Thursday is the second day of November.
This means that we are more than 10 months into 2017. It also has an important, additional meaning for millions of Americans; it is Latina Equal Pay Day, the day when the amount the average Latina is paid catches up to what the average white man made the previous year. In other words: In order to earn what a white man earned in 2016, a Latina must work that entire year—plus 10 extra months in 2017.
On average, American women still make just 80 cents for every dollar their male coworkers make. When you break the pay gap down by race and ethnicity, the problem is magnified. To highlight this reality, women activate around a variety of Equal Pay Days throughout the year: Asian-American Women’s Equal Pay Day in March, all women’s Equal Pay Day in April, African American Women’s Equal Pay Day in July, Native American Women’s Equal Pay Day in September.
Latina Equal Pay Day is dead last. Out of the major demographic groups in the U.S., we make the least per dollar compared to white men. For every dollar white men make, Latinas make 54 cents. That’s like ripping a dollar bill in half—or like working an entire week, but only getting paid through Wednesday afternoon. At this rate, to earn what white men earn by age 60, Latina women would have to work until they’re 90.
I come from a long, proud line of smart, hard-working Mexican-American women, and this injustice strikes deep. So I ask myself: How can we start to address the widespread and enduring gender wage gap problem?
Changing our workplace culture
The first step is a cultural shift in which we acknowledge our unconscious biases and, as a society, believe women when they say the wage gap isn’t a matter of personal choice (e.g. taking time to raise children, not asking for a promotion), but rather a symptom of systemic gender discrimination. Data show that the gap cannot be attributed solely to differences in education, experience, age or even career breaks. The “unexplained” portion of the pay gap is due to pervasive discrimination (conscious and unconscious). According to a poll in partnership with SurveyMonkey, two-thirds of Latina women today perceive large gender and racially biased-pay gaps and one-third cite “unconscious bias” and “sexism” as barriers to racial and gender equality.
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We must also create work environments where women are represented and respected. What does gender inequality look like on a day-to-day basis? In some cases, it’s subtle (like always being the only female voice in the meeting); other times, it’s overt (like sexual harassment). I work in a male-dominated industry and have often been that sole female voice in the room. Of the 1,000 biggest commercial movies in the last 10 years, women have directed 4% of them. This absence of women in executive positions in entertainment inspired me to get behind the camera and produce and direct.
If we want our media to reflect the female perspective and influence reality, we need women participating in the executive and creative decision-making processes. While the entertainment industry has provided the most recent example of abusive male misconduct finally coming to light, sexual harassment affects women across all industries and sectors. Nearly one in four Latina women (23%) say they’ve quit their job because of sexual harassment in their workplace, according to the same SurveyMonkey poll. And, as the recent #MeToo social campaign suggests, that number will increase as more courageous women feel safe raising their voices in solidarity against predatory behavior.
Proactively supporting working women
Companies need to do their part to communicate that women are valued employees, starting with better recruitment and employment practices. A growing number of companies offer applications that remove identifying information from resumes to help guard against unconscious bias and level the playing field. Others conduct structured job interviews where candidates are asked the same questions and are scored on the same criteria—rather than allowing someone’s social capital or cultural background to influence the conversation’s direction. Still others are leveraging data to assess their diversity and inclusion strategies.
At a time when talent matters and the incoming millennial workforce prefers employers with a social conscience, companies that take action on the gender pay gap (e.g. conduct internal pay audits, announce and achieve goals tied to 100% gender pay equity) are rewarded by attracting top female talent. And that talent has been proven to result in positive social, financial and technological returns: Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform companies that are less diverse. And women-led companies perform three times better than the S&P 500.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely in a position to help. Like most problems we face, the wage gap is best solved by working together. As women, we discuss the need to “lean in,” but we must also remember to reach back. No matter your gender or position, you can mentor a woman in your company or industry. Look at those who are still striving to achieve greatness and give them a hand.
CEOs, executives, influencers and entrepreneurs: I’m talking to you. Take an honest look at the gender compensation parity in your company, and if there’s a gap, fix it. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s proven that it makes business sense. So, to echo my friend Serena Williams’s op-ed on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, let’s realize that the wage gap is an injustice and—as men and women of all colors and creeds—change the story together. Let’s demand more for Latinas. Because we’re worth the whole dollar.
The SurveyMonkey surveys referenced were conducted in May and July 2017, with 7,287 and 13,331 adults, respectively.