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  • Writer's pictureAlli Myatt

Pay Black Women What You Owe Them on Black Women's Equal Pay Day

One year, seven months, and thirteen days.

That’s how long it takes the average Black woman to earn the same as the average white man earns in one year in America.

August 13, 2020 is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. This day means that to earn as much as the average white, non-Hispanic man in America did in the calendar year 2019, the average Black woman had to work all of 2019 PLUS work all the way through this day.

Some people do not believe the pay gap exists. They point to things like women’s parenting choices that lead to differences in pay over time between men and women. This assertion, however, does not explain the persistent gap in pay between Black women and white women nor does it explain why Black women executives make $0.62 for every $1.00 white male executives make. Black women make $0.79 for every $1.00 white women make and $0.89 for every $1.00 black men make, according to US government data. Differences in pay contribute to an unrelenting wealth gap between white Americans and Black Americans. These pay and wealth gaps are a continuation of a centuries-long history of stolen labor and hoarded capital in this country.

Four hundred and one years ago this month, the first enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown, beginning what would be two and a half centuries of legal slavery based on race in North America. After slavery was abolished, former slaveholders were often paid reparations for their “losses” when they were no longer able to rely on “free” labor. Formerly enslaved people were never compensated for their stolen labor. Even the few people who received land reparations quickly had that land taken back and returned to the former slaveholders. America has still never fairly compensated enslaved people nor any of their descendants for the wealth lost because of the practice of slavery.

After Emancipation, America codified its commitment to undervaluing Black labor through the country’s laws and labor practices. During Reconstruction, southern states passed so-called “Black Codes” which restricted the work of Black people, limiting with whom they could work and for how much. These laws existed to ensure that Black labor remained cheap.

After Black Codes were struck down, Jim Crow era segregation policies limited what access Black people had to jobs and fair wages. The United States institutionalized racist practices that deliberately undervalued Black labor and systemically limited opportunities for Black Americans to generate wealth. Examples of these practices include limiting who had access to the GI Bill, redlining by Federal Housing Administration, and lobbying by white labor unions to limit job opportunities for Black people.

While Jim Crow laws no longer exist, we still have practices that have led to a persistent pay gap for Black people. This pay gap continues the legacy of stolen labor and is a practice that we must actively and intentionally work to change today.

Companies, organizations, and individuals who have recently made commitments to Black Lives Matter, and claim to want to be anti-racist must change their practices and policies to disrupt inequitable outcomes. When you commit to being anti-racist and to supporting Black Lives, it means that you commit to disrupting racist, inequitable outcomes, such as pay inequity.

During my time as the COO at an education nonprofit, I led the work to address pay inequity. When I started at the organization, I was paid 15% less than my peers at the organization. Like many organizations and companies, pay inequity was present at all levels of the organization. I led the work to change our practices to disrupt the inequity.

So what can companies and organizations do to disrupt pay inequity? Several practices, listed below, would help:

  1. Conduct an analysis. Don’t just rely on anecdotal evidence, see if you have a gap in pay across racial and gender lines.

  2. If you find inequity — fix it immediately. It surprised me to learn that companies often choose to stretch out their path to pay equity over several years. To me, this is an immoral choice. To stretch out the remedy once you discover the inequity is to claim your right to continue to steal labor. When you find the inequity — fix it. Now.

  3. Disrupt practices that contribute to inequity. Among these:

  • Letting individual managers set salaries. This practice introduces multiple biases and philosophies into the compensation system, which lead to inequity.

  • Asking candidates for salary history to set salary. This is now an illegal practice in many municipalities. Anchoring on candidate salary history anchors on historical patterns of paying people of color and women inequitably.

  • Hiding company salary information, bands, and ranges: you should share your pay philosophy with candidates and your staff and include salaries on any job postings.

  • Negotiating salaries: I know this is the third rail when it comes to compensation. But the practice absolutely contributes to pay inequity. Women and people of color are less likely to negotiate salary than white men. And when women do negotiate, they are viewed harshly for it. At my organization, we decided to stop the practice because it consistently contributed to pay inequity. If for some reason, we felt compelled to negotiate, we applied whatever benefit was negotiated (increased salary, additional perks, etc.) to everyone in the organization to maintain equity.

Bonus points — pay people back for past inequities. If you know you have financial gains today that you would not have if you did not have a history of pay inequity, you have stolen that money from your team. If you want to be in real solidarity with your team — you will pay those people back — with interest- as an expression of solidarity, restoration, and restitution for past harms.

If you have caused harm or profited from harm, you must do more than acknowledge and apologize for that harm; you have a duty to work to repair the harm. Pay inequity is a continuation of the 400-year-old practice of undervaluing and stealing labor from Black people in this country. Companies and organizations that are paying people inequitably — knowingly or unknowingly — are causing harm, and they have a duty to repair it. Black boxes on Instagram and solidarity statements on Twitter are not enough.

One year, seven months, and thirteen days. It’s time for companies and organizations to do what’s right, and pay Black women what you owe them.

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