Equal Pay Day Is Not Equal At All for Women of Color

04/04/2017 03:13 pm ET Updated Apr 05, 2017
Women of Color make less than white women and men.
Equal Pay Back Project
Women of Color make less than white women and men.

"We need to stop buying into the myth about gender equality. It isn't a reality yet. Today, women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but the average working woman earns only 77 percent of what the average working man makes. But unless women and men both say this is unacceptable, things will not change." Beyoncé, in The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Pushes Back from the Brink

Today is Equal Pay Day in the United States. This means that on average, women in the United States had to work all of 2016 plus this far into 2017 to catch up to what men earned last year. According to Sheryl Sandberg in a USA Today Opinion piece penned today: “In 2016, women on average were paid 80 cents for every dollar men earned. If you break the pay gap down by race and ethnicity, it’s even worse: black women were paid 63 cents; Latinas, 54 cents for every dollar white men made.” The numbers for what black men earn as compared to white women and women of color are likewise revealing.

According to a 2016 Pew Research Poll: “White and Asian women have narrowed the wage gap with white men to a much greater degree than black and Hispanic women. For example, white women narrowed the wage gap in median hourly earnings by 22 cents from 1980 (when they earned, on average, 60 cents for every dollar earned by a white man) to 2015 (when they earned 82 cents). By comparison, black women only narrowed that gap by 9 cents, from earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a white man in 1980 to 65 cents today. Asian women followed roughly the trajectory of white women (but earned a slightly higher 87 cents per dollar earned by a white man in 2015), whereas Hispanic women fared even worse than black women, narrowing the gap by just 5 cents (earning 58 cents on the dollar in 2015). Black and Hispanic men, for their part, have made no progress in narrowing the wage gap with white men since 1980, in part because there have been no improvements in the hourly earnings of white, black or Hispanic men over this 35-year period. As a result, black men earned the same 73% share of white men’s hourly earnings in 1980 as they did in 2015, and Hispanic men earned 69% of white men’s earnings in 2015 compared with 71% in 1980.”

It’s hard to believe that we are in the year 2017, and women are still considered less valuable for our work, and our educational achievements than men. White women have achieved parity in many of the traditional professions like law and medicine. But for women of color that picture is still dismal as we represent less than 3-4% of those professions. And in the corporate and STEM space, white women have made better gains, but even they lag far behind. Women are still not well represented in the top paying corporate and industry sector jobs such as: Chief Technology Officers, Chief Financial Officers, Vice Presidents of Engineering, Orthopedic surgeons, Vice President of Sales and Business Development, etc. (See: Top Professions Do Not Boast Women ).

Why does this matter so much to women of color? Because it feeds into the “Black Women at Work” narrative that went viral over the past week when Congresswoman Maxine Waters was dismissed for her perspective on President Trump on Fox 7 Friends due to her “James Brown Wig” by Fox News Anchor Bill O’Reilly. And veteran White House Correspondent April Ryan was publicly checked and scolded by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer for shaking her head at a press conference. It shows that old stereotypes and notions about women in general and black women specifically still hurt us in the workplace. Men still make the rules, and wield decision making power. Until that changes, progress for white women will be slower, and for women of color it will be painfully slow at best.

In the final analysis, as Americans we are still uncomfortable dealing with our gender and race issues in the workplace. And they are costing us over 64 billion a year in lawsuits and lost talent (See: Corporations spend billions on discrimination cases annually). For us as American women we never talk about the “racism within gender”. Meaning, women of color are not compensated the same as our white female counterparts, and we are not valued the same in terms of our abilities and contributions in the workplace, and frankly beyond. We must begin to talk about what is behind the numbers—when we see women we see “white”. When we see people of color we see “black men”. Women of color are still invisible in and out of the workplace and that is difficult financially when you consider the wealth gap, and the marriage gap for black women specifically as referenced in my piece for The New York Daily News last week The Price of Being a Black Woman in America. Until we fix the pay equity gap for women of color, we cannot fully celebrate “pay equality day” for women.

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