Salary Transparency Is a Feminist Act We Must All Take To Close the Gender Pay Gap for Women of Color

Photo: Omar Vazquez; Graphic: W+G Creative
“Feminism” and “womanhood” mean different things to different folks. With The F-Word, our essay series running throughout Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting different perspectives—the good, the bad, and the complicated—of what those concepts mean to people.

Equal Pay Day, which the United States observes on March 15 this year, serves to bring awareness to the gender pay gap. Typically, it's marked by swirling stats about how many cents on the dollar people who identify as women make compared to that of people who identify as men. And in recent years especially, more attention has been paid to how, for women of color, the gap is even more vast. But, despite this increase in attention, I feel the framing to be off. As a woman of color, I believe the conversations surrounding racial inequalities highlight the deeper disparities that exist between not just all men and all women but also white women and women from marginalized communities.

According to the Center for American Progress, using 2020 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, women make 83 cents to a man’s dollar. But when narrowed to Black women, that gap becomes 64 cents compared to white, non-Hispanic men; and for Hispanic women, it’s 57 cents, according to the data. In order for that to not be the case and to work toward pay parity for all people—which is indeed a feminist pursuit—it’s crucial that women get comfortable talking openly about money.

It’s time to own the fact that not disclosing earnings is a form of gatekeeping that will only further contribute to a stall in pay equity, especially for women of color. In practice, this means sharing our own success stories, and advocating for other women. And it’s especially necessary to do if you’re a white woman who knows women of color are earning less than you.

It’s time to own the fact that not disclosing earnings is a form of gatekeeping that will only further contribute to a stall in pay equity, especially for women of color.

I’m a Peruvian-American Latina and freelance writer, and I didn’t realize these disparities existed or affected me so directly until I was several years into my career. When I entered the journalism industry after completing several internships at national women’s publications at the height of the 2008 economic recession, I entered a workforce culture that told me to be grateful for any opportunity that came my way, regardless of the meager pay or how much time the job demanded.

The best thing that ever happened to me, then, was getting laid off. I’ve been working as a freelance journalist for just over five years, ever since my last full-time editorial position dissolved a month before I turned 30. I often say now that working as a freelance writer is the dream job I never knew I wanted, because I never really knew it was a possibility to get to do what I love on my own terms—and that includes setting my own rates.

I’m now earning more than double what I did at my last “real-job” and came very close to celebrating my first six-figure year in 2021 as a result of carving this path out for myself. This may sound as though I’m celebrating a victory of sorts, but in reality, I spent the last few years working to catch up to where I should have been earnings-wise, had racial disparities been removed. And while I can never know for sure, I believe I would still be well behind both my white male and female counterparts if I were still trying to climb the traditional editorial ladder at a publication.

But I certainly didn’t have overnight success. Originally, I sought full-time work after being laid off, but as I had open conversations about money with peers in the industry, I came to realize how far I’d unintentionally set myself behind.

I also struggled with quite a bit of imposter syndrome when I was first starting out as a full-time freelancer (and still deal with a lot of it to this day) in light of the lack of representation of freelancers who looked like me. Though I saw women at my same experience level reaching success as freelancers, I subconsciously believed it was because they were on some kind of higher level than I was, that they had something I didn’t, that they knew people I didn’t. I internalized these made-up proclamations as reasons why this path may not work out for me. This lack of representation and the ingrained belief that it sets me below white counterparts also contributes to holding back racial pay parity progress.

But, I’ve committed to certain practices to close the gap for myself and others. First, I mentor people when possible to give advice I wish I had received early on. Second, I’m outspoken about the need for salary transparency. Third, I always negotiate my rates.

I’ve been lucky in that a lot of the mentors who have given me advice and guidance as I’ve navigated this path over the last few years have actually been white women at my same experience level. They’ve shared that they’ve earned more at a given publication when I’ve asked if they think I’m being offered a fair rate.

While the takeaway here isn’t simply “have more white friends,” there is no mistaking that white women are a huge piece of this puzzle. To achieve pay equity between white women and women of color, all women must be willing to talk numbers when having these conversations. Had this not been my reality, I don’t know that I’d be able to effectively pay if forward to the writers of color who now come to me for negotiation advice, as I’d more than likely still be further behind myself.

This isn’t to say practicing salary transparency is easy—but few things that are important are. I’ve made a concerted effort to share regardless of my nerves of self-conscious feelings, and I’m grateful when I see others—particularly women of color—have the courage to do the same. Though uncomfortable, sharing income information is, to me, an intersectional feminist act that is crucial for achieving true equal pay.

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