The numbers don’t lie check the scoreboard.” ~ Jay Z
As I write this article, I can honestly say that not much has changed since I published my first “A Black Woman’s Worth At Work” article in 2017. Women still need flexible work arrangements; they still need access to hot jobs, adequate resources and allies to confront the bias, harassment and discrimination they encounter on a daily basis. In addition to these woes, we’re still facing a compensation challenge that continues to plague Black and African-American women at an alarming rate. In 2017, the annual median wage for Black women in the United States was $36,203. In 2019 (according to the National Partnership for Women & Families), the annual median wage is $36,735 per year which equates to $532 (approximately $10.23/week or $.26/hr). There’s work to do beyond that which requires a woman to work harder and consistently extend the hours she contributes week after week.
-In the 25 states with the largest numbers of Black women working full time, year-round pay for Black women ranges from 48 to 68 cents for every dollar paid to White, non-Hispanic men in those states. In 2017, it was actually 48 to 69 cents.
-Median wages for Black women in the US are $36,735 per year compared to median wages of $60,388 annually for White, non-Hispanic men which equates to a difference of $23,653 annually.
-If the wage gap were eliminated, on average a Black woman working full time, year-round would have enough money for:
• ~2.5 more years of child care
• ~2.6 additional years of tuition and fees for a four-year public university or the full cost of tuition and fees for a two-year community college
• ~165 more weeks of food for her family (more than three years’ worth)
• ~15 more months of mortgage and utilities payments; nearly 23 more months of rent
• ~17 additional months of premiums for employer-based health insurance
As if these stats aren’t enough, it’s unacceptable that we’re STILL having a conversation about women being treated as “less than” and being compensated from that very perspective. As someone with a strong work ethic who has not only exceeded performance expectations throughout her career; as someone who has watched Black women from entry level roles to the C-Suite give at least 100% to prove their worth, I am more adamant about women knowing their worth and earning their worth than ever before!
While there are multiple contributing factors to our stagnant salary state that undermines the financial fate of Black women, it’s imperative that we allow our “passion” (that’s the politically correct word for frustration) around this topic to include action. I’m grateful for Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (Dem.-DC) who believes employers should be prohibited from asking job candidates for their salary history during the job interview or salary negotiation process. Her rationale makes sense when you consider her sentiment so eloquently stated in a 2016 news release : “Women and minorities often face discrimination in the job application process and in salary negotiations. Many carry lower salaries for their entire careers simply because of wages at previous jobs that were set unfairly. Our bill will require employers to offer salaries to prospective employees based on merit, not gender, race, or ethnicity.”
Employers have the power to shift this conversation but you do as well. In “The Underrepresentation of African American Women in Executive Leadership: What’s Getting In The Way?”, it highlights what Black women must do to proactively manage their careers. We must:
• Know what we want professionally so we can develop and implement a career strategy
• Be willing to monitor our success which includes reevaluation and course correcting when necessary
• Be willing to learn technology, processes, procedures and understand interdependencies
• Take responsibility for our careers minus a passive approach that includes expecting someone else to manage our careers
• Accept leadership positions on projects to demonstrate competencies
I recommend the aforementioned as well as the following if we truly want to change the unacceptable pay outcomes women experience year after year.
-Cultivate social capital: some doors will only open from the inside. With this in mind, you’ll need to intentionally sustain relationships in conjunction with having a mentor, sponsor and coach at every level of your career. It’s a requirement that you not only seek advice and information on career opportunities, but that you also gain skills in confidence not merely experience.
-Strive for excellence instead of perfection: overcoming doubts and negative self-worth will change your life, not just your career. Women must realize perfectionism is an unrealistic expectation and many times we fail to meet the expectation because we’ve created a faulty standard.
-Negotiate salary: not negotiating is an aspect of this issue that every woman can control at some point in her career. I suggest that when you do engage in compensation negotiations that you:
• Execute with confidence, strategy and specifics not emotion
• Focus on mutual wins (including employer needs)
• Know your bottom line (“walking point”)
• Proactively prepare a counter offer
• Consider non-salary “wins” such as professional development, telecommute options, health memberships, etc.
-Take ownership, take control and be accountable: women must own the “inside work” that ultimately changes their career story. If we want something better and/or different, we must take action which includes stating what we need, no longer sitting on our ask and not expecting others “to know” our requirements or desires.
We didn’t arrive at this place overnight so I don’t expect it to change overnight. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.”
In essence, Black women must become the change we expect to see by taking the necessary actions to close the wage gap. At the end of the day, it will take a collaborative effort of both men and women of all ethnicities who have the power to advocate for this long overdue but necessary change in the workplace.
Historically speaking, not much has changed regarding the value that is placed on providing Black women with equitable compensation in this country for a job well done but remember: nothing changes until you do.
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Ericka Spradley is the Chief PowHer Officer/Founder of Confident Career Woman which is the premier consulting firm for corporations and the mid-career professional woman who wants to advance, better manage her career, and go further faster. Ericka is an advocate who partners with clients to help women ditch perfection, play bigger and make PowHer Moves by: identifying their next role, creating a career strategy, offering ongoing career guidance, and coaching clients to master interviews. For additional information, visit: ErickaSpradley.com