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Black Women’s Equal Pay Day: Let’s Get That 37 Cents

July 31, 2017, 7:09 PM UTC

July 31 is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, black women working full-time jobs typically make only 63 cents for every dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts. Today is the date marking the extra days black women would have to work to earn what white men made last year alone.

Hopefully, today will be a day of conversation, both online and in real life, which surfaces some difficult truths about the barriers black women face. Exceptional black women are reminded on a daily basis that we may be “pretty for a black girl,” but not leadership material. Or that while the bar has been lowered to accommodate us, we’re seen as too pushy. And unlike professional black men and white women, whose identities intersect in at least one fundamental way with the majority of (white male) managers, black women end up feeling excluded in ways that are impossible to remedy on their own.

Many difficult truths are in play before we enter the workforce. It is a unique burden to be a black woman (or the parent of a black girl) in a world that sees black girls as older and less innocent than they are. Black girls are disproportionately more likely to be suspended or disciplined from school than their white girl peers. And yet, while these perceptions translate into a uniquely perilous path within the education system, black women have been enrolling in college and earning degrees at an increasing rate over the last eight years.

Consider also this poignant opinion piece from author and sociology assistant professor Tressie McMillan Cottom, describing the moment her teenaged-self understood that the world looked at black girls differently.

It was in a conversation with a cousin about then heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who had just been convicted of raping an 18-year-old young woman named Desiree Washington. He saw Washington as the problem, bringing a successful man down. “It was then that I learned black girls like me can never truly be victims of sexual predators,” she writes. “And also that the men in my life were also men in the world.”

This CDC report analyzing years of data brings the point home. Black and indigenous women are murdered at significantly higher rates than women of other races. And more than 55 percent of all female homicide victims were victims of intimate partner violence, typically at the hands of a man.

These are among the many things that black women carry with us when we step into the business world. Building on the old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers joke: Black women are dancing backward and in high heels, preparing for a big presentation and trying not to look threatening or sexy – all while being asked to comment on our own hair. And then we come home and have to give our kids “the talk.”

That’s probably why the simple elegance of small movements, like the #BlackGirlsAreMagic hashtag, which was originally created by CaShawn Thompson in 2013 to help change the image of black women, meant so much. At first, it was a way to reclaim the idea of classic beauty, through exemplars like Viola Davis and Serena Williams. But then, it became so much more. It remains, years later, a celebration of black female excellence that both uplifts and enlightens.

“I say ‘magic’ because it’s something that people don’t always understand,” Thompson told the Los Angeles Times in 2015. “Sometimes our accomplishments might seem to come out of thin air, because a lot of times, the only people supporting us are other black women.”

Thompson’s observation is buoyed by research. Black women remain invisible in the workplace in many critical ways. Research from the Center for Talent Innovation shows that while black women may have mentors and support networks, “[they] lack sponsors—leaders who will talk them up behind closed doors, steer plum assignments their way, and defend them against detractors,” say report authors Melinda Marshall and Tai Wingfield.

“Women hit a glass ceiling, but Black women hit a concrete one,” says Tia T. Gordon, the vice president of global communications at Catalyst, a non-profit organization focused on advancing women in the workplace. Their research also shows that black women experience the burden of “double outsider” status, and are often excluded from informal networks and experience conflicted relationships with white women. Thirty-seven percent of black women surveyed see their opportunities for advancement to senior management positions in their companies declining over time. “Black women deal with some of the workplace’s most entrenched hurdles and daunting roadblocks, not least other people’s beliefs, attitudes, and experiences—resulting in undue burdens and feelings of constantly being ‘on guard.’”

Equal pay equity studies and pay transparency are essential steps in making sure that we can one day retire Equal Pay Day essays for good. But for each demographic in the underpaid cohort (see below) it will also take something more: The willingness of people in power to see past their existing networks to consistently support the professional well-being of people who don’t look like them. These small acts of leadership development – acknowledging them in meetings, inviting them onto teams, asking them to contribute to important presentations, and making strategic introductions – can build capacity in employees and empathy in leaders. That’s not magic, it’s good business.


Mark your calendars: For Native American women, who earn 58 cents on the dollar, equal pay day falls on September 3. For Latina employees, who earn 54 cents compared to their white, male peers, it falls on November 2nd. And while the totality of Asian American women fare slightly better at 85 cents, that doesn’t reflect the true diversity experienced for many of the AAPI ethnic groups in the workforce, some of whom are disproportionately living at or near poverty. Click through for more of that analysis here.

On Point

Serena Williams to black women: Let’s get back those 37 centsWilliams has long been a vocal advocate for equal pay for women and women of color. In this must-read op-ed for Fortune, she doubles down. As a new member of SurveyMonkey's board of directors, she spearheaded a survey on attitudes on the pay gap in the U.S. “While a majority of those surveyed believe that the pay gap is real for both women and minorities, not everyone understands that black workers—specifically women—see more obstacles to racial equality and barriers in the workplace,” she says. “Data doesn’t lie.” She offers a stirring call to courage for women of color to speak up like she learned to. “Black women: Be fearless. Speak out for equal pay. Every time you do, you’re making it a little easier for a woman behind you. Most of all, know that you’re worth it,” writes Williams. “It can take a long time to realize that. It took me a long time to realize it. But we are all worth it.”Fortune

Uber down to only male candidates for CEO role
Kara Swisher has a must-read account of the internal strife at Uber, elevated to a fever pitch after Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman surprised several board members by removing her name from consideration for the top job. “[W]hile I am always loath to dump a kitchen sink’s worth of reporting in one story,” says Swisher, “it’s hard not to since this particular pile of dirty dishes is so stuck together at Uber that it’s almost impossible to pry them apart.” One dirty dish seems to be the former CEO himself. Travis Kalanick has continued to involve himself with daily operations to such a degree that some board members are struggling to rein him in. The new rumor is that Kalanick is “Steve Jobs-ing it,” and planning a triumphant return to the company like the legendary Apple titan.

The #NoConfederate hashtag trended worldwide during Game of Thrones last night
The creators of the recently announced HBO alt-history series, Confederate, got an earful on Twitter last night. The series, in which the South seceded from the U.S. and slavery still exists, is the brainchild of GoT creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. (It created an immediate uproar when it was announced.) To further the conversation, #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign, along with Jamie Broadnax, Shanelle Little, ReBecca Theodore, and Lauren Warren launched the hashtag #NoConfederate and asked people to tweet it during last night’s episode of GoT. The hashtag was number one in the U.S. and number two worldwide during the first few minutes of the show. "The goal is to tell HBO that there are many people who think the show Confederate is a bad idea and they should not spend any more time, energy, or money on it," Reign says. "What makes the premise fundamentally problematic is that it threatens to erase the actual history," activist Bree Newsome told The Hollywood Reporter. "There has been so much deliberate miseducation around the Civil War… so it's dangerous to present alternative histories when people are still not clear on the facts.”
Refinery 29

An underground university for undocumented students that are banned from state schools
In Georgia, undocumented students are now banned from attending the state’s top state colleges. In response, Freedom University was born, an underground school offering a unique curriculum emphasizing the history of immigration, social movements, and community organizing. The New Yorker has a fascinating and poignant short video showing how the university functions, and how it’s giving some exceptional students some much-needed hope. Charles Black, a civil rights activist sees the ban as an inevitable extension of an economic system that relies on cheap labor to survive. Why would you deny a worthy child a shot at an education? “The only motivation you can possibly have is that you can somehow take advantage of their ignorance and their lack of skills and their lack of organization.” More than twenty states allow undocumented students to attend public colleges and pay in-state tuition; in Alabama and South Carolina, the students are banned outright.
New Yorker

The Woke Leader

Michelle Obama: The racist attacks did hurt
Speaking candidly at the Women's Foundation of Colorado last week, the former First Lady said that the racist attacks she and her family endured had affected her. "The shards that cut me the deepest were the ones that intended to cut,” she said referring to the metaphorical glass ceiling that she shattered as first black FLOTUS. “I felt how they intended." She also talked about the time a former West Virginia official called her an “ape in heels,” and acknowledging her frustration that racism is such a powerful issue. “Knowing that after eight years of working really hard for this country, there are still people who won’t see me for what I am because of my skin color." Spoiler alert: She’s not running for office.

Raise your hands to heaven and reclaim your time
This short video of Congresswoman Maxine “Auntie” Waters in a testy exchange with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been making the rounds, inspiring many to reconsider how they will handle being stonewalled in a meeting. (Her epic refrain, “reclaiming my time,” begins at the one minute mark.) Even Shonda Rhimes successfully dropped it in a meeting. “Yesterday, I used ‘don't MAKE me reclaim my time’ on a room of entitled men. They shut up. The Maxine magic is real, y'all,” she tweeted. But I predict that there will be nothing that lifts up your spirit today more than this gospel re-mix of Waters' particular magic by this extraordinary singer, songwriter and arranger Mykal Kilgore. Enjoy.

High achieving black students and professionals become targets in society
When black students or professionals are too successful, argues researcher and professor J. Luke Wood in a co-authored piece, they trigger a backlash that is based on racial assumptions. “[E]xcellence disrupts erroneous assumptions of supremacy…You become a target, the center of attention in a bitter (and sometimes unconscious) effort to derail your success or question the standards by which your success is measured.”
Huffington Post


One of the things that Xerox found out early is generally, if it’s good for society, it’s generally good for business. So you start out with this theory that we’re going to be nice to our neighbors. You’re going to actually run a responsible business on a global basis. And so things like sustainability become part of the value proposition to our customers and to the communities we work in. But also to our employees. So having a fully engaged, very active, dedicated, passionate workforce requires that you engage their whole self when they come into work. You can’t be a bad citizen and get great employees. You can’t be a non-diverse environment and get the one or two women or the one or two African Americans or Hispanics that you need that are great. You have to actually embrace the entire thing to have it work well.
—Ursula Burns