It Is Time For Black Journalists To Talk About Payment

Can we undo the taboo that widens the racial pay gap?

By: Hannah Ajala

Over the past few months, I have been receiving more and more messages from other Black journalists about pay. Some are just starting out in their careers, others are more experienced. They’re all asking the same thing: what pay is good pay for a Black journalist?

Curious about the responses, I tweeted: “Discussing pay amongst the Black community in media…what is there to hide?”

As the founder of We Are Black Journos, I am acutely aware that with journalism being the predominantly white industry that it is (at least, in the Western world), many journalists of colour are hesitant to ask their boss—who is most likely white—about salaries. What if you are paid differently than your white counterpart? If you are, what is that based on? Is it years of experience? How they got the job compared to how you did? There are many indications that Black journalists do not know if they are being paid fairly or not—and the fact that they even have to wonder, is troubling enough on its own.

“I think the old adage that it’s impolite to talk about money definitely rings true when it comes to discussing salaries in the newsroom – and this is no different when it comes to Black journalists,” said Anthony, a multimedia producer who asked that his last name be withheld as he was discussing a sensitive work matter.

“Culturally, from an African or Caribbean perspective, It might be seen as taboo and impolite, particularly if you’re asking someone older and in a more senior position,” he continued.

“It may also be down to the fact that many Black journalists are in precarious situations when it comes job security and they might not want to rock the boat by seeming to appear “greedy” or a “trouble-maker” by discussing salaries in the workplace.”

When I’m organizing events and engaging in discussions with our thriving community of Black journalists, it is easy to forget that only 0.2 percent of journalists working in the United Kingdom are Black. But for many Black journalists working as one of the only, or the only Black journalist in these newsrooms, this makes it hard to discuss salary issues—particularly if there is a racial pay gap that needs to be discussed.

“I have had my fight over salary pay gap within my team, and until today there is still a gap. In fact, they sent me a survey about my pay gap grievance outcome and I am going to tell them what time it is on that survey,” said Yasmin, a television presenter.

“I honestly feel like it is a taboo for Black journos to share their salary because they know they are not yet on that white salary level when it comes to equal pay, and therefore they don’t want to reveal their income to another Black journalist. Pride comes with it,” she continued.

“I had a colleague who didn’t want to share their salary because the colleague thought it was a good deal compared to others and therefore it’s like “let’s not mention to my other Black colleagues so they don’t go and tell everyone I got lucky!”

The racial pay gap in the United Kingdom has been described as “stubbornly wide,” made worse by lacklustre efforts to recruit diverse staff, with many who are recruited leaving after just a short time working at the company. Who should be held to account for an issue that is clearly so systemic? As a journalist, I can see that we are barely represented in the journalism industry. It is on the gatekeepers to change the system to make sure that our multicultural society is represented in the media.

Part of the beauty of a community like We Are Black Journos is that we can share, learn, grow, advise and continue to take up space. But one of the most important topics—payment—can still be mired in taboos. Why is this?

“We don’t talk about salaries too much because I feel like we come from background of ‘what’s mine is mine’ and ‘what are you going to do with that information?” says Charles, a video journalist.

“I’m part of the Union, and I don’t know many Black people who are also in the Union. That would probably be a great place to discuss it too,” he continues. “Pride and jealousy I’d say are the main reasons we don’t talk about it enough.”

I rarely used to have conversations with Black colleagues about salaries. But after going freelance, I realized how important it is to be vocal, and transparent about finances—it is a huge part of having one another’s backs and empowering one another to keep pushing further in our careers; we have to start earning what we are worth.

“I don’t think it’s just a Black community thing. I think generally speaking, finances and money from the moment you start working you realise that salary/wages is not something that is spoken about,” says Santana, a social media producer, showing the range of opinions on this particular issue.

“In the UK, it’s a social norm that money is not spoken about in public. No one wants to find out they earn less than someone else especially in similar/same roles – I think there’s a sense of worth attached to how much you’re paid,” she continued. “I’ve personally never spoken about how much I earn with my colleagues, Black or not. I think I need to have a trusting relationship beyond we just work together to tell someone.”

Still, even though a lack of salary transparency—and taboos about discussing it—impact all journalists, Santana admits that Black journalist get the short end of the stick.

“I wish there was a way to be more transparent not for comparison’s sake but in order to make sure people are getting paid what they should be getting paid – as Black people tend to be the lower end.”

Clearly, as Black journalists, our thoughts and experience are different—but we could all benefit from more transparency in these conversations. For now, I will keep answering questions about rates and salaries honestly, and reviewing contracts of friends and colleagues to ensure that they’re being paid fairly. I hope that these conversations will add to the power of our community, and how we stand up for each other as we try to change the media for the better.