Despite the United States touting itself as the bastion of freedom and equality, women in this country — despite comprising 50.8 percent of the population — have always found themselves in the position of having to fight for salary and wages comparable to men.
A range of studies show some progress, but stubborn racial and gender wage gaps persist in the United States. Often, researchers point to disparities in education, the fact that many African-American women and other women of color are clustered at the lower end of the pay scale and that the minimum wage hasn’t been increased since 2007 as factors contributing to the wage gap. But what’s often downplayed or ignored is the racism and sexism that’s also at play.
Black women sit at the nexus of race and gender and are buffeted by the twin spectres of these “isms”, and struggle upstream against a current of prejudice and bias which is compounded by gender and race. This intersectional discrimination exacerbates those gender and race gaps, stymies Black women’s ability to access educational opportunities, and has a pervasive and corrosive impact on their careers and career advancement, experts say.
The wage gap has real-world consequences.
Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever said that over their lifetimes, Black women stand to lose between $800,000 and $1 million because of these disparities.
“While the gender pay gap is an issue for all women, it is an especially wicked problem for black women,”said Dr. Jones-DeWeever, a women’s empowerment expert, international speaker and diversity consultant. “Black women are already economically disadvantaged and face double discrimination within the workforce. The additional burden of a 38 percent pay gap exacerbates the black wealth gap in America. It’s such an engrained problem. The typical Black woman will lose more than $800,000 over her lifetime, and in DC, the inequality means that Black women could lose more than $1 million.”
“A black woman has to earn a B.A. to earn what a white man with a GED would earn. It’s huge and really hardwired into the system,” continued Dr. Jones-DeWeever, who, among her many portfolios, mentors and instructs black women on how to navigate the shoals of business and achieve career and financial success. “It’s devastating because with Black college-educated women making as much as 30 percent less than their white male counterparts, that’s a huge disadvantage. That means not being able to put food on the table, buy clothes for your children, not being able to have a better quality of life or diverting money to wealth-building.”
According to the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF), median wages for black women in the United States are $36,227 per year, compared to median wages of $57,925 annually for white, non-Hispanic men. This amounts to a difference of $21,698 each year. In that same report, NPWF also highlighted that if the wage gap were eliminated, on average, a black woman working full time, year-round would have enough money for:
- Two and a half years of child care
- Nearly 2.5 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
- 159 more weeks of food for her family (three years’ worth)
- More than 14 additional months of mortgage and utilities payments
- 22 more months of rent.
The National Women’s Law Center reports that women of every race are paid less than men, at all education levels — and it only gets worse as women’s careers progress.
“Despite the fact that women have made enormous gains in educational attainment and labor force involvement in the last several decades, unequal pay remains pervasive in 97 percent of occupations, showing that no matter what their job, women are paid less than men doing the same job in nearly every sector of work,” an NWLC fact sheet noted.
Women who work full time, year-round in the United States are paid just 80 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. This gap, which amounts to a typical loss of $10,086 per year for a working woman — or $403,440 over a 40-year career — means that women have to work 15 months … to make what men did in the previous 12-month calendar year.”
Studies by gender specialists, academics and women’s activists have statistics showing that the occupations African-American women have does not explain away the Black women’s wage gap, the NWLC said.
- For example, Black women working as physicians and surgeons—a traditionally male, high wage occupation—make 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men working as physicians and surgeons.
- Black women working as customer service representatives—a mid-wage, female dominated occupation—make 75 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men working as customer service representatives.
- Black women working as construction laborers—a traditionally male, mid-wage occupation—make 81 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men working as construction laborers.
- Black women working as personal care aides—a heavily female, low wage occupation—make 87 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men working as personal care aides.
In addition, Black women experience a wage gap even in occupations where they are over-represented. More than two in five African-American women (44.8 percent) are employed in one of 10 occupations. In every one of those occupations, Black women are typically paid less than white, non-Hispanic men. Among the 10 most common occupations for Black women, two of those occupations — cashiers and retail salespeople and janitors, building cleaners, maids, and housekeepers — typically pay Black women a very low wage — less than $10 per hour — while they typically pay white, non-Hispanic men substantially more.
Some solutions, NWLC experts say, include strengthening America’s pay discrimination laws, pushing harder to get Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the Family Act and the Schedules That Work Act — all which would address the discrimination women face when they’re pregnant or caregiving and support those who need paid leave, predictable work schedules, and stability for themselves and their families.
Raising the federal minimum wage is yet another way to move towards parity. So far, six states and the District of Columbia have increased the minimum wage to $15 over the next few years.
Another solution is making the Earned Income Tax Credit more widely available to needy recipients. The EITC is a tax credit designed to offset payroll taxes and supplement wages for people working in low-wage jobs, providing the most benefits to low- to moderate-income families with children. The federal EITC lifted more than 1.2 million women 18 and older and nearly 3.5 million children out of poverty in 2017, and 28 states and the District of Columbia currently offer their own EITCs to provide an additional boost.
Dalana A. Brand, vice president of Global Total Rewards at Electronic Arts, Inc., contends that Black women can’t afford to wait, arguing in an opinion piece last year for Blavity, an Internet media company, that in the midst of the flurry of publicity, tweets, posts, hashtags and calls for change, one important element is missing.
“What often gets left out of that discussion is that the hallmark day in April does not apply to black women and other women of color,” she said. “… So, while white women caught up on April 10, black women must wait for over half the year to pass before our wages catch up to what men made a year ago.”
Brand, a highly-sought after salary strategist and career transformation coach, said black women are paid 38 percent less than white men and 21 percent less than white women but “the sad fact is that most people are either unaware or don’t care about the appalling disparity black women face with respect pay equity.”
She added that a study by LeanIn.Org, which partnered with Survey Monkey and the National Urban League, indicates that a third of Americans aren’t aware of the pay gap between black women and white men, and half of them don’t know about a similar gap between black and white women.
Much like the feminist movement, black women are being largely ignored by the equal pay movement,” she added.
Dr. Jones-DeWeever and Brand said that as career strategists and salary consultants, there are a number of things that Black women can and need to do to fight back against wage disparities. The first action is for Black women to embrace their power and value and translate that into dollars and benefits during salary negotiations.
“We don’t understand the basics of negotiating,” Dr. Jones-DeWeever said. “We have to understand our value and how to negotiate. When you’re first hired, that’s when you’re most powerful. I never accept the first offer. The first offer is only the beginning of negotiations. You’d be surprised how much money you can get. You have to negotiate for money, a package and vacation.
Black communities must also take other tacks to confront and topple this problem, they said.
“The reality of racism means that Black women will be offered less,” said Dr. Jones-DeWeever. “In terms of fixing it, we have to have conversations about financial literacy and we also have a responsibility to educate our children about their power, worth and value and empowering them.”
To date, she said, much of the equal pay movement has been focused on awareness building campaigns and encouraging women to effectively negotiate their salaries.
“While these are important steps, this is only scratching the surface,” Brand explained. “Getting to pay parity must also involve addressing the corporate systems and state and federal laws that need to change. As black women we must unify and use our collective voices to push pay equality and the racial wealth gap to the top our agenda. Black women have always been at the forefront of the push for equality in our country, whether it was civil rights or social justice, we have been critical forces for change. The equal pay movement should be no different.”
Brand and Dr. Jones-DeWeever are called in frequently to consult with Fortune 500 and other companies. They said Black women should also be actively engaged in tackling the equal pay issue within corporate America by participating in employee resource groups at work and collectively guaranteeing that the companies they work for are held accountable for addressing these issues.
African-American churches, sororities and fraternities and civil society and community organizations need to actively engage in the political process and pressure elected officials to advance additional laws designed to protect against gender discrimination and pay inequality, they said, and concerned people also need to organize efforts and/or sign petitions to demand to push the government to act.