Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is deliberately separate from the Spring Equal Pay Day. It is held at this time of year as it marks the amount of additional time it takes for a black woman to earn the same amount of income a man earned the previous year.
Though we see Black and African-American women succeeding in entrepreneurship endeavors, job security and homeownership, a large number of people are unaware of the pay gap that exists. Lean In, an organization committed to creating equality for women worldwide, conducted research in partnership with the National Urban League. It was discovered that one out of three Americans were not aware of the pay gap between black women and white men, and half of Americans were unaware of the gap between black women and white women. On average, black women are paid 38% less than white men and 21% less than white women. Let’s add some numbers for context – median wages for black women in the United States are $36,735 per year, compared to the median wages of $60,388 annually for white, non-Hispanic men. That’s a whopping difference of $23,653 each year, leaving black women with the inability to save, invest and often times provide basic care for their families. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, more than 80% of black women are key breadwinners for their households. Here are some shocking but truthful statistics based on the wage gap being eliminated. A black woman working full time, year-round would have enough money for approximately:
- Two and a half years of child care
- More than 2.6 additional years of tuition and fees for a four-year public university, or the full cost of tuition and fees for a two-year community college
- Nearly 17 additional months of premiums for employer-based health insurance
- 165 more weeks of food for her family (more than three years’ worth)
- More than 15 additional months of mortgage and utilities payments
- Enough money to pay off student loan debt in just over one year
Before we begin to unpack the complex issue of black women being overwhelmingly underpaid; we must take the time to understand how black women were treated and perceived during the institution of slavery. Black women were responsible for grueling physical labor while also serving as caretakers; often being stripped of their own personal rights to motherhood. The perception of black women during the slave era could have potentially been viewed as passive and meek due to the roles enforced by slave owners. While the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, it did not address the countless injustices to come. Segregation, amongst many other issues in America continued to be a driving force in the job opportunities and wages available. The increase of activism among the black community and the effects of wrongly portrayed events to media outlets resulted in black women being portrayed as overly assertive, aggressive and operating without constraint. These false ideals have transcended into the workplace, causing many incorrect biases toward black and African-American women.
In case you assumed black women furthering their education could rectify this issue, unfortunately it doesn’t. Research by Demos, an organization committed to economic justice and democratic reform completed a study discovering that the median white adult, high school dropout has 70% more wealth than the median black adult with some college education. This means relying solely on education to close the pay gap will not work for women, especially black women, who still trail behind in terms of wealth no matter how closely societal guidelines are followed.
Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords that are often used within companies to attract new talent and describe their current workforce. While diversity focuses on the range of human differences, The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines inclusion as “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.” In order for corporations to truly be inclusive, there must be an emphasis on salary equality while extending career advancement for all employees, including black women.
This brings us to answer a key question; how can black women and supporting allies aid in the efforts of closing the pay gap when the legacy of discrimination still exists?
Discuss unconscious bias in the workplace
Believe it or not, we all have adapted social stereotypes about certain groups of people that are formed outside of our conscious awareness. To shed light on the various biases, it’s important to have conversations with coworkers, including management. Some employers host lunch and learns to tackle sensitive topics. Employee Resource Groups and Human Resources can also be leveraged to identify and strategically address these biases.
Have candid conversations with Human Resources and/or Management
Performance evaluation doesn’t have to be the only time you discuss salary merit with management. Speaking about compensation regularly will not only make you more comfortable with discussing what’s personally desirable for you; it makes management aware you’re vested in your own professional growth.
Document and quantify all work responsibilities
Quantifying your tasks equal increased value. The more you’re able to sell your achievements, the better position you’re in to negotiate salary, raises and/or bonuses. While this alone may not guarantee your desired pay requirements, it definitely aids in supporting conversations with HR, management or potential employers.
There are no quick fixes available to resolve the disparities black women face within the pay and wealth gap. Pay equality requires a committed and focused-based strategy that addresses both the gender and racial injustices that black women are forced to encounter every single day. Increased awareness through continuous education coupled with supporting the pay gap policies on a state, local and federal levels can continue to actively push for change. Equal pay for everyone results in a stronger economy while also giving wage owners to support themselves and the ones dear to them. Still not completely sold on why this is such a pressing issue? Imagine working seven extra months for free while your white, male co-workers were paid the same amount in 12 months. No matter your ethnic background, becoming an advocate is everyone’s responsibility.