#38PercentCounts: It's Black Women's Equal Pay Day—and What You Don't Know Might Hurt Us

Do you know what today is? It’s Tuesday, August 7; 219 days from the start of 2018. Today is also Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, the date that signifies how much longer black women had to work into 2018 to equal what white men earned in 2017. And in case you’re wondering, it’s been a full 120 days since the date white women caught up with their white male peers on April 10, 2018.


Call it an anti-holiday, if you will, because there’s nothing to celebrate: on average, black women are paid 38 percent less than white men and 21 percent less than white women. And as devastating as those statistics are, almost as tragic is the fact that there seems to be so little awareness—or care—around the pay gap black women face. According to research conducted by Lean In and SurveyMonkey, in partnership with the National Urban League, one in three Americans remains unaware of the pay gap between black women and white men, while half of Americans are unaware of the gap between black and white women.

Among their key findings (as shared by Lean In)

  • 85% of Americans think it would be a major problem or crisis if they earned 40% less money. Yet compared to white men, black women face this pay gap every day.
  • More than 30 percent of Americans are not aware that, on average, black women are paid less than white men.
  • Among those that are aware of the pay gap, 40% underestimate its size: On average, black women are paid 38% less than white men, which amounts to almost $870,000 lost over the course of a typical career.
  • People are overly optimistic about the state of black women: Approximately half of the white men surveyed think obstacles to advancement for black women are gone—but only 14% of black women agree. Moreover, nearly 70% of non-black people believe racism, sexism or both aren’t issues in their workplace—but 64% of black women say they’ve experienced discrimination at work.
  • The racial pay gap is even more underestimated: On average, black women are paid 21% less than white women. Yet 50% of Americans—as well as 45% of hiring managers—think black women and white women are paid equally. And 77% of working Americans think no gap exists between black and white women in their own organizations.
  • When presented with information that black women on average are paid 38% less than white men, 72% of Americans think it’s not fair.

“The lack of awareness about the pay gap at their own workplace, particularly among hiring managers—two-thirds of whom say there is none—is an insight we hope drives organizations to take action,” Sarah Cho, Director of Research at SurveyMonkey, told Lean In. “Conducting a pay equity study is a powerful way to bring this topic into clear terms, but we also hope these data spark curiosity within companies to measure perceptions about inclusion, so they can build broader programs and policies to help drive meaningful change that lasts.”


Broader programming and policies are key, because additional research indicates even further obstacles to black women’s advancement: Lean In & McKinsey & Company’s annual Women in the Workplace study revealed that compared to their white, Asian and (non-black) Latina peers, black women are unique in that they typically receive less support from managers—and are accordingly slower to gain promotions.

“Black women deal with double discrimination every day—they face biases for being women and biases for being people of color. One place where we see that double effect is in the 38 percent pay gap,” Rachel Thomas, president of Lean In, said in a press release. “That translates to more than $800,000 lost over the course of a career with staggering real-world implications.”


But how can we begin to fix something few are aware—or will acknowledge—is broken? This year, our friends at Lean In have launched #38PercentCounts to hopefully raise awareness of the pay gap and its negative effect on black women—and consequently, on their families, as more than 80% of black mothers are the main breadwinners for their households.


“The pay gap facing Black women is an urgent problem,” said Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.Org. “It has huge financial implications for millions of families. And it signals something deeply wrong in our economy. We need to address the gender and racial inequalities that give rise to this imbalance—and create workplaces where everyone’s labor is valued, everyone is treated with respect, and everyone has an equal shot at success.”


On this Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, LeanIn has joined with large-scale distribution and advertising partners—including Facebook, Instagram, PayPal, and SoFi to reaching millions of people online with the message that #38PercentCounts. Additionally, they have partnered with corporate equality trailblazers Adidas, Lyft, Procter & Gamble (P&G), and Reebok to encourage consumers to consider the impact of receiving 38 percent less as they make everyday purchases throughout August 7.

P&G sponsored campaign videos (like the one above) that put a human face on the impact of the pay gap on black women and their families. Cloud computing platform and equal pay pioneer Salesforce is providing financial support for national Lean In Circle events designed to bring awareness to the pay gap for Black women. Customers making purchases at Adidas and Reebok stores across the country and online on August 7 will receive the message that #38PercentCounts on everything from shopping bags to receipts. And Lyft is literally driving the point home by asking riders to imagine if their trip ended with 38 percent left to go after each ride on August 7.


And if you think black women are the most impacted by wage disparities, think again: Indigenous women will have to wait until September 27 to hypothetically “catch up,” while working Latina women face a staggering 46 percent pay gap, which mean Latina Equal Pay Day won’t happen until November 1. In November, Lean In and their campaign partners will resume their efforts to highlight the even greater disparities affecting our Latina sisters—can you imagine Lyft dropping you off only 54 percent of the way to your destination?


But what can we do, here and now, to begin to narrow the wage gap for women of color? We can speak on it—not just today, but every day that it continues. Because the wage gap isn’t just an issue that affects us personally; it is the foundation of a national economic epidemic.

“Our plan is that bringing awareness to this injustice will lead to concrete action,” Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, told Lean In. “Not only would fair pay for black women drastically narrow the racial economic gap, but it would go a long way toward stabilizing our national economy. Because black women disproportionately are heads of households, fair pay would create a ripple effect that could lift entire communities.”


The Glow Up tip: Want to show your support for #38PercentCounts? Visit leanin.org/38percentcounts watch campaign videos and see the Black women’s pay gap “by the numbers.” Most important, business leaders and managers can visit to learn what they can do to close the pay gap in their companies, and women will learn expert tips and tricks for negotiating more effectively.


Editor’s Note: This story was written in partnership with Lean In.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



“Black women deal with double discrimination every day—they face biases for being women and biases for being people of color. One place where we see that double effect is in the 38 percent pay gap,” Rachel Thomas, president of Lean In, said in a press release.

We have to put the kibosh on the use of the term “people of color” when trying to point out specific problems that people of different racial and ethnic groups face. This article just stated that Black women receive less support than Asian, non-Black Latina, and white co-workers, yet we’re discriminated against for being people of color? C’mon. Say Black when you mean Black.