Last week’s season two premiere of Insecure tackled wage inequality for women everywhere—but particularly for black women. When legal eagle, Molly (Yvonne Orji), accidentally receives her white male colleague’s paycheck, she discovers that he’s earning way more than her even though she’s running circles around him in terms of billable hours and clients.
While I haven’t ever ‘officially’ discovered that I’ve been making significantly less than a white, male colleague, I felt the anger and resentment on Molly’s behalf because I have been in situations where I knew there was funny business happening with my pay. Molly’s example is particularly timely because Monday was Black Women’s Equal Pay Day — a campaign to highlight the pay inequities here in the United States.
According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), black women earn $.63 for every $1 that white, non-Hispanic men make when working full-time year round. That means that over the course of a 40 year career, black women earn $840,040 less than her male colleagues (that's almost $1mm less over the course of a career). Try this on for size: if they both started jobs at age 20, the black woman would have to keep working until the age of 83 to make up that huge difference in pay.
While Molly is an atypical example as an attorney on Insecure (so she’d likely earn $.64 for every $1), most black women are over-represented in the low-wage earning professions dropping their figures down to $.60 to every $1 earned by their white male, non-Hispanic counterparts. The numbers in this National Partnership for Women and Families report are grim all around, but they will largely depend on your profession and what state or city you live in.
Though Molly finds out she’s earning less than her white, male colleague, something we rarely discuss is the fact that wage inequity exists between black and white women. I’ve personally experienced that gap in my career.
A few years ago I found out that because of a promotion and paperwork left lying around, I was set to earn exactly the same amount as a white female, non-Hispanic colleague who had significantly less experience (10 years), less education and a job that was much more limited in scope than mine. It was a huge blow to my ego and while I was upset over the situation, seeing the numbers was the big wake-up call I needed to start aggressively changing the strategy for the course of my career.
So what does the wage gap look like between black women and white, non-Hispanic women? White women earn $.76 for every $1 their white male, non-Hispanic colleagues earn according to the Economic Policy Institute. This means white women currently make 9% more than black women. And no, black women don’t need to work more hours to catch-up, because we already work more hours than white women.
So how should we handle wage inequality conversations? Molly does her best to ingratiate herself into the boys' club at work in last night’s episode.
Unlike Molly, I chose to work patiently for a year with this knowledge in my back pocket. Knowing this info empowered me to turn down projects that were unreasonable or were not going to be properly resourced. It also helped me to remove my emotions about the job and treat it as a business so that I focused on picking up the skills I needed to move on to bigger and better opportunities. Being focused and strategic about my situation helped me to be open to moving on to other opportunities where my experience, skills and education were more highly valued.
That’s why I believe understanding and discussing wage inequality is important.
(Image courtesy of HBO)