Today is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. This means that Black women had to work every day of 2016 and this far into 2017 to catch up to what white men earned in 2016 alone.
Let that sink in for a second. It’s nearly August.
Put another way, for every dollar white men earn, Black women earn 63 cents on average. That’s nearly twice as large as the gender gap that all women on average face. And for Hispanic women, it’s even worse (as we’ll see again in November, which is when Hispanic women’s Equal Pay Day falls).
Today is about recognizing the double bind that Black women encounter in their lives and careers. Sexism and racism are powerful forces, and they can put huge obstacles in the paths of even the most determined and diligent workers. It’s why many parents of Black girls tell their daughters, “You have to be twice as good — twice as prepared, twice as hard-working, twice as poised – to earn your shot at success.” The pay gap is further evidence of all the hurdles and stumbling blocks that still hold many Black women back from equal opportunity.
This isn’t about working hard: among all women, Black women are tied for the highest rate of participation in the labor force. This isn’t about education: no matter what level of education they have, Black women are still paid less than white women. This isn’t about their profession: Black women are paid less than white men across fields and industries – even those dominated by women.
The consequences are real and painful. If the pay gap were closed, in a single year a Black woman working full time would be able to pay for three years’ worth of groceries, 14 months’ worth of mortgage payments, or two and a half years’ worth of childcare. Imagine what a boost that would give to families – especially the 1.4 million families headed by Black women living in poverty.
At the current rate of change, Black women won’t earn equal pay until 2124. That’s absurd. We need to do better right now.
Today, the Lean In community is teaming up with small businesses in cities like Richmond, Indianapolis, and Atlanta to offer 37% discounts to represent the pay gap for Black women. From pet stores to coffee houses, these businesses are coming together to show their support for equal pay. This idea came out of a Lean In Circle in D.C., which has partnered with local businesses to offer discounts on Equal Pay Day for the past three years. We are thrilled to be working with our community to highlight an issue that matters to all of us.
We can close the pay gap if we work together. Our elected officials have a vital role to play. They need to enforce – and where necessary, strengthen – the anti-discrimination laws that are on the books but often ignored. We also need our legislators to come together and at long last raise the federal minimum wage. Nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women – and about 20% of them are Black women. By raising the federal minimum wage, we’d reduce pay inequality and help millions of families living in or near poverty. A number of states have already taken this step. It’s time we do the same as a country.
Businesses must also do their part – both to ensure that women are paid fairly and that all employees can succeed. This means having processes in place to ensure that employees doing the same work are paid the same, and then checking the compensation data regularly to maintain that fairness. It means taking steps to ensure that hiring and promotions are unbiased. And all employees, no matter your race or gender, can become stronger allies for Black women and all women of color. Diverse teams produce better results, so creating more opportunity isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do.
Every woman deserves to be paid fairly, treated equally, and have the opportunity to achieve her dreams. Black Women’s Equal Pay day reminds us how much work we all have to do to make that a reality. #LeanIn