careers – we want the groups to raise awareness throughout the organisation by promoting events that are significant to them and by investing in structures that will boost their visibility as well as accommodate their career goals.” 

Hayden* expressed that “the word that really stands out to me is ‘empower’ and nothing is more empowering than purpose.” Hayden detailed how in his own experiences, he was constantly learning things about communities that he thought he knew well, and that he gained those valuable insights through focus groups.

Continuing the discussion around empowering employee resource groups, Ashley outlined one of the ways in which her organisation had initiated change.

We hosted a two day course – very structured with the clear intention of reducing biases and boosting the sense of inclusion among BAME staff but when the course started, we found that people just wanted to have honest, open conversations – some very emotional. These conversations needed to be had so we spent two days with people just talking to each other as humans in a safe space.”

Ashley mentioned that she felt this was the start of an amazing new era for her organisation, “we want to be a world class organisation when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but we are at the start of our journey and have a lot of work to do.” She added that a crucial part of tackling the ethnic pay gap was leadership support. Her CEO is an advocate for change and is spending resources and time to ensure the company is using forward-thinking initiatives and policies to close the pay gap, “We published our ethnicity pay gap in 2018 – that’s the first time we’ve done that,” Ashley shared with the group,

“As you know, it is a legal requirement to publish gender pay gaps but ethnicity pay gap publishing was a voluntary move by us as we hope to create a transparent and honest culture internally and to shift the perception of our company externally also.” 

Throughout the discussion, people felt emotional with regard to tackling the ethnic pay gap or discussing the lack of their community’s representation in an organisation. Rhea* shared her personal experiences and outlined how in her previous role, she had organised an event to discuss diversity, provide support and enable topic-based storytelling, only to find that “people walking in to the room were ready for a fight” and “at the start it was emotive.” Rhea tried to overcome this by inviting a BAME industry leader to share her story and motivate people to see beyond what they knew.

So how can organisations find and implement best practices that have proven successful at other organisations?

“Data is the way forward - we need to be able to ask our BAME employees for their thoughts and experiences and structure our objectives around that,” according to Bella.

Hayden shared that,

“It’s about having the best pool of people to assess for the job, if that is 15 candidates from the same background, chances are that it’s not an accurate representation of the best talent out there.”

“There are a lot of talented people out there and they just need the representation – representation is key.”

Indeed, it’s about representation. It is about the full diversity of our communities being represented at all workplaces.

5 key takeaways: 

  • Once a method has been chosen to decrease the ethnic pay gap, advocacy or championing from senior stakeholders is proven to motivate people from different areas of the organisation to be engaged. 

  • There is a lack of data surrounding the results of different methods that have been applied at various organisations. Going forward, this can be improved by timely data collation, which in turn will provide a basis for statistical analysis.

  • No two organisations are the same and it is important to appreciate the layers within the BAME group. Focus groups help organisations gain valuable insight that can inform mentoring strategies. 

  • Representation is key in empowering BAME talent and through programmes, such as reverse-mentoring, underrepresented employees can gain essential developmental time with senior leadership.

  • Accountability is essential to decreasing the ethnic pay gap and creating diverse and inclusive organisations. This should be seen as a company-wide focus where everyone is accountable, not just one employee resource group. 

For more information about tech-enabled mentoring, please get in touch with WERKIN’s Frank Starling, Email: Frank.Starling@getwerkin.com or drop us a line.