Companies Don’t Need To Just Recognize Black Women’s Equal Pay Day — They Need To Do Better

Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.
Black women are severely underpaid, and as we navigate a pandemic that has incited a caustic economic crisis, that harrowing reality burns even more deeply. Last year, LeanIn.org’s 2019 Women in the Workplace study revealed that 44 percent of companies have three or more women in their C-suite. Of those, just 1 in 25 of C-suite executives identified as women of color, while only 58 Black women were reported to be promoted for every 100 entry-level men who receive promotions to manager. 
Now, amid the crisis of COVID-19, the bleak narrative continues. In June, 54 percent of Black women reported they were facing some sort of economic hardship — including being laid off from their jobs — amid the rapid rise in unemployment seen in response to the pandemic. And though the economic inequalities captured have long existed, the crisis of this pandemic shines a stark light in a way that makes them especially pronounced.
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“We know that Black women are twice as likely as white men to have been either laid off, furloughed, or have their hours reduced because of the pandemic, and they’re twice as likely to worry about finding a new job,” Rachel Thomas, Lean In co-founder and CEO, tells R29Unbothered. “And women, especially Black women, are more likely than men to be concerned about paying for basic necessities like rent, medical bills, and groceries.”
This is one of many reasons Lean In found this Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which Thomas notes as “just a chip of a much larger iceberg of systemic issues that Black women face,” to be an especially critical moment to put out an in-depth study about said injustices. Comprised of data based on five years of the organization’s Women in the Workplace research — which is done in partnership with McKinsey & Company — Lean In’s 2020 State of Black Women in Corporate America study serves as a call to action to companies to understand that, if the workplace is to be equal for women, the focus needs to be on those who are most marginalized.
“This is a story of Black women facing more barriers, being promoted more slowly, getting less from both managers and senior leaders, less access to senior leaders, less of a sponsorship that opens doors, and then having a worse day-to-day experience because they’re on the receiving end of both racism and sexism,” Thomas states. “That’s double discrimination that creates a unique experience that is morbidly worse.”
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And it becomes especially difficult to navigate such an unforgiving economic landscape when Black women, who are often breadwinners for their families, are relied upon to cover the necessities of their households, such as rent and groceries — two things whose accessibility have become scarce for many families during a time that profoundly threatens their financial stability.
In July, USA Today reported about the economic hardships faced by Black and Latina women, also noting the mental health implications that come with pandemic-induced stressors. Looking at data from a survey commissioned by the Time's Up Foundation and done by PerryUndem, a research and communication firm, they found that 44 percent of all women are regularly experiencing feelings of distress compared with 31 percent of men. Many women have also reported dealing with other mental health issues such as anxiety as a result of the hardships brought on by the pandemic, including 37 percent of Black women.
"When I look at ... the number of women who are crying themselves to sleep, that's the reality of what women are going through as they do the uncompensated care at home and try to figure out what to do with their jobs,'' Tina Tchen, head of Time's Up, told USA Today. "Over the long term, that’s going to take a real toll if we don’t address it.”
So how can this be alleviated — at least from a corporate standpoint? As Lean In covers in their latest study, the onus falls upon employers to ensure that those who need the most support — Black women, women of color, women with disabilities, LGBTQ+ women, women who, because of their intersecting identities, are having worse experiences than white women — are being prioritized. “That really requires company leaders saying, ‘We’re explicitly focusing on advancing Black women and here’s why,’” and approaching said focus with an intersectional lens, says Thomas.
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“Very few companies look at representation and set targets or goals for themselves at the intersection of gender and race, so they know how many women they have at every level versus men, they know how many people of color they have at every level versus white people, but they don’t know how many women of color and Black women they have at every level,” Thomas continues. “If you want to do better by women, do better by Black women, and that means explicitly saying you’re focusing on Black women.”
Check out key findings from Lean In’s 2020 State of Black Women in Corporate America study below, then read the report in its entirety here.

- Starting at just 16, Black girls are paid less than boys who are the same age.

- On average, Black women in the U.S. are paid 38 percent less than white men, and 21 percent less than white women.

- Black women are paid just $0.61 cents for every $1 that a white man makes, while white women are paid $0.79.

- Black women who have Bachelor’s degrees or other advanced degrees face an even larger pay gap.

- 53 percent of Americans are unaware of the pay gap that exists between Black women and white women.

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