It’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day—And Closing the Pay Gap for Women of Color Has Never Been More Urgent

Photo: W+G Creative
It’s 2023, and women are still being underpaid—specifically Black women, who also participate in the labor force at a higher rate than all other women. Since 1996, we’ve recognized Equal Pay Day as the date when the average woman’s salary finally catches up to what the average man would’ve taken home in the year prior. But in recent years, additional dates have been added to the calendar to reflect the even broader wage disparity between white men and women of color. That date for Black women, in particular, is on July 27 this year, meaning that only after seven months of additional work will Black women like me have earned what the average white man received in 2022.

Experts In This Article
  • Ty Heath, Director, Market Engagement, The B2B Institute at LinkedIn

Part of the reason Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is so important to recognize in 2023 is because of how little the date has moved up in recent years—and in turn, how little progress has occurred when it comes to narrowing the gender-race pay gap, specifically.

What forward momentum we’ve seen has been significantly greater for white women: They made, on average, 60 cents for every dollar earned by a white man in 1980, but that number jumped up to 73 cents by 2021. Whereas, Black women earned 56 cents for every dollar received by a white man in 1980—but that’s only gone up to 64 cents, as of 2021. (The numbers are even bleaker for Latina and Native women, who made, on average, 54 and 51 cents to every white man’s dollar, respectively, in 2021.) The kicker? Even the progress made to close the above gaps has all but stalled in the past couple decades.

Black women earned 56 cents for every dollar received by a white man in 1980—but that’s only gone up to 64 cents, as of 2021.

For Black women, a long history of cultural and structural biases have wedged the gender-race pay gap wide open: Occupational segregation and a disproportionate burden of caregiving responsibilities has made it more common for women of color to work relatively lower-paying jobs in the service and domestic-work industries, while at the same time, Black women are more likely than their white counterparts to be single moms and the sole breadwinners of their family—such that the money they do earn often has to stretch significantly further. Worse yet, Black college graduates are more likely than white graduates to be saddled with student-loan debt, too.

These discrepancies don’t even take into account the systemic biases that can majorly hinder Black women who enter the workforce in fields dominated by white women or men. A 2022 report conducted by Lean In and McKinsey & Company found that Black women face more rigid boundaries to advancement than their white colleagues; for example, Black women leaders are more likely to experience microaggressions (like someone questioning their judgment or mistaking them for someone of a lesser job title), and are less likely than white coworkers to say their manager is interested in their development. And it’s all of the above that contributes to the stagnancy of the gender-race pay gap, even as more Black women are earning college degrees and entering the labor force than ever.

Not only that, but the historic wealth gap—which takes into account not just income, but discriminatory lending practices and tax laws that benefit some over others—could take as long as 228 years to mend, and that leaves plenty of successful Black women stuck paying the Black tax. That means that they are often obligated to handle the financial needs of their elders, who are also less likely to have savings and retirement accounts.

Ty Heath, the director of market engagement at LinkedIn's B2B Institute (a think tank studying the future of B2B marketing and decision-making), says that she feels a great responsibility to help Black professional women secure the wealth that’s due to them—particularly as a Black woman who's climbed the corporate ladder. While we’ve made progress quantifying the Black experience in the workplace and starting conversations that empower women (including Black women) to ask for what they’re worth, we clearly have a lot of hurdles to overcome, she says. “Not only do I feel responsible to shine a light on the topic, but also to help us figure out what actions to take in response to what we're hearing and seeing.”

How Black women can ensure we’re earning what we’re worth

The gender-race pay gap can add up to anywhere from nearly $950,000 to over $2 million in lost revenue for Black women over the course of a 40-year career, and with an eye toward this unrealized potential, Heath works to encourage Black women to ask for what they deserve. But what exactly does it look like to ask?

For starters, Heath recommends adjusting your mindset. “We're living in a world where more people want to see progress than don't want to see progress, and we shouldn't forget that,” she says. “We are not alone anymore.”

“We're living in a world where more people want to see progress than don't want to see progress, and we shouldn't forget that.” —Ty Heath, directer of market engagement at LinkedIn's B2B Institute

Heath also says that women can empower other women by being open about their salaries—an act that may come more easily as pay transparency becomes more commonplace among employers, too. By gatekeeping, Black women can make it difficult for other Black women to gauge what to ask for, or if they’re undervaluing themselves. “We can do research on the target salary range,” says Heath. “A lot of us come up in families where we don't talk about finances, and you’re not supposed to ask others what they make—but we need to get more clear on that [for the sake of pay equity].”

While Heath acknowledges that data can serve a big role in highlighting the problem, she also believes that we can garner more awareness around the gender-race wage gap and Black Women’s Equal Pay Day by sharing our stories. “Let them stand in our shoes and navigate what comes with that,” says Heath. “We have the intersectional identity of being Black and female in a world full of misogynoir, while shouldering caregiver duties, paying student loans, and battling hair discrimination.”

In that realm, Heath adds, we also need to fully understand our value and overcome imposter syndrome. “We have to recognize that we were hired because we have talent and skill,” she says, “and we deserve to be paid equitably for the work we're delivering.” To be more confident in asking for a raise, Heath recommends developing a relationship with a member of your company’s human-resources department and learning the fiscal schedule to ensure that your timing is right.

Ultimately, however, closing the pay gap is really up to leadership. “When a company has the economic platform, resources, and a budget, they have to keep making the effort,” says Heath. Companies must continue to push for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals—even when many seem to have slowed or outright stopped their missions. And a part of DEI, Heath says, needs to be equitable pay.

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