I graduated from college in 2014 at the young age of 21 thinking I was going straight to graduate school for Political Science. Instead, I moved to Washington, DC two years later to begin work as a volunteer coordinator with a starting salary of $33,000. When I decided not to go to grad school, I recalled my father’s words to my younger sister and myself: “You’ve GOT to work twice as hard to get half of what they got.” “They” meaning white people. As a Black non-binary femme, I understand that inequity was and is heavily ingrained in our system — and running a race that has so many hurdles and obstacles is a fairly accurate analogy for the Black experience in academia and working America.
Black women make, on average, 62 cents for every dollar. That is 38 percent less than what white men make, and 21 percent less than what white women make. According to Lean In, 53 percent of Americans aren’t even aware of the pay gap between Black and white women.
Black women face a unique struggle at the intersection of race and gender as it pertains to advancing their professional careers. They are systematically held at specific positions or levels in the workplace, and not always given opportunities to advance. My story is similar.
When I moved to DC, I worked as a volunteer coordinator at a non-profit that served mainly African American seniors with low- to medium-incomes in DC. My salary was $31,000 per year. I then received a $3,000 bonus that was lauded as a huge step up from where I originally was. At that time, in 2016, a person needed to make around $83,000 to live comfortably in DC. The median household income for DC residents in 2016 was approximately $69,000.
When I started as a development assistant and database administrator, my starting salary was $43,000 and I was required to have a specific skill set (two years of experience with Salesforce). To provide some context, development assistants make on average $38,000-$40,000 in DC; database administrators make $113,000 on average. The average of both jobs’ salaries is $76,500. My title has since changed to the Development Database Associate, and my salary has been adjusted to approximately $55,000.
Thirty percent of Black women negotiate for promotions, while 24 percent of them negotiate for raises but often don’t get them. By being denied the opportunity to move up in the workplace, Black women are too often denied the opportunity to close the wage gap, thus unable to attain the same levels of economic security as their white counterparts. For white women, the average amount of income lost due to the pay gap is $555,000, while Black women’s is almost double that at $941,600. Pay equity with a comprehensive racial parity lens is imperative if there is a desire to close the wage gap.
Pay parity is a simple concept. It is the belief that every worker should have access to the same working conditions as comparable employees at the same organization. Pay equity is a step in achieving pay parity because pay equity looks at multiple aspects in which people may be marginalized and how that marginalization affects their work. To achieve pay parity and pay equity, organizations must invest in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). One way to make a move in the right direction is to gain knowledge. Days like Black Women’s Equal Pay Day can serve as an opportunity to understand how the pay gap affects Black women racially — but further research into the pay gap with intent to close it is key.
Organizations and companies should move with swift moral urgency to pay Black women wholly and equitably. Just as the President has made Juneteenth a federal holiday that most will have paid time off to enjoy, employers should begin to lead with racial equity to ensure that the many hurdles manifested in the form of systemic racism in the workplace no longer go unnoticed. Until the present day, many people did not know about the holiday’s history. Many didn’t know that it is a celebration for and of Black Americans who were finally informed of their freedom.
On Juneteenth and every day, Black women should be encouraged to negotiate for high salaries while simultaneously being placed in executive positions that aren’t tokenizing, like a chief diversity officer. Not paying Black women equitably is tied directly to the importance of DEI within an organization. When Black women aren’t paid, an economic crisis is certain. When Black women are paid equitably and make up a larger percentage of the executive level representatives, profits are guaranteed.
So employers, if you haven’t already, pay Black women for their labor and thank a Black woman for saving the day.