August 23rd is Equal Pay Day for Black Women. That means the typical Black woman in America must work well into the eighth month of the year in order to earn what the typical white male earned by the end of 2015.
While the wage gap is a reality for all women, and stands at 79 cents to the dollar overall, for Black women, disparities are much more striking. As of 2014, Black women’s earnings were stuck at only 63 cents to the dollar compared to white men and just 77 cents to the dollar compared to white women! That significant differential adds up over time.
A new study by the National Women’s Law Center found that over the course of a 40-year career, pay inequity will cost Black women, on average, $877,000. And in five states, plus the District of Columbia, that gap balloons to well over one million dollars. This difference is so significant, that in order for Black women to catch up, they’ll need to work more than 66 years to earn what white men earn in just 40 years of work.
So what’s standing between you and equal pay? Below are some key factors that play a part in the wage gap:
Black women are overrepresented in low-wage occupations, and significantly under-represented in high wage occupations. While the proportion of Black women in low-wage work roughly doubles their representation in the labor force overall, Black women remain significantly underrepresented in high-paying jobs. For example, according to the National Science Foundation, only two percent of the nation’s Scientists and Engineers are Black women.
The Concrete Ceiling
Leadership opportunities are especially rare for Black women. Although we are particularly likely to work, only 5.3% of Black women hold jobs in managerial or professional positions. And within the private sector exclusively, just 1.3% of senior-level executive positions are held by Black women. This compares to 24.3% which are held by white women.
Good Old-Fashioned Discrimination
Both overt and unconscious bias remain a reality in the workforce as it does in the nation as a whole. But Black women face a double barrier to break through. Residing outside the boundaries of both race and gender privilege means having to push through the continuing reality of racism and sexism at work. These centuries-old barriers remain a stubborn inhibitor to fairness in pay as well as a wide range of other factors within the professional arena.
To overcome these challenges, think outside the box when making career choices. Understand that often nontraditional fields offer the best bang for the buck in terms of income potential. And when you find yourself in those spaces, know that you don’t have to go it alone. Reach out to peers to form mutually beneficial systems of support. For example, many college campuses include organizations such as Black Women in Science and Engineering (BWiSE) so that Black women can experience a community specifically catered to both their academic and social success.
Also know that no matter your career choice, ascending up the career ladder is never easy, but it’s nearly impossible if you’re not strategic and if you try to do it alone. Be intentional about building a Career Dream Team, a network of mentors, sponsors, peers, and advocates who will help get you where you ultimately want to go. Also be sure to develop a career plan with goals and timetables that will help you stay on track as you make your way to the top.
Finally, understand that at any point along the way discrimination can and may come into the picture. This only heightens the importance of having others you can reach out to for strategy around how to overcome this hurdle. So don’t be shy about tapping your Career Dream Team when you need it most. Just make sure that your team is diverse, of course including Black women, but not exclusively Black women. You’ll need the perspectives of those who understand in an authentic way your personal struggles as well as others who may have greater access to less diverse spaces, and therefore, the ability to advocate for you specifically within places you may not otherwise have the ability to penetrate.