When I began my career in earnest a little more than 12 years ago, I didn’t know about income inequity and its overwhelming impact on women — particularly for Black, Latina, Indigenous and AAPI women. Conversations about pay parity for women were seen as fringe and salary discussions among peers were regarded as taboo.
Though unable to put language to the chasm between my work ethic and the earnings on my paycheck, I could feel and would later learn to articulate the strain of ever-demanding workloads while not having enough money to make ends meet. Something was amiss and it took one call from a recruiter to illuminate the tension I was experiencing.
During one of my first big career jumps a recruiter informed me that, according to market research at the time, I was being woefully underpaid in my role. To make matters worse, I discovered that a white man in a position below mine was earning twice as much money for less work. The revelation of being underpaid lit an indestructible fire within me. In time, I would learn to find my voice and advocate for salaries commensurate with my education, skillset, and experience.
Sadly, my story is pervasive, going beyond an individual anecdote to a systemic issue that has negative repercussions for women and the communities we exist within.
In the U.S., pay inequity for women has held steady over the last few decades. As of 2020, Pew Research found that women earned 84% of what men earned. For non-white women, the data is more alarming. Black women were paid 63% of what non-Hispanic white men were paid in 2019; Latinas are paid only 54 cents compared to a white, non-Hispanic man’s one dollar for completing similar work, and for Native American women it’s 58 cents.
I’m thankful data has created more visibility of the harm income disparity has done to women. But data alone is not enough to paint a clear picture of what pay inequity, and conversely, what pay equity does for women. To address pay inequity with parity is to address women’s social determinants of health and subsequent comorbidities, poverty rates for children, and community infrastructures that require social safety nets. When women are able to earn equitable salaries and fair wages, we are able to build healthier lives that have positive residual effects on our families and communities. For women who are caregivers, higher earnings mean more quality choices for things like childcare for children, caretaking facilities for older loved ones and even fertility needs to support growing families. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, putting more money in women’s pockets vis-a-vis equal pay would lower poverty rates in several states across the country.
So how do we individually and collectively address potential income disparities? For employers, being transparent with employees about “the business of your business” and how financial decisions are being made. Offer insight on the impact of business decisions and employees’ earning potential. Transparency also includes making visible salary bands for all positions within your organization and company. Provide context on what it means to be within the salary band and how promotions correlate with movement through the salary band.
For women employees, conduct an annual salary assessment to understand where you are within the market for your industry. Being equipped with this knowledge allows you to determine whether or not you are in danger of being underpaid and to have conversations about promotions / raises with context. Also, be mindful of looking at your salary in a vacuum. When evaluating your earning potential consider your entire salary package which could include health insurance, bonuses, equity and / or profit sharing, vacation and sick days, FSA or HSA options, transportation stipends, retirement plans with employer matching, and professional development funds to advance your skills. Your take-home salary is only one piece of the puzzle. Your entire offerings package can help build a strong financial foundation.
Finally, men, you play a pivotal role in income parity too. Your voice and advocacy go a long way in protecting your female colleagues, peers, friends and family from being inequitably paid. Be champions for pay transparency in your workplace and create safe spaces for women to share their experiences.
The movement for pay parity is not just about money on a check. Equitable pay for doing the same work as our peers provides women with the respect and dignity we deserve in our workplaces and in society. Honoring our earning potential is to honor the greater good of society because, in the words of Ellevest’s CEO Sallie Krawcheck, nothing bad ever happens when women have more money.