6 ways to fight the wage gap plaguing Black women professionals

Data collected by the United States Census Bureau estimates the Black women are paid 61% of what white men took home in 2018. Another way to look at it, according to the American Association of University Women, is to consider the time it takes for a Black female professional to make the same amount of money as a white man: 19 months versus 12 months.

Research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research indicates that closing this gap will take until 2119 in our current landscape. To put it lightly, bluntly and accurately: that’s not fast enough. 

Though the figures are grim, given the lack of diversity at the country’s most successful and fast-growing companies, it’s easy to see why this keeps happening. As the chief brand and engagement officer at EHE Health, Joy Altimare explains women—and especially women of color—have always suffered from racial disparities in the workplace. And it’s often most clearly seen when you analyze pay.

“From advertising agencies to the executive suite at top Fortune 100 companies, we see women of color capped at a salary that mimics there colleagues’ earnings from 10 years prior,” she continues. “Women of color have two challenges that befall them—gender and race. So, that ‘double whammy’ deserves an elevated discussion and keen focus on finding a solution as the time is now for equal pay for equal work.”

The Black Lives Movement’s recent momentum has brought up meaningful, vital conversations—and the vast need for Black workers to make just as much as their white counterparts is a big one to fight against systemic racism. Here, we spoke with Black inspiring female leaders to discuss what can be done—right now—to begin the necessary steps toward economic equality: 

Pass state laws that make a difference

While there are many ways individuals and companies can change the discrepancies in income and opportunity for Black women, a real transformation requires passing state laws that protect employees and job seekers, according to Helen Aboah, the CEO of Urban Zen.

As an example, she shares that in New York and California, you can’t ask a candidate about their current salary. This is positive since it allows candidates the chance to research the market rate of the position they’re applying for, without being held to their current take-home pay. Which, as Aboah reminds, for Black women is likely to be much less than what the said-company has budgeted for. In many other states, though, the question is fair game. “Companies who operate in states that have not passed these policies shouldn’t wait to operate transparently as to avoid future salary conflicts and, more importantly, to be a more equitable organization,” she adds.

Analyze your metrics in promotions and layoffs

It’s essential to understand your internal metrics over the past several years before you can funnel change through every level of your business. As a financial analyst, Kallí Williams recommends determining the number of promotions and layoffs in a five-year tenure by race and gender. This information alone will quickly illustrate disparities that need attention, and will clearly show the need for a company overhaul, rather than making the wage gap a personal mission. As all white professionals are learning, it’s an everyone problem, not one that should fall on the back of the Black community alone. 

“If racial biases from middle managers didn’t encumber black women, they could progress into frontline manager positions. Many companies note they don’t see diversity in frontline management but never care enough to address what could be causing the disparity,” Williams adds. “When companies are laying off employees, they need to be mindful of this lack of diversity. They typically lay off employees in the lower ranks. Most Black employees can not get into upper ranks because of implicit biases, but are the first to go because they are stuck in lower-ranked positions.” 

Create funding equity for Black women-owned businesses

Though female-owned businesses and particularly female person-of-color-owned businesses are among the fastest-growing sectors of entrepreneurs, funding equity mainly goes to white men. According to Roshawnna Novellus, the CEO, and founder of EnrichHER, it’s a sad reality that while women-led ventures obtain a lot of traction win competitions and successfully raise capital, they face more challenges than their male-led counterparts. “We see this same trend manifest in the workplace for Black women. Financial equity is a prominent issue amongst Black women in the professional ecosystem,” she adds. 

Have a promotion schedule you stick to

To help keep them in check and accountable for their internal practices, Williams says more companies should have a promotion schedule coupled with performance ratings. As she explains, many Black women are usually ranked lower than their white counterparts. However, if there were more open information around how and when people received promotions, as well as the skills required to earn these titles and salary bumps, it would be easier to fight when injustices happen. “Increased transparency concerning promotion schedules are needed because a manager will never discuss with their Black employees how to get promoted or typically evade when asked. Clear guidelines would help bridge that gap,” she explains.

Altimare says it could also be beneficial to designate advocates within the company to keep the c-level managers in check. “Put together a group of employees—across races and genders—to look at the information in aggregate to protect employee privacy and to provide real, candid feedback on what they see,” she continues. “This is gut-check outside the executive suite is not subjected to the politics and shenanigans that often are plague leadership.”

Offer mentorship and career progression training for Black women

Aboah says if each Fortune 500 company were to mentor one Black woman at different levels of management, this would change the face of America. However, to be effective, the engagement needs to be consistent and thorough, offering strategy sessions, interview and negotiation prep, and more. “In turn, Black women can offer their ideas and feedback to build on the company’s strategy and, at times, even save companies from culturally or racially insensitive product and advertising that are damaging to the brand, the bottom line, and more importantly to people,” she adds. 

It shouldn’t be a fight—it should be a right

So how can leaders level the playing field? Bring in more Black women—and pay them the same as white hires. Invest in businesses that are led by Black women. Award more scholarships to aspiring young Black women who want to attend college or take internships and cannot afford to and the list goes on. As Michelle Saahene, the co-founder of From Privilege to Progress, explains, it’s the only—and most obvious—solution. “When you do not ensure the equal pay of Black women who are often the caretakers of their households, you are hurting Black children as well, and upholding white supremacy, and contributing to the overall wealth gap that spans through generations,” she continues. “This again goes back to checking your own racial biases, and ask why it is that you haven’t been paying Black women the same pay from the start.”