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When the Truth About the Wage Gap Is Staring You in the Face

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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. 

Check out some of the background reading about Wage Inequality for Black Women and read more on how to #Ask4More here.

(Image courtesy of HBO)


Career Advice #Ask4More #Wage Gap #Insecure #Tv #Black Women #Pay #Black Women S Equal Pay Day #Pay Inequality #Salary Gap
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Hi Gleana, Your article points to some great points. I'm a firm equalist. While we tackle the issue of wage inequality amongst men & women, we also need to achknowledge and resolve inequalities that exist between ethnicities, or any discriminatory inequalities for that matter. Like yourself, I've experienced wage inequalities compared to my male counterparts, and also with my black female coworkers (although in reverse, my black coworker was being paid more than myself). Which is why I found your comment interesting "no, black women don’t need to work more hours to catch-up, because we already work more hours than white women." Is this based on a study? I fear that making generalisation about which race or sex works harder, longer or smarter all contribute to a loss of credibility in the fight for equality. We can never definitively conclude statistics like this, these really come down to the individual level.

Thank you for writing. I have experienced this as well, though I worry that non-minorities think minorities are just pulling the race card.

I spoke to a white male last week who was arguing that the wage gap doesn't exist. He listed a number of exceptions (and no source) to argue his point, but studies show that even then the wage gap exists, although it is significantly smaller.

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