An Open Letter to #MeTooPay : Don’t Forget #PayBlackWomenToo
Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA & Dr Margareth Rungarara-Keenan
We begin this letter by commending you for being a pioneer member of the #MeTooPay movement. As one of the 116 signatories to the campaign, you have clearly demonstrated your determination to put an end to gender pay discrimination. As women who play leadership roles in some of the UK’s biggest organisations, we hope your collective voice gains the due attention it deserves. However, in the quest for #MeTooPay, women of colour and black women, in particular, are being excluded from the conversation. In short, #MeTooPay does not factor #PayBlackWomenToo hence it can be easily seen as a plea to white men to #PayMeTooForBeingWhite.
To recap, your movement was founded a couple of days ago in response to Stacey Macken (a white woman) successful employment tribunal case against her employer BNP Paribas. Macken, upon discovering that a male colleague was paid more than her for doing the same sort of work argued that she was discriminated against because of her gender. A signatory of the #MeTooPay campaign said in response to Macken’s plight, “For those of us that have been lucky enough to get into very senior positions in the public and the private sector, it’s so tempting to assume that this isn’t happening anymore. And it was a real wakeup call to all of us, to go: ‘Oh my goodness it really is’.” The #MeTooPay Financial Times advert stated, “We wish to say to Stacey Macken and all other professional women whose compensation is tainted by discrimination, we are on your side.” So far, so good.
However, in the course of analysing your campaign , we discovered that in agitating for equal pay, black women, appear to have been excluded from the dining table. We stand to be corrected, but our review of the racial composition of the signatories to the #MeTooPay campaign revealed that of the 116 signatories, there were 112 white women, 3 Asians and one black woman (See Appendix 1). We also reviewed the people it follows on Twitter to get an understanding of the people and organisations your movement interacts with. As at 3 October 2019, which was 24 hours after the launch of the movement, of the 101 people and organisations #MeTooPay followed on Twitter, there was only 1 black woman who it followed (see Appendix 2). Paradoxically, the UK population is 87% white and London, where most of the signatories are based, is populated by 40% people of colour. As the saying goes, charity begins at home. If you are really serious about getting equal pay for women, it is only fair and reasonable that the racial composition of your campaign should be more inclusive and the disparities that exist in the pay structure between white women and women of colour be addressed .
While there has been a lot of traction regarding pay discrimination between white men and middle-class white women holding the levers of economic power, there is little discussion regarding the pay inequality between black women and white women. According to Kathleen Henehan of the Resolution Foundation, “Almost all black and ethnic minority groups continue to face significant pay gaps, compared with white workers … what’s more, these pay penalties hold even after accounting for workers’ qualifications, experience and the types of jobs they do.”
The #MeTooPay hashtag which you have adopted was derived from the 2017 #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and discrimination inflicted on women, that was formed in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. However, if you study the historical origin of the term #MeToo , you will realise that it was founded by Tarana Burke, an black civil rights activist who began using the term in 2006 to raise awareness about the “Pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault in society.” In excluding black women from your movement, you have appropriated a slogan developed by a black woman, which is now used for the benefit of middle-class white women to the exclusion of black women.
But if the pay gap between women and men is eliminated, black and other women of colour will benefit , some of you may argue. We don’t believe that this trickle-down approach to pay discrimination will work. The evidence is clear to see that black women are grossly underrepresented in senior roles in corporate Britain. In our article titled, ‘Board diversity push leaves out women of colour’, which was published in the Financial Times, we noted, “The women who now hold the levers of power in corporate Britain are predominately white” and “Women of colour experience a double burden of racism and sexism that requires a fresh approach towards tackling gender inequality.”
Is it a case that all women are equal, but some women are more equal than others? When Stacey Macken’s case was covered in the media, you were all moved by her story and acted swiftly and within a month, you started this campaign. However, when the media reported Eniola Aluko’s, the former England international footballer’s case of racism against her coach and other staff of the English national team in 2017, the voices of the influential white middle-class women in sports, media, politics, arts and business were nowhere to be found. Likewise, Diana Abbott, UK’s first female black MP has been within the crosshairs of racists and sexists. According to Amnesty International, she received almost half (45.14%) of all abusive tweets in the run-up to the 2017 election. The study also revealed that black and Asian women MPs in Westminster (excluding Diane Abbott ) received 35% more abusive tweets than white women MPs. Despite this discrimination, there has been no campaign or hashtag created by middle-class white women in position in power to end the flow of racism directed at women of colour.
Lady Dido Harding , one of the #MeTooPay signatories who chairs NHS Improvement, which oversees NHS trusts in explaining the movement told the Guardian, “Efforts will be focused on ending gender pay discrimination, where women are paid less than male colleagues in the same roles.” Looking closer home, Lady Harding chairs an improvement unit in an organisation where despite 20% of nurses and 37% of doctors in the NHS coming from BME backgrounds, just 6% of senior and very senior managers in the NHS are from a BME background and just over 7% of NHS trust board members are ethnic minorities.
When we brought the issue of lack of racial gender diversity to the attention of over 300 of UK’s most successful middle-class white women in a report titled, ‘Has Corporate Britain Eclipsed Women of Colour and Endorsed White Matriarchy in the Quest For Gender Diversity’ there was no collective indignation about the racial disparity. We struggled to hear people say, “It was a real wakeup call to all of us”; “It’s just wrong”; “We’re frustrated to still read stories about women not getting the pay they deserve.” Neither did we hear any woman of colour say, “I am grateful for the growing network of strong women who are not afraid to speak out and support other women.” Rather, we were told to tell women of colour — to be patient; to go to better schools; to study more relevant courses; to network and to make their voices heard.
In conclusion, we have written this letter to bring to your attention the omission of women of colour in the gender pay gap advocacy. Since the key signatories of #MeTooPay hold leverage in key UK institutions, we urge you to be more inclusive from the onset of your campaign. Focusing solely on gender diversity and gender pay gap without considering racial diversity and ethnic pay gap leads to double discrimination for women of colour and the emergence of a white matriarchy. However, combining gender discrimination with racial discrimination will lead to women irrespective of their colour being treated equally. We trust you will choose the later , discard the former and be your sister’s keeper .
Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA
Dr Margareth Rungarara-Keenan
Appendix 1: Some #MeTooPay signatories and backers
Appendix 2 : Individuals & Organisations that #MeTooPay Follow on Twitter.