Growing up Mexican-American, you learn to work hard and hustle for everything you have. My parents sacrificed so much to send my sister and me to private schools, and to pay for our dance and singing lessons. And, although they never said it aloud, I always knew that my job was to put my head down, work hard, and make a better life for myself and my future family. To my parents and so many like them, being humilde or humble was of utmost importance.
Thus, as I made my way into the professional world, I thought there was some kind of “Good Work Fairy” who would tap me on the shoulder and say, "Congrats! Your hard work is paying off! Here's a promotion!" After all, my parents had told me working hard was what you did to get ahead — and just as much, they had demonstrated that I couldn't ask for too much. Remember, be humilde.
In theory, this is a great way to teach children about the importance of hard work and gratitude. However, I know from my own experience and that of other Latinas in my life, that this cultural understanding can work to our detriment. When I attempted my first big salary negotiation, I asked for $5,000 more than the offer, and then shared that number with my two white colleagues. They then used my number to advocate for a $10,000 raise, which my boss eventually gave them. My number now seemed paltry and the situation was unfair, but I was afraid to ask for more.
On this Latina Equal Pay Day, the day in the year when our pay catches up to the pay of white men for the previous year, we must recognize the responsibility everyone has for ending the pay inequality women continue to face. According to the American Association of University Women, Latinas have the farthest of any race to go to reach pay equality. We make 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Our Black and Native sisters also face pay discrimination, making 62 cents and 57 cents respectively for every dollar their male counterparts make. And, sadly, pay disparities are heightened when we look at the experiences of immigrant women and transgender women.
The Institute for Women’s Policy did the math, and at the current rate of improvement, it will be 205 years — that’s the year 2224 — before Latinas in the U.S. get pay equity. This is completely unacceptable. We cannot wait another two centuries for the pay gap to close. We can’t afford it, and neither can our country or our families.
With more than 40% of Latinas holding the role of primary breadwinners in their families, this pay disparity has far-reaching, generational repercussions for Latinx families. Latinx families have half as much money to provide a good education for their children, afford a home, or seek quality medical care, let alone to save for emergencies, retirement, or college for their kids. For example, according to UnidosUS and the National Partnership for Women and Families, if the pay gap were to be eliminated, Latinas would be able to afford three more years of child care, nearly 19 additional months of a mortgage payment, or at least two additional years of rent.
Now, I love to celebrate a good holiday, but Latina Equal Pay Day clearly isn’t one of them and I’d prefer if we never had to mark it again. So let’s talk about how everyone — all races, ages, and genders — can and should take part in canceling Latina Equal Pay Day, for good.
We can start with addressing wage transparency. My instinct to share my salary with my colleagues was the right one because I learned what my colleagues made and was then at least aware of the pay disparity. Wage transparency helps women negotiate for the money they deserve. We all — regardless of gender or race — must be open with our coworkers about what we make and speak up when we witness pay gaps. Employers and managers should also put their privilege to work by advocating for women of color during performance reviews or when determining salaries and pay raises. When we refuse to speak up, the pay gap grows in silence. We can also work toward closing the pay gap through guidance and mentorship. It's important for Latinas to be aware of resources like The Memo, a career-development company that provides tools and workshops for women of color and businesses. Additionally, those of us in a position to serve as mentors should support and coach women when it’s time to negotiate or demand a fair salary. Young Latinas, in particular, would benefit from mentors who can help them unlearn the lessons of a broken system, like that the quality of our work will somehow speak for itself; that it’s impolite to negotiate our salaries; or that we should just wait our turn.
But this isn’t just about individual workplaces. Systemic political change is needed to ensure that women in all industries are paid what they are worth. Our country must pass laws and develop policies that hold companies accountable, and must legally require that women are fairly compensated for their work. One way would be by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act — a bill that was reintroduced for the 11th time since 1997 earlier this year — which would require businesses to report salaries, as well as gender and race pay data, to the federal government in order to identify any instances of pay discrimination.
Political change can happen, but we must demand it. It’s time to push our leaders to act in holding companies accountable for pay disparities.
Earlier this year, Supermajority, a women’s equality organization I cofounded along with incredible leaders like Ai-jen Poo, Alicia Garza, and Cecile Richards, released the Majority Rules — a set of values, informed by input from tens of thousands of women — that are essential to achieving women’s equality in government and in society.
Rule number three states: Our work is valued. These words ring true — today especially — for Latina women across this nation who work just as hard as their male counterparts and simply want their pay to reflect that.
We must all step up to support and encourage Latinas to know their value and ask for it, without the fear of retribution or appearing ungrateful. For me, that means when it comes to salary discussions, replacing humilde with orgullo, or pride, in the work Latinas do and in demanding the pay we deserve.
Jess Morales Rocketto is a cofounder of Supermajority, a women's equality organization working to harness the power of women of all backgrounds, races, and ages. She also serves as the political director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), chair of Families Belong Together, and executive director of Care in Action. She was named one of the TIME 100 Next for her work advocating for immigrant rights and women's equality. The views expressed are her own.