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Ethnicity motherhood penalty study released by Fawcett Society

Across all ethnicities, mothers earn an average of 45% less than women without children, but the report found there are greater gaps and additional barriers for mothers from minoritised ethnicities.

Julie Rose, one of the report’s authors, said minoritised mothers face compounded disadvantages in their hourly pay, hours worked, career progression and their ability to fund retirement.  

Speaking at the launch event, Rose said: “Minoritised mothers face the compounded barriers of the ethnicity pay gap, gender pay gap and motherhood pay gap. It’s all stacked on top of each other. This is why it’s so important to talk about. 

"There’s lots of research about mothers and lots about women and race, but not much on the three together. That’s the jigsaw we’ve tried to do here.” 

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Mothers of all ethnicities – except women of Chinese and black Caribbean – heritage earned less per hour compared with women of the same heritage who do not have children.

Between 2019-2020, the most recent years included in the analysis, mothers of Chinese and Indian heritage rates of hourly pay were £22.50 and £18.20 per hour respectively.  

Mothers of black Caribbean and white heritage earn less, at £15.30 per hour and £15.10 per hour. 

The lowest hourly pay was received by mothers of Pakistani or Bangladeshi and black African heritage (at £13.20 per hour and £12.40 per hour).  

Shabna Begum, interim co-CEO at race equality think tank Runnymede Trust described her experience as a mother of Bangladeshi heritage in the workplace. 

Speaking at the event, she said: “This is our lives and livelihoods. Research has found 75% women of colour experience racism in the workplace and as a mother of two children I can see how the racism and the motherhood penalty has impacted on my career. 

“I don't want to be a victim, and frankly no one in that report wants to be a victim, we just want to be paid fairly.” 

While 5% of white women leave the workforce when they have children, 11% of Chinese women and 17% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women do the same. 


Pregnancy discrimination

The report also examined pregnancy discrimination experienced by women of different ethnicities: 11% of mothers felt they were forced out of their jobs because of pregnancy and 77% claim they were unsuccessful at job interviews due to being pregnant. 

However, the report found pregnant women from black and minoritised groups had to complete 60% more applications than white women to get an interview. 

Pakistani and Bangladeshi women were also least likely to receive paid parental leave, partially due to a higher number of women in these groups being in insecure work. 

The report also found a gap between childcare by ethnicity: 90% of white British parents take up free childcare places for three- or four-year-olds, compared with 66% of Pakistani parents. 

Flexible work

There is also an ethnicity gap in access to flexible work: 19% of black African mothers reported they had no access to flexible work when their child was nine to 10 months old compared with 7% of white mothers. 

This also has an impact on pension savings, with women having an average of £7,000 less in their pensions than men.

It said this issue is particularly acute for mothers of those ethnicities that were most disadvantaged by the motherhood pay penalty throughout their careers, as many will not be entitled to join pension schemes because of the insecure nature of their work.  

Pensions can also be affected by changing jobs regularly or the reduction in career progression and need to work part time. 


Report recommendations

The Fawcett Society made a number of recommendations to the government to solve the motherhood ethnicity penalty, including more cultural inclusivity training for childcare workers and launching public campaigns on the benefits of flexible working to employers. 

Shabna Begum, interim co-CEO of the Runnymede Trust, criticised the government for going back on promises to make ethnicity pay gap reporting mandatory, instead publishing voluntary guidance. 

She said: “We have to be frank that the current government have reneged on their policies and voluntary guidance just isn't good enough. That’s why we all need to look at how we can influence and change things outside the policy system. 

“If the policy makers aren’t listening, what can organisations and employers do?” 

The Fawcett Society recommended employers introduce ethnicity pay gap reporting and take initiatives to ensure fair and transparent promotion processes and handling of flexible working requests. 

Melissa Blissett, senior consultant in pay gap analytics at Barnett Waddingham, said employers should use the report to investigate inequality in their workforce. 

“Employers should be using this to look in the mirror and say ‘Are we falling into this gap?’. The problem is, many employers think discrimination doesn't happen here – but then where is it? 

“I recommend employers start by trying to disprove the fact there is discrimination at work. And the good news is many employers have decided that they will report on the ethnicity pay gap before it is mandatory.” 

Dianne Greyson, founder of the #EthnicityPayGap campaign, said the first step to meaningful pay gap reporting is encouraging employees to disclose relevant data. 

She said: “The problem is, people are scared that information about their ethnicity will be used against them. But I promise you, if you tell them what this information is for, then of course they will tell you, because they want to be paid fairly.  

“It’s about trust at the end of the day. People need to know this will help, not harm them.” 

Employers should use employee data as thoroughly as possible, added Blissett. 

She said: “Employers have heaps of data and they really need to use it. They should report the pay gap breakdown by age, department, locations, etc, and this will help action planning be more precise and effective. A lot of employers have pension data, so they can look at the pension gap. 

“Any significant gaps within the same pay grade should be a red flag. We also find where performance is less measurable, bias begins to creep in. There is usually less of a gap in the sales department than there will be in marketing, for example. 

“If you are doing a pay gap review, why not look at pay in conjunction with wellbeing as well. This will really help decipher what women are experiencing at work.”