How Equal Pay Day Excludes Women Of Color

By Ruchika Tulshyan

Equal Pay Day caters to a narrow subset of educated, corporate white women.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Unlike President Obama, whose first action in office was signing the Lily Ledbetter Act— there’s evidence Trump paid women on his campaign staff less than men. As we know, there are barely any white women in high-ranking positions within the administration at all, let alone women of color. We are concerned that any progress made on this issue will die a quick death in the America we live in today.

It’s Equal Pay Day again, which you can tell by the veritable cri de couer reverberating throughout social media, urging women to fix the gender wage gap. The hashtag #77cents (or 78, or 79, depending on which statistic you’re most of fond of) indicates the difference between what men and women earn in America. Of course, the term “women” is bandied about loosely, with little attention paid to the fact that today, while the gender wage gap is narrowing for Asian-American and white women compared with men, it’s widening for Latina and black women. Combine that with the fact that it’s precisely women from these two groups who live in the greatest poverty in America, and it’s clear that Equal Pay Day caters to a narrow subset of educated, corporate white women.

Here’s some real talk: The average black woman makes 60.5 cents to a white man’s dollar. The average Latina employee would have to work 73 years to make what a white man makes in 40 years. Native American/Asian Pacific Islander women make 58.6 cents to a white man’s dollar. Only Asian-American women make more than white women today, but when it comes to women in plum leadership roles, white women still far outnumber Asian-American women in all industries.

Equal Pay Day falls in April to indicate how many extra days women would have to work to earn what white men earned last year — but this closely aligns to how long it will take for white women to catch up to white men’s pay last year. For black and Latina women, this date falls in August and November, respectively.

This is not a day about equal pay for everyone — instead, it highlights the discrimination that largely white women face, and then puts the onus on all women to fix it.

The world cheered when Patricia Arquette and Jennifer Lawrence publicly discussed pay discrimination in Hollywood. But nary a thought was given to the fact that not only do actors of color miss out on roles entirely, but when they are given one, they’re supposed to roll over and accept whatever comes their way. As Chris Rock recently told Essence magazine:

“Everybody’s talking about Jennifer Lawrence. Talk to Gabrielle Union. If you want to hear stories, talk to Nia Long. Talk to Kerry Washington. They would love to get to Jennifer Lawrence’s place, or just be treated with the same amount of respect.”

Every year, I’m uncomfortable with the rhetoric surrounding this day, which focuses on what women need to do in order to level up their pay to the white man’s dollar. There’s little emphasis put on companies to track and disclose how they’re paying men and women, and even less data on what women of color make versus men at the same company. Instead, women are asked to lean in, negotiate, ask for more, teach their daughters to negotiate and dare early . . . I’m getting tired just thinking of it.

What this dialogue ignores is that women face various implicit biases when we #askformore (another catchy hashtag to mark this day). We’re seen as less likable, lacking team spirit, and pushy/bitchy when we negotiate our salaries or raise our voices in general. When I reported a story previously on what happens when women of color speak up, I learned that the ramifications are even worse for them. Black women told me they faced the harmful impacts of being considered difficult to work with, with male supervisors giving them the damaging label of “angry black woman.” Asian-American women told me they weren’t expected to speak up at all. A Latina director at a Fortune 100 company said a manager was more interested in why she didn’t have a “funny accent” than in her leadership capabilities.

A previous Establishment story hit the nail on the head when a writer took a Boston salary negotiation workshop, only to conclude: “Acting like a man doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be treated like one.”

When I think about the strongest advocates for this day, it always seems to be the white corporate women who are up in arms. I know why that is — it’s because they have the least to lose when it comes to salary negotiations. Out of all women in America, it’s white women who are making the greatest strides in attaining leadership positions, often through — you guessed it — advocating for themselves.

So I have a request. Today on Equal Pay Day, let’s do away with stories on tips for women to negotiate better pay. We know those don’t work for most women, and are actually harmful for women of color. Let’s do away with hashtags that pander to empowering women through meaningless stories of “leaning in” and asking for more.

We have bigger problems to address than how white women should do more to make equal pay to white men.

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