We all know that Black women, as educated, talented, and amazing as we are, have been paid and treated unequally in traditional workplaces for decades, especially when it comes to our pay.
To bring attention to the gender pay gap, the U.S. has recognized Equal Pay Day yearly, on March 15, since the mid-'90s, an effort sparked by the National Committee on Pay Equity. Then a shift happened where there was a vital need to specifically highlight pay disparities by ethnicity.
Recent research has found that, on average, Black women make 58 cents for every dollar their white male counterparts make, while white women make 73 cents for every dollar made by white men. (In other words, according to the AAUW, Black women make 42% less than white men and 21% less than white women.)
Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is commemorated on Sept. 21 to bring to light how much longer it takes for us to catch up to the earnings of her white counterparts.
While the overarching key to destroying the pay gap, especially for Black women, lies in the hands of the U.S. government and corporate leaders and requires major systemic shifts in how women are recruited, how their salaries are budgeted and negotiated, how companies are legally held responsible for breaches in pay equity, and other vital systemic changes related to bias and discrimination, there are ways we can empower ourselves, advocating for equal pay and ensuring that we get what we deserve. Here are five ways to do so in your workplace:
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1. Always, always, always negotiate your salary, and get advisement if needed.
It might seem intimidating to push back after getting a great job offer, especially if the offer seems amazing. Research has shown that women are less likely to negotiate when it comes to salary, and they're leaving millions of dollars on that table. That notion alone is enough reason for you to speak up to at least see whether there's more that you should be getting for your talent and time.
No matter what job you're up for or the field you're in, always do your research on what a reasonable salary and benefits package should be and consider your lifestyle, unique talents, and credentials before accepting an offer.
You can look up salaries via sites like Glassdoor or Salary.com or follow IG pages like Salary Transparent Street to get a gauge of how much people make at their respective jobs. It's also a good idea to do a bit of informal comparative research in your real-life network and ask others about their salary negotiation and pay experiences.
Talking with a lawyer, leadership coach, trusted friend, family member, or someone who has sustained a successful and lucrative career is a good idea as well, especially if you're up for a management, director, or executive position. My best career decisions related to salary negotiations and advocating for what I deserve have been made with advisement from mentors (several of whom were men) and my own mom, who handles budgets and has experience in hiring decisions, and who has, unfortunately, often been one of the only Black people in leadership in her workplace.
2. Once in a leadership position, use your voice, actions, and influence to push for fair compensation practices.
If you're a manager, a leader in the C-suite, or a business owner (whether a small or mid-sized company), find ways to advocate for equal pay for employees, especially when recruiting new talent. Look into the way in which you set salaries and how you perceive "value" when it comes to an employee. Hire a consultant, do your research, and talk with teams to see what is feasible, what expectations exist, and what biases you might be holding as they relate to gender and pay.
Sometimes it's as simple as just offering women fair salaries, especially if you're the one handling budgets or one of the decision-makers for budgets and approvals.
Speak up when you see issues of inequity in pay. (In some cases, there are legal issues associated with this, as well as your possible role as an accomplice to wrongdoing.) Help create an environment where pay is talked about openly and honestly and where there's a sense of fairness exhibited via actual policies (on paper and enforceable). Offer options to compensate women that are also complimentary to salary in ways that accommodate women's needs that, while outside of work, affect the work that they do (ie. childcare, PTO, healthcare, and performance incentives).
When all else fails, withdraw your talents (via resignation) or support from companies that have historically been known for not paying women equally or who have supported, in action, policies that don't make equity a priority. Take legal action when applicable.
There are indeed women who see equal pay as a major factor in their leadership values. I'll never forget the time when a Black woman CEO upped my employment offer by several thousand dollars (on top of the negotiated salary I'd already asked for). It was profound to me because it showed that, while words are encouraging and offering opportunities is awesome, she put money where her advocacy was. It also reminded me to continue doing the same when I'm in the position to negotiate with freelancers and team members I've been privileged to lead and hire.
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3. Build community and rally fellow women professionals, entrepreneurs, and leaders to change policies and culture around pay.
While there's a disparity when it comes to Black women CEOs at major Fortune 500 companies, businesses are significantly impacted by women (and we represent more than 56% of the workforce) so it's a good idea to build community with fellow women at your company and others. When it comes to systemic change, there's power in numbers. Set precedents and rally for changes that urge companies to follow suit. Being strategic about partnering with other women to ensure that compensation offers are not only equal but actually match the time and talent investment of the employee is just good business.
While we often talk about challenges related to white women being allies, there's also a crabs-in-a-barrel sense that Black women do not support one another, especially when in leadership positions, and thus do not actively advocate for one another, via action, when it comes to advancement and pay. This is something that can change.
If we all seek to walk in our purpose, look out for one another (when fair and appropriate), and think of the bigger picture, we can help to close the gap. For example, early in my career, I was told that I was getting market value for a job. After researching, I found that notion to be true and accepted the offer. However, I later found out that a peer—with similar experience and credentials, working in the same industry—was making much more than me at a company of the same size and stature.
While she, a fellow Black media professional, definitely earned less than her male counterparts at her company, it taught me two important lessons: Just because one company is offering a "reasonable" salary, doesn't mean it's fair or equitable, and it would have been a smart move to gain a new friend and support system by authentically connecting with this particular person instead of thinking of her as competition.
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In another situation, I got the chance to advocate for a young woman who was a former coworker. I had about a decade more experience than she did and had gained managerial experience by then, so I knew how salary negotiations worked. She was up for a position at another major global brand and was about to take an offer that not only was a case of low-balling, but it also would have made it difficult for her to sustain a decent lifestyle in that market. And based on the nature of the job, she certainly deserved more.
She felt uncomfortable asking for more money due to the brand and its popularity. There was a fear she'd lose out and end up with no job. I advised her to increase the salary ask and to be kind but assertive in refusing to take the offer until they gave in. I even told her exactly what to say and troubleshot scenarios with her.
She ended up getting $20,000 more than they'd initially offered, accepted the position, got the experience she needed to upgrade her skills and resume, and ended up, later, finding success as a self-employed consultant. She expressed to me that she was grateful for my words of encouragement and guidance. As Black women, we must do our part, small or large to ensure that our sisters are confident, respected, and able to shift the narrative on what people can get away with when it comes to paying us.
4. Support organizations, influencers, and activists shedding light on the issue and/or fighting for equal pay.
You might not feel you're called to activism or fights of a legal nature, and that's okay. You can still do your part by donating to a reputable organization that advocates for pay equity and actively fights against efforts that do not accommodate fair pay for Black women in particular. Like, share, and comment on social posts that offer truthful, research-based, and authentic content about pay for women. (Need a few to start with? Check out the accounts like Ladies Get Paid,The Broke Black Girl, Influencer Pay Gap, or Your Corporate Black Girl.)
Organizations like UN Women, the AAUW, the ACLU, the National Coalition of Black Women, and others work to not only advocate for gender equity but to provide resources for women to take action, advance, and succeed. Do your research and find ways to get involved through volunteering or donating.
When we get real about what people are getting paid, it opens up an honest dialogue about the pay gap. Also, you can't really negotiate or change things from a place of ignorance or naivete. While you can gain a general sense of an average salary via certain online platforms and articles, the reality is, well, reality, and different companies have their respective barriers, biases, company cultures, challenges, and bottom lines.
Behind stats, research reports and statistics are actual people and situations that provide context and true understanding. Knowing the real deal about real-life issues associated with pay is more than helpful and getting real-life knowledge on these things is key.
5. Use social media, conferences, and events as opportunities to keep the conversation going and spread awareness about the pay gap all year round.
We all like reposting and sharing funny and entertaining content on our social accounts, and it's a great idea to add a few facts about the inequity affecting Black women, how people can fight against it, or, at the very least, how we, as Black women, can stand up for ourselves. Also, information is power, so sharing facts about salary negotiation, how much people actually make in certain positions or at certain companies, and calling out companies that accommodate or actively participate in adding to the problem are great ways to positively add to the narrative.
When hosting conferences and events, adding the topic of pay, especially to the agendas of those targeted to young Black professionals and entrepreneurs, is a good idea. Also, as attendees of popular conferences and events, speaking up about the content that you're paying for and requesting the inclusion of conversations around salary and pay is key.
If you're paying for an experience that is marketed to enrich you or support your success (and you're, in turn, offering a chance for profit for event producers and organizations) shouldn't you have a say in what you're getting in return? Otherwise, why support or go? Even if there are sponsors, what's an event without its attendees? Using our voices via social and at events can help build up infrastructures of solutions-oriented conversations and ultimately, accountability. While it is not the overall solution, it is part of helping to forge the change we need to see.
We face tremendous challenges as Black women in the workplace, however, we can do our part in empowering ourselves by boldly speaking up, supporting one another beyond performative rhetoric, shedding archaic stereotypes, and truly unifying to close the gap through one deliberate act of strategy and defiance at a time.
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