Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is a Reminder that Women of Color are Disproportionately Affected by Gender Bias
August 7 is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, meaning that Black women had to work until this date (an additional seven months) to make as much as the average man did in the 2017 calendar year. This year equal pay day for all women fell on April 10th, but the situation of gender bias is much worse for Black women. A recent survey by SurveyMonkey, Lean In, and the National Urban League demonstrated that 50% of Americans are unaware of the pay gap between Black women and white women. However, the statistics speak for themselves.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that we will have to wait until the year 2059 to see the gender pay gap closed. Black women will have to wait until 2124. When the Equal Pay Act was passed by John F. Kennedy Jr. in 1963, women on average were making 54 cents to each dollar a man made. Over 50 years later, while there has been some progress, a large gender pay gap still remains with women making approximately 80 cents to the dollar. Black women make 63 cents to the dollar, further highlighting the fact that women of color are disproportionately affected.
Education has often been pointed to as a solution to narrowing the pay gap, but the data tells us it’s not enough. While increases in education are correlated with increases in earnings for both men and women, and there are more women than men getting graduate degrees, at all educational levels, the gap remains. In fact, the gap increases as education level increases for Black women. And white women earn more than Black women at all levels. When you factor in increased student debt from additional degrees as well as the inability to pay them off as quickly from lower earnings, it looks worse.
Although the situation is grim, there are several things that you can do to help improve matters.
- Raising your own awareness is a start, but make sure you’re also sharing this information. Talk to others in your workplace, in particular, hiring managers and leadership, to ensure they know the facts. Encourage them to audit their pay practices for equality and fairness. Remind them that being a fair and equitable employer is good not just for ethical reasons, but also for their bottom line.
- Decline to share salary history with potential employers (which, by the way, is currently illegal for employers to demand in many states). Ask for what you deserve and negotiate from there. The gender pay gap means that you almost definitely were paid less than you should have been at your previous job. That number is not a good indicator of what you should earn in the next one. Here are some ideas for how you can respond when faced with this question.
- Use the tools that exist when an incident of harassment or discrimination occurs at work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was established in 1965 and serves as the main agency investigating for workplace-related discrimination complaints. Make sure to file any incidents through this agency. All complaints result in subsequent time-consuming and potentially costly activities for the company while the EEOC carries out its investigation.
- If you are a white woman, be sure to acknowledge and use your privilege to ensure the voices of black women are being heard. Elevate them, make room for them, and take time to sit back and listen. Importantly, be open to feedback. A recent article by Robin DiAngelo on her experiences with white people handling diversity trainings is illuminating in this regard and worth a read.
- Consider organizations such as the AAUW (the American Association of University Women), that work to advance gender equity. They approach this issue through a variety of ways and can be a good resource for dealing with race and gender biases in the workplace.
Progress in Entrepreneurship
While the pay gap remains, it’s worth mentioning some exciting progress being made by Black women entrepreneurs. The growth rate of business ownership by Black women is higher than any other group in the country. From 2000 to 2012, the number of businesses owned by Black women increased by 179%. This is more than triple the 52% growth in business ownership of women as a whole. Additionally, this year 34 Black women have raised over $1 million from VC funding, three times the amount in 2016. And earlier this year Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital announced the “IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME fund” to raise $36 million specifically for investing in Black female founders. Supporting and investing in Black women is quite obviously a good thing. And all individuals, regardless of race or gender, can be part of spurring the change that is needed to eliminate the pay gap and increase equity for all.
Finally, check out Aleria’s list of awesome Black women you should know and update your Twitter feed. The list is always growing so if you know of someone, send in a nomination!
This article is published in partnership with Aleria, whose mission is to make corporate America and society as a whole more inclusive and equitable.