“What is happening? This is a posting for the same job as mine and it pays $10,000 more than I make?” That is the question I posed to my supervisor more than 20 years ago as a young Black female lawyer in what was considered a high-paying job in New York City. There was no good answer given, so I applied for the job. This was the first time I discovered the issue of pay inequity for Black women, and unfortunately, I went on to discover many examples throughout my career.
August 7 marks Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. The date symbolizes the additional 7-plus months a Black woman must work to make the same yearly salary that her white male counterpart earned the previous year. This day reminds us that while progress has been made to close the gender pay gap for women, that progress has not benefited all women.
New York serves as a useful example. The state has been a leader in closing the gender pay gap for New York women, who earn 89 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, exceeding the national average. Despite these advances, Black women in New York earn a mere 66 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, and this figure falls significantly below the national average, to 55 cents, if you are a Black woman working in New York City.
Across the United States, the gender pay gap for Black women persists at levels higher than that of their male counterparts and even of other women, raising the important question: why are women of color being left behind? Various factors are at play. Women of color are segregated into lower paying industries, such as fast-food service, retail, and domestic work; they are underrepresented in leadership roles; they are paid less regardless of whether they work in low or high paying jobs; and, as I experienced, unconscious bias continues to play a central role in compensation and hiring practices. Research has found that white applicants receive 36% more callbacks in job hiring than do African-American applicants.
Claiming success in closing the gender pay gap requires addressing the pay gap for ALL women, particularly women of color. And much work needs to be done in this area. On this Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, here are 5 recommendations for public officials, employers, and concerned citizens:
- Provide workplace opportunities for women of color. Opening up leadership and decision- making positions and pathways for women of color is essential to preventing discrimination in the workplace. Like New York’s 21 in ’21 initiative, which seeks to elect at least 21 women to city council by 2021, employers should set goals to advance diversity in the workplace and to diversify their staff and leadership. Having diverse organizational leadership helps catalyze the necessary culture shift to elevate women of color. Other workplace opportunities should include skill-building workshops and access to training, education, and job networks.
- Evaluate and address unconscious bias. The numbers make clear that we have a problem with unconscious bias in our workplaces. To address this bias, employers should be required to evaluate, train, and hire in a way that aims to identify and eliminate this bias.
- Build more comprehensive, intersectional fair pay legislation. Existing equal pay legislation includes too many loopholes that create insurmountable burdens for women and allow employers to rationalize systemic inequality by relying on previous salaries. To make meaningful progress, employers should be required to disclose salaries by gender, race, and ethnicity, so that we know where the problems lie. Additionally, employers should no longer be permitted to request and rely upon an employee’s previous salary to set future salaries, a practice known to perpetuate gender and racial discrimination. New York should join others to lead the way on these initiatives. In the meantime, employers should take these steps on their own. For example, the Salesforce CEO evaluated wages of his employees by both race and gender at the end of each quarter to check for bias or discrimination in pay. When he found that problematic gaps existed, his company invested $3 million to close the gap.
- Increase wages for women of color. This starts with increasing the minimum wage and eliminating the sub-minimum wage. Women of color continue to be overrepresented in minimum and subminimum wage jobs and, as a result, are more likely to live in poverty.
- Shine the Light on Black Women. Whether by contacting your representative, writing an article or blog post, or discussing the issue with those around you, every individual has the ability to bring more visibility to the persistent and egregious pay disparity for women of color. Use the resources you have at your fingertips to start that conversation.
In the meantime, remember that equal pay days for Native American and Latina women don’t take place until September and November, respectively. If we account for the intersectional nature of pay inequality in the United States, factoring in ALL women, we don’t truly achieve equal pay until November 2.
Carol Baldwin Moody is President and CEO of Legal Momentum. Legal Momentum Summer Intern Akanksha Ray also contributed.