The Workplace Whisperer

Let’s Talk About Checks, Baby: Reducing the Racial Wage Gap

Office advice for women of color who know that leaning in doesn’t always work

InIn recent years, a significant amount of study has been dedicated to addressing the gender wage gap. Organizations such as the National Partnership for Women and Families frequently report on the gender wage gap by utilizing U.S. Census data to track wages and workforce participation rates. According to its most recent report, on average, women are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to White, non-Hispanic men who perform similar work.

However, when this statistic is disaggregated, a much more grim picture of inequality emerges. Black women are only paid 62 cents for every dollar paid to White, non-Hispanic males, and depending on what state and industry a Black woman lives and works in, she may earn as little 47 cents on the White male dollar. Native American women are paid 58 cents on the dollar, Latina women, 54 cents; White women, 79 cents; and Asian women, though they fare better than the rest of us, still only receive 90 cents on the White, non-Hispanic male dollar.

While these numbers are abysmal in the microeconomic sense, what is sometimes lost is the long-term impact of unequal pay over an entire career. The National Women’s Law Center reports that, on average, the gender wage gap means women will miss out on some $407,760 over a 40-year career span. For Black women, that number skyrockets to $944,800 and for Latina women, it’s a whopping $1,121,440. These numbers, while shocking, still don’t really convey the impact that lost wages can have on a family for multiple generations.

Think about it: Earning less means there is less money to spend on housing, food, medical care, student debt, or emergency expenses. You may not be able to afford to live in a decent school district so you buy a home in the best possible neighborhood. But you still may not be able to afford after-school child care, enrichment programs, or college tuition. In fact, you might be paying off your student debt when the time comes for your child(ren) to go to college; they end up having to take out a bunch of loans and this vicious cycle just starts all over again.

While these numbers are abysmal… what is sometimes lost is the long-term impact of unequal pay over an entire career.

AsAs of January 1, 2018, prospective employers in the state of California can no longer inquire about an applicant’s salary history and instead must share the pay scale for the position pursuant to section 432.3 of the California Labor Code. The thinking is that by prohibiting companies from paying employees based on their past salaries, the wage disparities that tend to follow women and people of color throughout their careers should start to dissipate. More states should adopt this type of law. But there are still ways that companies can game the system by offering ranges overly broad and stating that salary is “commensurate with experience.” It’s to the point where it is difficult to know where an offer might fall and you may never know what factors were considered in determining what salary to offer you. Another tactic companies use is asking for your salary requirements. But that’s not basing your pay on your salary history. Plus, a miscalculation on your part could result in you continuing to be undercompensated without even knowing it.

So now that you know the ugly truth, what can you do about it? Here are three things to consider doing or doing differently in the new year when it comes to closing the wage gap.

Know your worth

I don’t think this one requires too much explanation but this should be an ongoing exercise throughout your career. How do you know what you’re worth? The next two pieces of advice will help fill in the blanks, but there are tools available to help you roughly estimate your value given your experience, education, and other factors, such as where you live. Glassdoor and LinkedIn have begun adding salary information to some job postings but these are estimates; you will need to do your own research and cross-validate this data with other sources, but some data is better than none. Now take that number and add a couple thousand to it. That’s what White men make. That’s what you should make too.

Start talking about compensation

This is a tough one. Growing up, I was taught that talking about money, how much one had, etc., was taboo, but how else will you know if you are being compensated fairly if you don’t know how your compensation compares to that of others? Regardless of their intent, private sector employers rely on this lack of transparency about pay in order to uphold the wage gap. I have been fortunate to find a small circle of people I trust enough to share pertinent salary information with, and who in turn, share theirs with me. Though we work in different industries, we are all roughly in the same place experience-wise, so the discussions are still helpful in determining what I should expect to be offered or how much to ask for when pursuing certain positions.

Don’t let fear cause you to leave money on the table. Keep in mind that you can negotiate more than just your pay.

Get comfortable with negotiating

This one was also difficult for me personally, due to the belief that asking for too much would cause a company to withdraw their offer. And if the reason you’re undertaking a job search is because you urgently need to leave your current position, manager, or company, the stakes feel much higher in that this new role can feel like your only way out. That said, don’t let fear cause you to leave money on the table. Keep in mind, you can negotiate more than just your pay. If an organization lacks flexibility when it comes to the base salary, perhaps they can add some extra vacation time, increase their 401k matching contribution, or agree to conduct a salary review in six months instead of a year. These same skills come into play when negotiating for a higher annual raise. Go ahead and ask for more than 3%.

Don’t tell yourself no

We’re in the bonus now. I’ve found that women who could earn more money simply don’t believe they are worth an additional $20,000 or $40,000 or $60,000. But you are. After all, White men get paid these rates, so why shouldn’t you?

Eradicating the wage gap is an uphill climb. Companies around the world must be willing to assess whether they are paying women fairly and if not, be willing and able to take remedial action. They must also change their processes and systems so future employees in this generation and the next don’t find themselves so far behind the curve. I hope that in the new year, eliminating the gender wage gap is on every company’s list of resolutions. Even if it’s not, in 2020, we need to be about gettin’ that money.

Reducing The Wage Gap: Read More Workplace Whisperer Advice.

Julia Locklear is a California-based career coach and research psychologist. Have a nagging work question? Email your (always anonymous) inquiry to Zora@medium.com so we can help a sista out. “The Workplace Whisperer” appears twice a month and is not legal advice; please consult an attorney if you are considering litigation.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store