Women of Color and the Fight for Equal Pay

The gender wage gap is an economic and equity issue. Data shows that women are systematically paid less than men. Unfortunately, pay discrimination is common, and an indicator of systematic imbalances in the United States. However, many fail to address the nuances of the gender wage gap. The dialogue is commonly centered around pay discrimination in relation to white women, but this often overlooks the unique challenges facing women of color. The gender wage gap is an important discussion to have, and it’s crucial to address that women of color are paid significantly less than their white female and male counterparts. Latina, Native American and Black women are among the lowest paid people in our country. This isn’t a result of individual discrimination, but rather a larger institutional form of discrimination that exists.

Individual discrimination would imply an isolated incident, the result of one openly bigoted person. This isn’t the case for issues like the wage gap. The gender wage gap is the result of discrimination in hiring and promotions, sexual harassment, and bias against mothers. The same widespread discrimination pertains to race; people of color don’t have access to equal opportunity to be hired or promoted. This is a form of institutional discrimination, and it’s incredibly prevalent in our workforce.

For women of color, the wage gap isn’t just a gender equity issue – it’s a race issue. The wage gap needs to be addressed through an intersectional lens. Women of color are challenged with racism and misogyny at an institutional level, leading to lower wages. White women working full time receive 70 cents to every dollar a white man makes. Meanwhile, Latina women working full time receive 54 cents, Native women working full time receive 57 cents and Black women working full time receive 63 cents; these women would have to work up to twice as much as their white male counterparts to receive equal pay.

All industries have this problem, Seattle tech companies included. Catalyze Seattle conducted a study measuring the wage gaps within Seattle startups. The study found that Seattle startups have a gender wage gap of 10%, and a racial wage gap of 15%. Employees who identified as people of color earned approximately $90,130 – while the white respondents made $106,000 on average. If women and people of color are being paid less, it’s not difficult to deduce that women of color are being paid significantly less than their white male counterparts in Seattle.

When discussing ways to improve the wage gap, equity should be at the center of the conversation. There is a common misconception that equality and equity are interchangeable terms, but they aren’t. Equality is rooted in sameness, while equity is rooted in fairness. Equality is giving everybody the same help, without addressing their advantages and disadvantages. If sprinters racing on an oval track all began at the same place, the runners closest to the center of the oval would have the unfair advantage of running a smaller distance. This is equality. Because that would be unfair, the runners begin the race based on how close they are to the oval. This is equity. Equity aims to give marginalized people the same access to wealth and opportunity as their more advantaged counterparts.

There has been progress in recent years to close the gap. The software company Salesforce spent 3 million to close the wage gap in their company. After initiating a companywide review of salaries, and analyzing “unexplainable differences,” the company gave 6% of their employees a raise. This didn’t financially hurt the company in any way. By addressing the issue and aiding disadvantaged employees, Salesforce has taken a step in the right direction. Companies such as Apple and Facebook have taken similar steps in closing their wage gaps. Employers should be encouraged to address the issue and engage in equitable practices. For women, people of color and especially women of color to feel like valued employees – the gap needs to be closed.