Black womanhood shapes my identity in many ways. It affects the way I style my hair and the choices I make at the bookstore to pick up works by feminist writer Roxane Gay or African-American novelist Toni Morrison.
But it shouldn’t have any effect on determining my paycheck.
It’s hard to feel hopeful about entering the workforce after graduation knowing that, statistically, I might earn less money than my white male counterparts due to the wage gap.
According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, American women working full-time lose a combined total of more than $840 billion every year due to income inequity.
Today, women earn about 80 cents on the dollar compared to men — but women of color fall even further behind.
Compared to white men, Black women make 63 cents on the dollar, and Latina women make 54 cents. At this rate, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research predicts women won’t receive equal pay for another 42 years.
Americans should have in-depth discussions about the wage gap and the unfair consequences it has on women, especially women of color. And legislators need to institute policies like paycheck transparency to ensure fair pay by law. This requires companies with federal contracts to share information on employee earnings and salaries with the government.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 “did increase equality for certain groups of women, but obviously not all women,” said Alexandra Guisinger, a political science professor. “Actually, we’ve increased inequality among women.”
Racist stereotypes have further contributed to the wage gap for some women.
“Women of color are not taken seriously because of the stereotypes that come with women of color, that their ideas are not as great as white men’s ideas,” said Rujuta Chincholkar-Mandelia, a gender, sexuality and women’s studies professor.
Chincholkar-Mandelia, who moved to the United States from India, said she has heard stereotypes about immigrant women being inarticulate and submissive.
These stereotypes must be challenged. People can work to counteract them by acknowledging they exist, discussing them with others and working to change the narrative they perpetuate.
Another way these stereotypes can be challenged is by noting positive representations of women of color and celebrating their successes in their respective fields.
“Just seeing examples that go against your bias is really helpful,” said junior political science and public health major Martha Sherman, the public relations officer of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance.
We must recognize that the wage gap has been a long-standing issue for women, and for some even more than others. Women of various backgrounds must be included in the conversation about income inequity. Solidarity across racial and gender lines is also crucial in bridging the gap.
“There is that awareness and understanding that we need to come together within the feminist movement itself,” Chincholkar-Mandelia said. “President [Barack] Obama was very conscious of that wage gap.”
Obama signed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order in 2014, which included paycheck transparency.
This was meant to reveal any discrepancies between the incomes of men and women, prompting businesses to correct any gap.
But President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order revoking Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces, removing the paycheck transparency requirement.
Working women are already susceptible to injustice in the workplace, and Trump’s order only exacerbates the issue.
Leaders like Trump cannot continually dismiss this problem. Their negligence as people in power encourages others to ignore this important civil rights issue. Political leaders must first acknowledge the existence of the wage gap, and then work to correct it through legislation so women can progress economically.
In January, Mayor Jim Kenney signed a wage equity law prohibiting employers from asking applicants their previous salary history. The law, which some have opposed for the added regulations it places on business, is set to take effect on May 23.
This law is essential because employers use salary history to gauge how much employees should be paid, and since women historically make less than men, their salary history reflects that. This cycle complicates economic mobility for women.
Philadelphia’s wage equity law is a positive step toward working to level the playing field between men and women.
If we value women’s labor in society, we must be willing to pay for it. Our laws must ensure no woman is paid less simply because of her gender or race.
“I just think that in order for people to be liberated from oppressive systems, they need to make equal pay for equal work,” Sherman said. “It’s a form of equality we need to fight for.”
We need to continually engage in discussions about the wage gap to make others aware of its potential impact on women in the workforce. Only when citizens and policymakers are continually confronted with this issue can we hope to spur action and legislation for women in the workforce.
Basia Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.