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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How Do We Close the Gender Pay Gap?

How Do We Close the Gender Pay Gap?

Equal Pay Day is a symbolic event that highlights the pay gap between men and women in the US. Equal Pay Day is held on a Tuesday, representing how far into the next week the average woman has to work to earn what the average man earned the week prior, and in early April to represent how much farther into this year she needs to work to earn as much as he did last year. While individual studies differ slightly, nearly all of them calculate the overall US gender pay gap at around 20 percent, meaning women earn roughly 80 cents to every man’s dollar. (It bears mentioning that these figures are significantly worse for women of color.)

To a significant extent, this gap reflects women being offered lower salaries than men for the same or similar work. Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman points to some recent research by Hired that suggests women are often being lowballed:

The majority (63%) of the time in the U.S., men are offered higher salaries than women for the same role at the same company, according to wage gap data and survey responses compiled by Hired. On average, these companies offer women 4% less than men for the same role, with some offering women up to 45% less. These numbers are likely due to unconscious bias, inconsistent pay practices, and paying new hires based on what they made in their previous role. “Our data found that 66% of the time, women are asking for less money–6% less on average–than men for the same role at the same company,” says Kelli Dragovich, senior vice president of people at Hired. Undervaluing themselves is part of the reason, she says, as 50% of female survey respondents said they experienced impostor syndrome most of the time.

However, even companies that pay men and women equally for equal work still have pay gaps, because women are often concentrated in professions with lower earning potential. Our recent research at CEB, now Gartner, finds that these group-to-group gaps account for most of the global gender pay gap of 27 percent, although 7.4 percentage points remain unexplained by factors like size, industry, geography, education, or experience.

The main cause of this larger pay gap is the sorting of women into lower-paying roles, or occupational segregation, Maggie Koerth-Baker explains at FiveThirtyEight. That doesn’t mean women are choosing to earn less money, however, and “the fact that certain industries are dominated by men or women — and that the men’s jobs pay more — has never just been about what qualifications an individual did or didn’t have, or how tough the job was to do”:

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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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Equal Pay Day Highlights Slow Progress at Closing Gender Pay Gap in US

Equal Pay Day Highlights Slow Progress at Closing Gender Pay Gap in US

Equal Pay Day, a symbolic event marking how far into the year American women need to work to earn as much as their male peers did in the previous year, based on the current gender pay gap. Last year, Equal Pay Day was observed on April 12, so this year’s slightly earlier date reflects modest progress at closing that gap. According to the Pew Research Center’s latest analysis of the pay gap, US women earned 83 percent of what men earned in 2015, meaning they would have to work an additional 44 days to make as much as men did. While that’s still a substantial gap, the good news is that it is has narrowed significantly in recent decades, and is smaller among younger workers, standing at 90 cents to every man’s dollar among women in the 25-34 age demographic:

Why does a gender pay gap still persist? In our 2013 survey, women were more likely to say they had taken breaks from their careers to care for their family. These types of interruptions can have an impact on long-term earnings. Roughly four-in-ten mothers said that at some point in their work life they had taken a significant amount of time off (39%) or reduced their work hours (42%) to care for a child or other family member. Roughly a quarter (27%) said they had quit work altogether to take care of these familial responsibilities. Fewer men said the same. For example, just 24% of fathers said they had taken a significant amount of time off to care for a child or other family member.

Even though women have increased their presence in higher-paying jobs traditionally dominated by men, such as professional and managerial positions, women as a whole continue to be overrepresented in lower-paying occupations, and this may also contribute to gender differences in pay.

On the other hand, the pay gap is significantly wider for women of color—black women’s Equal Pay Day didn’t come until August last year.

Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman highlights some other recent studies that shed more light on the causes of the pay gap and how women are responding to it:

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