September 21, 2022 is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, the date Black women have to work to in 2022 to make as much as their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts made in 2021. If that makes you mad, it should.
Fighting for fair pay as a Black female business owner in an overwhelming white field like communications and PR isn’t easy, says Abesi Manyando. Despite owning her own company, Manyando says she’s often had to work twice as hard as the white men around her while still making less money than them.
“Black women such as myself are required to produce so much and are required to perform miracles,” says Manyando. “But when it comes to pay, there’s such a vast difference in what clients are willing to pay you than your male counterparts. And with non-white people, I’ve noticed that too.”
Recently Manyando says she’s gotten better about advocating for higher pay by insisting on set rates for her work. But she’s aware that many Black women don’t have the luxury of turning down paid work.
“A lot of times we make the mistake of asking people who are being oppressed… or treated unequally to change,” says Manyando. “What needs to change is the power structure and the inequality.”
On average, Black women working full-time make just 67 cents for every dollar paid to white non-Hispanic men, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
The implications of this pay gap are enormous, says Gaylynn Burroughs, an income inequality expert at the National Women’s Law Center.
“Black women and their families have less money to survive, less money to sort of weather a financial emergency, or a crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Burroughs.
Throughout a 40-year career, the National Women’s Law Center estimates that Black women lose $907,680 to the wage gap.
“Over a decade, that huge pay gap can mean the difference in being able to buy a house or not buy a house. Send your children to college or go to college yourself,” says Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage. “These are the kinds of life-changing differences that the pay gap results in. But it’s important to remember that this pay gap was intentional. And the fact that it has lasted this long is shameful.”
A large part of what explains the wage gap is that Black women are overrepresented in lower wage jobs, says Burroughs.
A report from the Center for American Progress in 2021 found that Black women were significantly overrepresented among Americans who made less than $15 an hour, which for context is not considered a live-able wage in any part of the United States.
Tonya Woods, a Black 46-year-old mother of four, has worked in the restaurant industry as a waitress for over five years. Despite working two jobs, she barely makes enough from tips to cover the cost of living in her hometown of Chicago.
“I was working for Chili’s and IHOP, and tips were not making me anywhere near 15 dollars an hour,” she says. “I was spending $250 a week on childcare and gas, and my check only comes out to $175. So where does the rest come from?”
But even for Black women in higher earning careers, Burroughs says that pay discrimination is rampant. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, on average Black women with an advanced degree make less money than white men with only a Bachelor’s degree.
Lauren Maroney, 36, a Black woman in social media marketing says she’s all too familiar with the pay gap.
“Being a Black woman in my field,” says Maroney, “I’ve been in situations where I’ve realized that a white male counterpart with not nearly as much experience... or even with a lower job title was being paid equal to or more.”
Talking to co-workers and searching job comparison sites like Glassdoor have been incredibly helpful in leveling the playing field, says Maroney. But it still sucks to find out she’s paid less than her peers.
“It’s angering,” says Maroney. “Unfortunately, I’m not shocked, and it’s almost like I want to be shocked. I want this not to be the norm.”
The wage gap for Black women isn’t a lost cause, says Burroughs. In fact, there are a lot of ways that employers can be partners in reducing pay disparities, she says.
“One thing folks could do is to stop relying on prior salary history,” says Burroughs. “There’s research that shows that in places where employers are prohibited from looking at prior salary history, that pay is generally higher for women and for Black men.”
On the federal side, Burroughs says that passing the Raise The Wage Act, which would raise the minimum wage and eliminate the tipped wage, which sets a significantly lower minimum wage for tipped workers, would be massively beneficial for Black women.
“Pay them an actual wage and let tips be on top of that so they aren’t so reliant on the biases of customers and managers,” says Jayaraman. “That’s such a clear and straightforward solution that would immediately diminish the pay gap in the [service] industry.”
Unable to make a living wage, Woods walked away from her job in the service industry over four months ago and decided to start a business of her own instead.
“I started making adult snow cones so I could be my own boss and be there with my daughter when she’s sick, as well as my other kids,” she said. “For me, working at a low-wage job that didn’t care about me or my feelings didn’t pan out. So, therefore, I was like, I don’t have to deal with this. I can do this on my own.”