On Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, Corporate Activism Focuses on Raising Awareness

On Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, Corporate Activism Focuses on Raising Awareness

Today is Black Women’s Equal Pay day, a date marking the pay gap between black women and white men in the US by representing how far into the next year a typical black woman has to work to earn as much as a typical white man earned in one year. It comes considerably later in the calendar than Equal Pay Day, which is observed in early April and symbolizes the gender pay gap irrespective of race; this illustrates the greater degree to which black women are disadvantaged in the American workplace than their white peers. McKenna Moore at Fortune highlights the salient statistics:

Women earn 80 cents for every dollar that men make, but black women make 63 cents for every dollar white, non-Hispanic men make. This means that black women also make 38% less than white men and 21% less than white women, according to a study published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. And the gap is only widening for women, both black and white. Extended over a 40-year career, the wage gap has black women earning $850,000 less than men’s median annual earnings, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Studies show that the pay gap starts early. An data analysis of BusyKid’s app’s 10,000 users shows that parents pay boys a weekly allowance twice the size that they pay girls. By 16, black women are earning less than white men and the gap only widens as they age. As black women have families of their own, the gap means less money for their families, which is particularly harmful because more than 80% of black mothers are the main breadwinners for their households, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.

The disadvantage lying at the intersection of racial marginalization and gender inequality is not limited to black women, either: Native American women don’t get their Equal Pay Day until late September, earning only 57 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. Latina women suffer the greatest pay disparity at 54 cents to the white, male dollar; their Equal Pay Day doesn’t arrive until November.

New research conducted by LeanIn and SurveyMonkey in partnership with the National Urban League, in anticipation of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, highlights the lack of public sensitivity to racism in the workplace and the racial dimensions of the gender pay gap:

One in three Americans is not aware of the pay gap between Black women and white men, and half of Americans are not aware of the gap between Black women and white women. … [E]ven when people know there’s a pay gap, it’s bigger than they realize. Forty percent of people who are aware of the pay gap Black women face underestimate its size.

Moreover, the data show significant differences in how Black women see the workplace compared to everyone else. About half of white men think obstacles to advancement for Black women are gone but only 14 percent of Black women agree. Moreover, nearly 70 percent of people who are not Black think that racism, sexism or both are uncommon in their company—yet 64 percent of Black women say they’ve experienced discrimination at work.

To raise awareness of these issues, LeanIn ” is asking consumers to think about the impact of getting 38 percent less as they make everyday purchases on August 7″ and has partnered with Adidas, Lyft, P&G, Reebok, and Salesforce on an awareness campaign, #38PercentCounts. The organization is planning a similar campaign for Latina Equal Pay Day on November 1.

In an op-ed at Fortune, LeanIn co-founder Sheryl Sandberg and Laphonza Butler, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 2015, underscore the consequences of this lack of awareness toward the unique challenges facing black women and other women of color:

The lack of awareness doesn’t end there: 43% of men say that obstacles to advancement for black women no longer exist. Since you can’t fix what you can’t—or won’t—see, this is a problem. In an economy that can be hard on women in general, black women are promoted less often than other women and receive less support from managers. They’re the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States, but their businesses earn less revenue than those started by nearly everyone else, in part because of lack of access to investment capital. They participate in the workforce at a higher rate than other women, but hold only 5% of managerial and professional positions. And there are zero black women running Fortune 500 companies. There’s only ever been one.

This is what happens when you live at the intersection of gender and racial inequality. It means having people doubt, dismiss, overlook, and undervalue you because you’re a woman and because you’re black. Not every black woman has that experience, but far too many do. It goes against everything we stand for as a country.

These disadvantages go far beyond pay inequity. Women of color are also disproportionately harmed by other problems that affect all women in the workplace, P.R. Lockhart adds at Vox:

Take, for example, sexual harassment in the workplace, an issue that particularly affects low-wage industries dominated by women of color. Experts have noted that lower pay levels for nonwhite women could play a role in their exposure to harassment, and a new NWLC report has found that from 2012 to 2016, black women filed workplace sexual harassment complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at nearly three times the rate of white women.

“If you have no financial cushion, if you need every bit of your paycheck to make ends meet, you are even more vulnerable to the threat of retaliation, to the fear of losing your job,” Emily Martin, the vice president for workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, told me last year.

But even conversations about workplace harassment and discrimination fail to acknowledge that women of color are more likely to be affected. It suggests that when we talk about the workplace, we are only having a partial conversation, which often overlooks how different groups experience their jobs.