According to recent statistics from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), “African American women working full-time, year-round typically [make] only 64 cents for every dollar white non-Hispanic men make.” What makes this already alarming disparity even more troubling? White women currently make 77 cents to every dollar white, non-Hispanic men make, meaning African American women are not only making less than men, but also less than their white female counterparts.
Why do black women get lower wages?
We live in a time of great progression, with women at the forefront of business success and Michelle Obama making history as the first African American First Lady in the United States.
Still, studies and accumulated data show that bias and injustices continue to support an omnipresence throughout our society, particularly for working African American women.
Possible Reasons for Disparity
Why is race a factor in how different a black woman’s potential earnings are verses men and other women in the U.S.? Some statistics posit that education is a factor, as it has been reported by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) that African American women are less likely to receive a high school diploma or complete college than their white counterparts.
A shorter list of credentials can mean a lower pay scale for certain positions that offer higher salaries based on degrees or certifications. Education is important to making women more competitive in the workforce, and certainly ensuring educational attainment earlier in life for people of color is a critical topic that needs to be addressed in much greater detail. But the story doesn’t stop there.
Other studies dispute lack of education should be the default reason for this startling wage disparity. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) notes that even with the same educational background, African American women, along with their Hispanic peers, are still paid less than white women. Despite having identical education, skill sets, capabilities, potential, and value to bring to a company, black women are still paid grossly less than men and white women. This fact suggests that there may be more implicit factors at work which have led to the struggles experienced by African American women in the professional environment to climb in the ranks and achieve wage parity.
More on Implicit Discrimination
Implicit bias is a form of discrimination that occurs without an individual being conscious of the decisions they are making based on personal opinion. This implicit bias can permeate the professional environment even without complicit parties being aware, from the HR office during the hiring process to the board room in the promotion process.
Project Implicit, a non-profit organization developed from a a multi-university research collaboration in 1998 by three scientists, “…investigates thoughts and feelings that exist outside of conscious awareness or conscious control.” The organization offers various tests on their website, including one that can be taken by hiring managers, bosses and entrepreneurs who may unwittingly be effecting workplace moral, diversity and justice due to implicit biases.
Ending Inequality in the Workplace
Other than assessing one’s own biases and working personally toward fair hiring practices and equal pay, there are several initiatives aimed toward helping to lift African American women to fair, comparable wages.
Fight For Fair Pay
Fight For Fair Pay is an organization that offers education on the gender wage gap, including how it affects all individuals in and out of the workplace – not just women – and leads to economic and business detriments, as well as the ways people can take real action to fight for equal pay.
Paycheck Fairness Act
On January 23, 2013, the Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced in order to amend and alter certain outdated points of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Although the Equal Pay Act made tremendous strides towards equality for women, as progressions have been made over several decades, the Paycheck Fairness Act was an essential update to reflect the issues currently being faced. As stated by the American Civil Liberties Union, the critical changes made are as follows.
- Employers will be required to demonstrate that wage differentials are based on factors other than sex.
- Prohibits retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages.
- Permits reasonable comparisons between employees within clearly defined geographical areas to determine fair wages.
- Strengthens penalties for equal pay violation.
- Directs the Department of Labor to assist employers and collect wage-related data.
- Authorizes additional training for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission staff to better identify and handle wage disputes.
The National Partnership for Women and Families offers a form for individuals to fill out and personalize before sending to their state’s senators in order to support the act, and encourage support and further amendments by congress.
EMILY’s List is an organization with various resources on supporting equality and equal pay in the workplace. It has also been noted in a 2014 report from The Root that members of congress elected through support from EMILY’s List were instrumental in supporting the Paycheck Fairness Act.
How Business Owners Can Help
Business owners can take several steps each day at the workplace to honestly assess their own biases and ensure fair hiring practices.
Human Resources representatives are trained explicitly on issues such as workplace harassment, conflict and discrimination in order to ensure both employers and employees are working in a legally and ethically sound environment. Bosses would be wise to work closely with HR in order to determine ways to consistently solidify the workplace as one that showcases respect and fairness among all employees.
Just as training in sexual harassment and safety is commonplace in business environments, training and team building activities that focus on eliminating biases and exemplifying a place of employment as one that is supportive of all employees will reduce the chances of accidental or purposeful discrimination. These efforts can also boost morale, which leads to a more diverse, cohesive team, and better productivity.
As history has shown, great strides in equality often begin with a few small steps by individuals. Each employer who makes it her or his personal responsibility to uphold standards of respect, equality and justice in the workplace can help the U.S. professional environment progress to a place where discrimination of all forms are eliminated.