- The average wage gap for all U.S. women has improved since last year.
- Yet Black women’s wage gap is worse this year than it was in 2021.
- This alarming reality is the result of systemic racism and outright discriminatory employment practices.
Last month, Black women earned what the average white U.S. man was paid last year. Just imagine that — it took nearly nine additional months of work so we could earn the same as our male colleagues did in 12 months.
The bad news? Black women’s wage gap is worse this year than it was in 2021, when Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was weeks earlier on August 3. This year, it took until September 21.
Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is the approximate day a Black woman must work into the new year to make what a white, non-Hispanic man made at the end of the previous year. While other women are moving forward, Black women are falling further behind.
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The intersection of sexism and racism has long meant Black women are more acutely impacted by the wage gap, earning only 58 cents for every dollar that a man makes as of last year. If you quantify that income disparity over a Black woman’s career, she earns a breathtaking $907,680 less than the average white man. This alarming wage gap is the result of years of systemic racism and outright discriminatory employment practices.
Workplace racism costs more than money
The impact of workplace racism goes well beyond our paychecks.
Black women face persistent micro-aggressions such as having their hair or style of dress criticized through back-handed compliments.
An employee survey of five large U.S. companies revealed women of color face more barriers to success in the workplace compared to other groups, including increased workplace harassment, being held to a much higher standard than their white and male peers and presumptions that they are less qualified, despite their credentials, work product, or business results.
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Research has shown Black women are significantly underrepresented in leadership roles. For every 100 men promoted to a manager position, only 58 Black women are promoted. Black women fill only 1.6 percent of VP roles and 1.4 percent of C-suite positions, despite making up 7.4 percent of the U.S. population. Conversely, white men represent about 35 percent of the U.S. population and fill 56 percent of VP positions and 62 percent of the C-suite.
And while the impact on our careers and workplace satisfaction is significant, the truly alarming reality is that this is threatening our very lives.
Science has shown that racist, discriminatory practices lead to chronic stress and elevated cortisol, a stress hormone in our blood. Black women have more cortisol in their bloodstream than white women. For more than 30 years, researchers have documented the relationship between racially mediated stress, increased cortisol levels and the impact on the inflammatory and metabolic responses of Black women.
We now know that much of the excess mortality from diabetes, heart disease and other obesity-related syndromes among Black women is largely due to our bodies’ response to the chronic stress of our lived experiences. Each year, nearly 75,000 Black Americans die unnecessarily from the effects of racial discrimination.
How workplaces can lead on equity
The data are clear — there’s no question that racial and gender-based discrimination in the workplace is a critical problem. Rather, the question is how do we find an effective solution? Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) was once dubbed the answer to these problems, but after decades of implementation, the reality is that DEI has been largely unsuccessful in all the ways that matter.
Workplace DEI programs, while born of good intentions, were designed so that one group of employees, namely white men, had the responsibility of doing something to or for another group, namely non-white men. In this scenario, everyone is aggrieved. White men were made out to be the ‘bad guy’ and non-white men were seen as helpless. Neither was true. And Black women didn’t have much of a chance.
We need a better way. If DEI programs are not the answer, then what is? Recent research suggests that what may be the best way to tackle the problem is by focusing on fairness.
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The Black Women’s Health Imperative has conducted polls asking corporate leaders and employees to define equity, and they reveal no common definition or understanding. But when employees are asked to describe fairness, there absolutely is a common theme: and that is what it feels like. Employees almost unanimously describe feelings of being respected, appreciated for having their work recognized and encouraged to strive to achieve more in the workplace. I think most of us would like to experience these feelings in the workplace.
So, the goal should be to aim for fair. Because fairness is a zero-sum game — the workplace is either fair for all or fair for none.
And today’s workplace is not fair for Black women. In fact, only 27 percent of Black women are likely to say their organization is fair to everyone and that they have the same opportunities for advancement.
Achieving fairness starts by understanding where your organization stands. It requires a thorough assessment of the fairness of established policies and practices using both quantitative and qualitative measures of gender and racial equity and many other factors.
Once you know where you are, the goal is to better understand why and, if necessary, how to impactfully make meaningful changes so that employees feel they are being treated fairly.
If you are a leader, ask yourself: is my company, department, or team fair for all? If not, then make it so.
The future of Black women — of their pay, their careers, their very health – depends quite simply on identifying that which is unfair in the workplace and making it fair.
Linda Goler Blount, MPH, is president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative.