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.
In 2016, a US appeals court ruled against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a suit the agency had brought on behalf of Chastity Jones, a black woman who had been denied employment at the Mobile, Alabama insurance claims processing company Catastrophe Management Solutions after she refused to cut her dreadlocks in compliance with the company’s grooming policy. Absent an explicit racial dimension to the policy, the court ruled, CMS was within its rights to ban dreadlocks in general as part of its dress code.
The EEOC chose not to pursue the case further, but the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund sought to appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court. Last week, however, the high court said it would not take the case. The court’s refusal to hear this case is a blow to advocates who see workplace hairstyle policies like these as discriminatory in effect if not intent, as they place greater constraints on the choices black people, and particularly black women, than other employees and often penalize black employees for wearing natural hairstyles. Implicit bias against black women’s naturally textured hair is a well-documented phenomenon in American society, which causes many black women to experience pressure to artificially straighten their hair or wear hairpieces.
CMS’s dress code did not explicitly mention dreadlocks, but rather mandated grooming that reflected a “professional image” and barred “excessive hairstyles.” This suggests to Rewire’s senior legal analyst Imani Gandy that such policies as applied are not as race-neutral as they appear on paper:
First, CMS’s purported race-neutral grooming policy is anything but—since it excludes Black women’s natural hairstyles based on stereotypes that natural hairstyles are unprofessional, messy, not neat, political, radical, too eye-catching, or excessive.
Google is expanding its Howard West initiative, a partnership with Washington, DC’s Howard University, from a three-month summer residency into a full-year program to which students from other schools will be invited. Howard Sueing, a Google software engineer and an instructor at Howard West, announced the change in a blog post on Tuesday:
We’re announcing that in 2018, the program will expand from the original three-month residency to a full academic year—and for students not only at Howard, but also from other esteemed Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The expansion was part of the original program goal, and it’s wonderful to see it blossoming so quickly.
The pilot exceeded our expectations in many ways. Students and faculty noted both the rigor and immersion in life at Google as the program’s most compelling aspects, and the Googlers involved felt there was a true exchange of knowledge, culture and understanding. Almost all of the students were rising juniors, making them eligible to apply for full software engineering internships at Google this coming summer. Notably, when the session concluded, 14 students applied. Four of them received offers, and they all accepted.
This fall, 100 students from Howard and other HBCUs will begin the immersive program at Google’s campus in Mountain View, California, TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey reports.
In the US, where long legacies of sexism and racism continue to hold back women and people of color in the workplace, black women face challenges that are greater than the sum of those faced by white women and black men. The pay gap for black women is more severe, they are passed over for promotions at an even greater rate than white women, and diversity and inclusion initiatives that focus on racial diversity and gender equality separately don’t always address the issues black women have to deal with at the intersection of these two axes of discrimination.
One consequence of these unique challenges is that while corporate America has made some progress in recent years at increasing the representation of women in leadership, the women who make it into these senior roles are overwhelmingly white, while women of color have a much harder time getting into the C-suite. Since Ursula Burns departed her position as CEO of Xerox last year, there are currently no black women at the helm of Fortune 500 companies, and Fortune‘s latest list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business contains just one black woman: Ann-Marie Campbell, EVP for US stores at Home Depot.
In a new magazine feature, Fortune writer Ellen McGirt takes a close look at what she calls the “black ceiling,” a phenomenon “composed of several complex socioeconomic factors” that holds African-American women back in corporate America. Through a series of interviews with Burns and other black women leaders working to create more space for their peers in the business world, McGirt diagnoses the problem and explores some of the solutions these women are working on:
Black women are at a disadvantage in trying to bridge the familiarity gap with white men in positions of power, because in the words of talent management research firm Catalyst, they are “double outsiders”: They’re neither white, nor men. As a result they’re often shut out from the informal networks that help other people find jobs, mentors, and sponsors.
Last year, an alarming report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found that the gap in income between black and white Americans had grown from 1979 to 2015, with black men earning 22.0 percent less, and black women making 34.2 percent less, than white men with the same education, experience, and geographical location. A new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco confirms that finding, showing that the black-white wage gap has been growing and furthermore, that economic factors do not explain why.
The hourly wage ratio of the average black male to his white male counterpart shrank from 80 percent in 1979 to 70 percent in 2016, the San Francisco Fed finds. Black women earned 95 percent of what white women made in 1979, but that has gone down to 82 percent in 2016. While some of the gap can be explained by attributes such as location, education, working hours, job type, etc., the reason for its growth is less tied to those factors and economists are struggling to explain the increase. The Fed says this “implies that factors that are harder to measure—such as discrimination, differences in school quality, or differences in career opportunities—are likely to be playing a role in the persistence and widening of these gaps over time.” Eshe Nelson at Quartz adds:
In fact, additional research by the San Francisco Fed showed that black people with bachelor’s degrees saw the earnings gap with their white counterparts increase by more than for high-school graduates. … Ultimately, it seems that discrimination—whether in the “unexplained” category, or more structural racial bias that exists in educational systems and elsewhere—is widening the disparity in wages between black and white workers. Time alone will not close this gap, researchers conclude. … time seems to be making it worse.
One factor that may also account for the recent rise is that black workers are hit harder by recessions and recover more slowly than the rest of the labor market. It’s very likely that the cumulative effect of the recessions of 1987 and the late 2000s reversed, or even worsened, any progress made from the late 1960s to the early 80s. Bloomberg’s Jeanna Smialek and Jordyn Holman idenfity why this is such a problem:
While women in the US are making some progress at narrowing the gender pay gap, the average discrepancy in earnings between women and men remains significant at around 83 cents to the dollar. Accordingly, advocates of pay equity observed Equal Pay Day on April 4 to mark how far into the next year women have to work to earn as much as men do in one year. Between black women and white men, however, the gap is even wider, at 63-67 cents to the dollar (different sources have slightly different calculations), so African American Women’s Equal Pay Day was not observed this year until Monday, July 31.
Fortune’s Ellen McGirt highlighted the occasion by expressing hope that it would be “a day of conversation, both online and in real life, which surfaces some difficult truths about the barriers black women face”:
Exceptional black women are reminded on a daily basis that we may be “pretty for a black girl,” but not leadership material. Or that while the bar has been lowered to accommodate us, we’re seen as too pushy. And unlike professional black men and white women, whose identities intersect in at least one fundamental way with the majority of (white male) managers, black women end up feeling excluded in ways that are impossible to remedy on their own.
Many difficult truths are in play before we enter the workforce. It is a unique burden to be a black woman (or the parent of a black girl) in a world that sees black girls as older and less innocent than they are. Black girls are disproportionately more likely to be suspended or disciplined from school than their white girl peers. And yet, while these perceptions translate into a uniquely perilous path within the education system, black women have been enrolling in college and earning degrees at an increasing rate over the last eight years.
Tennis champion and entrepreneur Serena Williams contributed an essay to Fortune on Monday, in which she encouraged black women to speak up fearlessly about unfair pay. Williams, who recently joined the board of directors at SurveyMonkey, also highlighted the findings of some recent polling the survey software company conducted on Americans’ knowledge and opinions of the pay gap:
A new survey of young adults finds that nearly half of black Americans ages 18-30 have experienced racial discrimination at work or in the job market, while one third of young women of all races have been discriminated against on the basis of their gender. The Associated Press has the story:
This information comes from a GenForward survey of young adults conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The first-of-its-kind poll pays special attention to the voices of young adults of color, highlighting how race and ethnicity shape the opinions of the country’s most diverse generation. The poll, taken in September, showed that 48 percent of blacks age 18-30 say they’ve experienced discrimination while looking for a job or at work, which was higher than all other races and ethnicities. About one-third of Asian-Americans and Latinos also said they experienced discrimination at work or while looking for a job. Just 10 percent of whites say they experienced employment-related racism. …
On top of facing discrimination, young blacks are more likely to think their race has made it more difficult to get ahead economically. Fifty-four percent say being black makes it harder, the highest among those polled. Thirty-nine percent of Asian-Americans and 34 percent of Latinos say their race or ethnicity has made life harder. Young whites are the only group more likely to say their race has made life easier at 31 percent. But more than half, or 53 percent, say their race has made no difference. Still, most young people across racial and ethnic lines say whites in general have at least some advantage getting ahead economically.
Indeed, a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute found that the pay gap between black and white Americans is worse today than it was in 1979, with black men earning 22 percent less and black women earning over 34 percent less than the average white man.
What do workplace discrimination and exclusion look like for Americans of color? Another new study of Latino Americans looks at what it feels like to work in an environment where you can’t be yourself. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation, and the study’s coauthors Noni Allwood and Laura Sherbin present their findings at the Harvard Business Review: