In the wake of gender pay gap reporting laws, the government will consult over forcing thousands of businesses to disclose disparities between the pay packets of black, Asian and ethnic minority (Bame) employees and their white counterparts.
Only 3 per cent of employers measure their ethnicity and disability pay gap, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which warned that lack of meaningful data on diversity in the workplace could be holding people back.
The prime minister said black and ethnic minority workers too often “feel they’re hitting a brick wall” in their careers, as she also unveiled a new charter that would commit businesses to improve diversity in hiring practices and in senior positions.
It comes as Jeremy Corbyn announced plans to educate school children on colonialism and the legacy of the slave trade, as both party leaders made a pitch to appeal to a broader group of voters.
The move is a clear attempt by the prime minister to shift the focus away from Brexit to the domestic agenda after a reasonably successful party conference in Birmingham last week.
It also marks a return to her pledge to stamp out the “burning injustices” prevalent in British society, which she made in her first speech as leader on the steps of Downing Street.
Announcing the plans, Ms May said: “Every employee deserves the opportunity to progress and fulfil their potential in their chosen field, regardless of which background they are from, but too often ethnic minority employees feel they’re hitting a brick wall when it comes to career progression.
“That’s why I’m delighted to launch the Race at Work Charter, which gives businesses a clear set of actions to work towards in helping to create greater opportunities for ethnic minority employees at work.”
It follows the publication of the government’s racial disparity audit last year, which laid bare deep-seated inequalities including considerably higher unemployment rate among black, Asian and minority ethnic people than white British adults.
A government review by Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith in 2017 found greater workplace diversity could boost Britain’s economy by £24bn a year.
The prime minister has appointed MediaCom boss Karen Blackett as the government’s Race at Work Champion, while big employers such as NHS England, Standard Life Aberdeen, Saatchi & Saatchi and RBS have already signed up to the new charter.
Ms May said: “Our focus is now on making sure the UK’s organisations, boardrooms and senior management teams are truly reflective of the workplaces they manage, and the measures we are taking today will help employers identify the actions needed to create a fairer and more diverse workforce.”
Public services such as the NHS, the army and the police will also set out blueprints on how to boost diversity in senior roles.
Sandra Kerr, race equality director of Business in the Community, an outreach charity, said: “All organisations should recruit from the widest pool of talent and support progression.
“The Race at Work survey of over 24,000 employees showed that all too often ethnic minority staff are still encountering significant disparities at work.
“The Race at Work Charter will support leaders and line managers to take practical steps to tackle the barriers.”
The consultation, which is open until January 2019, will apply to firms with more than 250 employees, in line with mandatory gender pay gap reporting.
The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.