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.

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Black Women’s Equal Pay Day Highlights the Racial Dimension of the Pay Gap

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day Highlights the Racial Dimension of the Pay Gap

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:

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