How You Can Help Close the Wage Gap for Black Women

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Lisa Hochgraf Photo
Senior Editor

4 minutes

Seven action steps any credit union can take

On average, Black women are currently paid 63 cents for every $1 paid to a non-Hispanic white man, according to 2020 U.S. Census data as reported by the National Partnership for Women and Children.

For a Black woman working full time, this amounts to a median wage gap of $24,110 a year, and close to a million dollars a year over a 40-year career. Some groups calculate that a Black woman will have to work an extra 145 days—or a 510-day year—to reach parity.

Back in August, members of a virtual panel hosted by Futures Without Violence discussed, among other topics, what organizations can do to address this gap.

Shannon Williams, director of Equal Pay Today, offered three clear action steps.

  1. Stop asking job candidates how much they made in their previous position. "If a Black woman was paid less than her white colleague at her last job and you use that number to set her new pay, you're only allowing that discrimination to follow her into your workplace … and that can potentially follow her into her job after that," Williams said.
  2. Be fully transparent about what you're paying. "Employers need to start listing salary ranges on all job postings and start providing those hourly rates," she explained. "This ultimately helps candidates, including black women, figure out if that's really the job for them" or whether they need to look somewhere else. "It also holds an employer accountable to fair pay, regardless of gender and regardless of race."
  3. Encourage employees to talk about their pay with one another. Don't just allow it but encourage it—and "compel them to come forward if they notice any pay discrepancies or any unfairness," Williams said. "And this would really just ensure that any pay discrimination makes that makes its way into somebody's business …. And then also let employees know that they're not going to be punished in any way for talking about their pay with their employees or their other colleagues—and that they can talk to their supervisor or HR, even somebody higher up than that in the chain if they think that they're being paid unfairly."

Christine Green, a program specialist with Women Employed, offered another suggestion to the dialogue, one that some credit unions have done.

  1. Raise the minimum wage. "Black women are disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs," Green said. "Many of these jobs are particularly jobs that are minimum wage or that are tipped occupations ... (that) have the expectation that employees will make up to the minimum wage (with) their tips."

Another strategy for creating more equity in pay was given by Megan Simmons, J.D., Senior policy analyst for Ujima.

  1. Align pay to the qualifications that are needed and desired. "There needs to be an actual assessment of what is the skill that we need, what do we want (candidates) to bring to the table, what education is required, and then set a fair salary based on that," Simmons explained.

Clinical director of BWB, Naimah Efia contributed a vision for how organizations should think about the potential for Black women.

  1. Consider Black women for executive positions. "I've never met a black woman who's not a survivor of something," she said. "If you put black women in leadership roles, … they will have some level of understanding and perspective on what is needed in order for people to truly have equity in that work environment above and beyond pay."

Based on her experience with equity work in her state, Cassandra Welchlin, co-convener and state lead for the Mississippi Black Women's Roundtable, suggested another way organizations can help close the pay gap for Black women.

  1. Teach women how to advocate for their pay. On the day of the panel, Welchlin's organization had 12 women from every university and college in Mississippi learning how to advocate for their own salaries, then take those tools back to their college campuses. "And they're going to be doing two things," Welchlin said. "They're going to be organizing ... students on the campus to help us push this equal pay agenda. But then we've asked them to go to their university presidents and administrators to get a wage negotiation class on their campus."

Lisa Hochgraf is senior editor for CUES.

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