Black Women’s Equal Pay Day Is Still Bittersweet, But Here’s a Step In The Right Direction

This Black Women’s Equal Pay Day (Sept. 21) sheds light on the looming shadow of slavery and systemic racism as it continues to affect Black women’s paychecks today. It is a call to action that requires knowledge, relationship building, and advocacy.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported that, in 2019 alone, Black women lost out on a total of $39.3 billion in wages compared to white men, largely due to differences in industry and occupations, known as occupational segregation. In 2020, women earned 83 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterpart.

Despite having the highest labor force participation rate among women, Black women are currently paid 58 cents for every dollar paid to white men. This number reflects the burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic, including inflation, unemployment, business closures, rising rent and mortgage costs, and more.

Additionally, Black women still stand to lose more than $1 million, on average, in lifetime earnings under this current landscape. But progress has been made.

A recent study on pay equity in America sponsored by HR and workforce management company, UKG and conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services reveals more organizations are prioritizing equal pay in the workplace. Out of more than 450 executives, 74% reported “pay equity a moderate or high strategic priority”  and the survey of more than 3,000 employees also discloses that 71% agree that pay equity is an a priority for their company.

On the other hand, “more than a third (35%) of Black employees attribute discrimination in opportunities for advancement as a major factor,” according to a UKG press release.

Melissa Thomas-Hunt, Professor of Business Administration at the Darden School of Business and Professor of Public Policy at the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and Brian K. Reaves, Chief Belonging, Diversity, and Equity Officer of UKG share some active tips with BLACK ENTERPRISE.

How To Advocate For Equal Pay

Melissa Thomas-Hunt / Photo Credit: KEF Media

According to Hunt, who previously served as Head of Global Diversity and Belonging at Airbnb, advocacy can be achieved with actions. These include: understanding what is “deemed appropriate” in the given organizational landscape, gathering as much information as possible and establishing broad relationships within the company. She also urges to advocate for oneself and to not be afraid to seek information about other people’s situations in the company.

“Companies should be more transparent, but in the absence of transparency…Black women, in particular, need to gather together and create their own way of creating transparency,” said Thomas-Hunt.

Creating More Equitable Workplaces

The report may indicate that employers are prioritizing equal pay, but what is holding U.S. employers back from actually achieving pay equity? Organizations must commit to doing the hard work.

Brian Reaves / Photo Credit: KEF Media

Reaves suggests that employers should “go beyond compensation,” adding that they can create more equitable workplaces by focusing on an “ecosystem of equity.”

“Think broadly and think for all,” Reeves advises.

“Employers should be focusing on equity of representation, equity of opportunity, and equity of well-being for all. Only when you have all of those equities, you can begin to deal with systemic nature of pay and equity,” he continued.