Today is National Equal Pay Day and it is only right to address the fact that black women work twice as hard as their counterparts, if not harder, yet still earn less. According to research conducted by the Institute for Women’s Research Policy, if trends in the pay gap persist like they have over the last 30 years, black women will have to continue to work hard until 2124 just to receive equal pay.
We spoke with Teresa C. Younger, president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation, about closing the pay gap and how women can persevere as they work toward receiving equal pay.
What does closing the pay gap mean for women beyond the dollar signs?
The pay gap is really about how we value women. And in this country, we have continually under-valued women. Particularly women of color and particularly black women. So for us, and as a black woman, this is how we place value on who we are and what we bring into our society.
It’s not “just” about the dollars and cents.
Although, it is about the dollars and cents because if you can pay your bills, put some money in the bank, and transfer that wealth to the next generation then that’s critical and that helps to build what our society could look like. If we can start making sure that our women are paid for their worth in our society, it will show and reflect their value. And help them uphold a level of self-confidence they will carry into other aspects of their lives.
How can women be more involved in being a part of the change they want to see?
There is so much going on in life that feels completely overwhelming. And we often ask ourselves, ‘what can any one person do?’ and ‘what can I do because this feels like so much?’
Whether you’re registered to vote; whether you’re able to talk to your manager or supervisor; how you’re able to ask a question; or whether you’re able to mentor somebody, we want women to walk out of this room today knowing that there is something that they can do. And if everyone does something that adds up to a whole lot of things and that’s how we create the momentum for change.
What advice do you have for women as they fight to close the pay gap?
There are a couple of things that we have to come to terms with when we recognize that we’re going to be about making change happen:
- It does not happen overnight.
- We do not get to be tired. We have a responsibility to those shoulders that we stand on and those generations that come behind us. We have to step in, fight wholeheartedly, and do it with full honesty and integrity to who we are. And, we have to hold other people accountable.
- We have to engage with people one on one. We can’t just stand outside and scream at the air—we actually have to start talking with people.
When I think about this fight for pay equity, it is about at this moment in time us finally placing value on women of color. At this moment in time, it is about holding those [people in high places] accountable. This moment in time, it’s about opening the doors so that others can come in behind us and come in strong.