Are You Paid According To Your Skin Colour?
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Are You Paid According To Your Skin Colour?

Are You Paid According To Your Skin Colour?

Asians can expect to earn 26 per cent less than Westerners according to the Gulf Business Salary Survey.


So the results are in. And after calculating the data from six countries, the Gulf Business Salary Survey averages are as controversial – and chastening – as ever.

I’ll let you in on a secret. I had a conversation with the Gulf Business team last month about how we should do the salary survey.

“We shouldn’t do it by origin anymore, should we?” someone said.

In fact, that person was me.

The Gulf Business Salary Survey has become something of an institution over the last ten years, but now it was time for it to change – including the way we processed the data.

After all, I’ve changed many things in the magazine since I joined three years ago. And to sift the data by origin, well, it’s just racist, isn’t it?

I was met with a chorus of shaking heads from my redoubtable team.
“We can’t.”
“Why not?”
“Because the recruitment agents said the data will be skewed.”

After scratching our heads back and forth, we agreed that we must provide the data in its purest form. Ugly or not – the figures don’t lie.

So, just as the last ten years, the survey was split into three distinct categories – Asian, Western and Arab. And I have to say we made the right decision to publish it that way.

While our report may assist some readers in gauging where they sit in on the pay scale – more profoundly, it highlights a continuing and extraordinary pay divide between different nationalities across all six countries.

On average, if you’re an Asian in a professional job in the GCC, you can expect to earn 26 per cent less than a Westerner who is doing exactly the same job as you. And if you’re an Arab you can expect to 15.7 per cent less than your Western colleague.

Strikingly, it is in the UAE – the most ostensibly modern of the six Gulf states – that the race chasm is at its widest.

The average monthly salary for a Western expatriate in the UAE is $11,936, 34.8 per cent higher than an Asian expat pay of $8,853, or 15 per cent higher than the $10,363 average Arab wage.

In a country that is continually announcing strides towards modernity, it’s simply startling that senior professionals are stamped by their origin like cattle.

The very fact that recruitment agencies are able to provide significant amounts of data sorted by origin is in itself alarming (we surveyed four Gulf companies).

And, while I believe that it’s deplorable to pay people based on origin, it’s clear that there are thousands of HR managers who think nothing of branding their candidates with different price tags based on the country they call home.

In fact, some HR managers argue that wage rates across the Gulf are in line with ‘home country salaries’ for respective nationalities.

Ah, you’ve probably heard that one before. This one has always confused me.

It goes a little like this: “I’m from England, so it costs me more to buy a house in the UK than it costs an Asian to buy a house in India.” It’s a lazy, flawed and, frankly entitled, argument. We’re all living here in Dubai, with the same exorbitant cost of living, and we’re all doing the same jobs par for par.

Employees should be paid what they are worth. Value is not inherent in skin colour or gender. And worth must come only from an employee’s dynamism, skills, and knowledge – or we’re in danger of fooling ourselves into thinking we’re living in a civilised society.

Next year, how do you think we should crunch the data for the salary survey? I’m hoping, sooner rather than later, this won’t be a question I even need to ask.

Alicia Buller is the editor of Gulf Business.

The survey was compiled based on inputs provided by four regional recruitment companies including Nadia,, BAC Middle East and Mackenzie Jones Middle East.

For the full survey, pick up the March edition of Gulf Business, available now.

READ MORE: Revealed: GCC Asian Expats Earn 26% Less Than Western Peers

READ MORE: Revealed: Qatar, Saudi CEOs On Highest GCC Salaries


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