A Black Woman’s Worth at Work
We’re in month six of a pandemic in these United States and within the last seven days:
- I’ve seen the devastating impacts of Hurricane Isaias in Courtland, VA.
- The city in which I reside experienced a 5.1 magnitude earthquake.
- Kamala Harris made history as the first Black woman Vice President nominee. (Side note: I’m celebrating, but it took how long??????!?!?!?)
If I were to recount what has transpired in recent months, I’d need to stop writing this article and schedule an impromptu appointment with my therapist!
While everyone can agree that each of us has experienced change we hadn’t predicted nor anticipated, a few things seem to remain the same. One thing in particular is that Black women are still underpaid, underestimated in some ways, and in many ways, undervalued.
It’s safe to say that many of us are familiar with the cause and effect narrative of the wage gap conversation for Black women. Women still need flexible work arrangements; they still need access to hot jobs, adequate resources, and allies to confront the bias, harassment, and discrimination they encounter on a daily basis. In addition to these woes, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt by Black women specifically.
A recent Essence Magazine Study revealed Black women are struggling from a health perspective (mental, emotional, and physical) as well as a financial perspective (50% say their ability to work has been negatively impacted). If you are unemployed courtesy of COVID-19, I invite you to take advantage of the strategies I share in this Black Enterprise article to move your career forward.
Statistically speaking (according to the National Partnership for Women & Families):
- In the 25 states (including District of Columbia) with the largest numbers of Black women working full-time, year-round pay for Black women ranges from 47 to 67 cents for every dollar paid to White, non-Hispanic men in those states. In 2019, it was actually 48 to 68 cents.
- Median wages for Black women in the US are $38,036 per year compared to median wages of $61,576 annually for White, non-Hispanic men, which equates to a difference of $23,540 annually.
- If the wage gap were eliminated, on average a Black woman working full-time, year-round would have enough money for:
- 2.5 more years of child care.
- 2.5 additional years of tuition and fees for a four-year public university, or the full cost of tuition and fees for a two-year community college.
- 156 more weeks of food for her family (more than three years’ worth).
- 15 more months of mortgage and utilities payments; nearly 23 more months of rent.
- 16 additional months of premiums for employer-based health insurance.
- Enough money to eliminate student loan debt in approximately one year.
While there are multiple contributing factors to our stagnant salary state that undermines the financial fate of Black women, it’s imperative that we allow our “passion” (that’s the politically correct word for frustration) around this topic to include action.
I agree with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who believes employers should be prohibited from asking job candidates for their salary history during the job interview or salary negotiation process. Her rationale makes sense:
Women and minorities often face discrimination in the job application process and in salary negotiations. Many carry lower salaries for their entire careers simply because of wages at previous jobs that were set unfairly.
With only nineteen state bans currently, not only do employers have the power to shift this conversation, but you do, as well. The study “The Underrepresentation of African American Women in Executive Leadership: What’s Getting In The Way?” clearly outlines what Black women must do to proactively manage their careers.
- Know what we want professionally, so we can develop and implement a career strategy.
- Be willing to monitor our success, which includes reevaluation and course correcting when necessary.
- Be willing to learn technology, processes, and procedures, and understand interdependencies.
- Take responsibility for our careers, minus a passive approach that includes expecting someone else to manage our careers.
- Accept leadership positions on projects to demonstrate competencies.
I’ve shared this information before and will continue to share it until I see these numbers shift dramatically in favor of Black women being paid equitably. We can continue to have the external factors conversation, but it’s time to control what you can control.
Every woman, when managing her career, should:
Cultivate social capital.
Some doors will only open from the inside. With this in mind, you’ll need to intentionally sustain relationships in conjunction with having a mentor, sponsor, and coach at every level of your career.
It’s a requirement that you not only seek advice and information on career opportunities, but that you also gain skills in confidence, not merely experience. To take advantage of my #RelationshipGoals course, click here.
Strive for excellence instead of perfection.
Overcoming doubts and negative self-worth will change your life, not just your career. Women must realize perfectionism is an unrealistic expectation, and many times we fail to meet the expectation because we’ve created a faulty standard.
Not negotiating is an aspect of this issue that every woman can control at some point in her career. I suggest that when you do engage in compensation negotiations, that you:
- Execute with confidence, strategy, and specifics, not emotion.
- Focus on mutual wins (including employer needs).
- Know your bottom line (“walking point”).
- Proactively prepare a counter-offer.
- Consider non-salary “wins” such as professional development, health memberships, etc.
[Related: Why Are Women Satisfied With Less?]
Take ownership, take control, and be accountable.
Women must own the “inside work” that ultimately changes their career story. If we want something better and/or different, we must take action, which includes stating what we need, no longer sitting on our ask, and not expecting others “to know” our requirements or desires.
I recently heard it said that “jobs are quickly being created and eliminated.” With this in mind:
- Leverage your transferable skills and transcend industry; don’t limit yourself to the familiar.
- Research the fastest-growing industries and assess where you stand from a skill, experience, and education perspective. Will you need to reskill and/or upskill?
- Create a plan (that includes compensation research) for your next career move with the future in mind.
If you’re currently employed and are considering how to increase your salary aside from salary negotiation, consider the following:
- Performance conversations: Arrive prepared with your documentation that demonstrates how you’ve exceeded performance and how your contribution results in growth based on the organization’s objectives. Then ask for more money.
- Pivot: Consider a different line of business within the company. Believe it or not, you can make more money in a totally different department without having to pursue additional coursework. Your existing expertise is MORE than enough; I’ve experienced mobility and more money doing this and so have my clients.
- Interviewing: Whether it’s internally or externally, it was the one thing that increased my salary consistently throughout the course of my career. Being married to a role was never the goal when I could “weigh my options” and earn more in the process.
If I could summarize what needs to happen regarding Equal Pay Day and every day for Black women, it would be precisely what Rihanna mentions in one of her songs:
Pay me what you owe me!
Ericka Spradley is the Chief PowHer Officer/Founder of Confident Career Woman, which is the premier consulting firm for corporations and the mid-career professional woman who wants to advance, better manage her career, and go further faster. She is an advocate who partners with clients to help women ditch perfection, play bigger, and make PowHer Moves by identifying their next role, creating a career strategy, offering ongoing career guidance, and coaching clients to master interviews. For additional information, visit: ErickaSpradley.com.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Career Coach/Chief PowHer Officer
Confident Career Woman
"I believe every woman should excel at work and know their worth." Unfortunately, I settled. I know a comfort zone when I see one because that's where I spent most of my career! As a planner who didn't have a plan, I interviewed successfully throughout my career before obtaining a college degree. In essence, my ability to interview served as my lifeline prior to college graduation MUCH later in life. I knew a career change would... Continue Reading
Start your free membership to continue reading and learning from people who want to help you succeed.Sign up for free