When Sharawn Tipton began her career, she beamed with optimism.
She had just graduated from California State University, East Bay in Hayward, Calif. As a young Black woman in corporate America, Tipton was determined to prove herself. She consistently performed well with her new company, persevering in challenging moments.
Tipton hoped that her employer would properly reward her. But that never happened.
"Rather than a spot bonus, salary increase … or a promotion, I was left with an empty cauldron of a 'thank you' for my hard work in the form of an employee recognition award," she said.
Tipton received several "dry promotions" early in her career, which is an increase in responsibilities and status without the change in compensation. This type of workplace treatment has contributed to the recent "quiet quitting" phenomenon.
"I knew then that I was being undervalued, but I didn't know how to quantify my value or what steps to take," Tipton recalled.
Women have long been paid less than men despite working similar professions. To highlight this issue, the National Committee on Pay Equity launched Equal Pay Day in 1996. The date denotes how far into the year women must work to catch up to white men's earnings the previous year.
However, some groups of women are paid less than others. In 2022, Equal Pay Day for all women was March 15, but Black Women's Equal Pay Day isn't until Sept. 21. That means Black women must work an extra 263 days to achieve white men's pay.
The 'Concrete Ceiling'
In March, the Department of Labor released a report showing that the COVID-19 pandemic widened the pay gap for certain groups, including Black women. The data indicated that caregiving burdens and occupational segregation exacerbated pay disparities among Black and Hispanic women.
"That's especially troublesome, considering women of color already suffer the most severe gender wage gap in the country," said Tipton, who now serves as chief people officer for data company LiveRamp in San Francisco. "Black women continue to be overrepresented in low-paying jobs and underrepresented in high-paying jobs, including the technology sector."
A 2022 report by Payscale indicated that Black women are more likely than other female workers to be paid less despite having the same level of experience and other compensable factors as white men doing the same job.
[SHRM Resource Hub Page: Pay Equity]
Daphne E. Jones, a career coach and author of Win When They Say You Won't (McGraw Hill, 2022), said Black women encounter various obstacles in the workplace that influence their pay, including a lack of:
- Access to significant opportunities that support their leadership development.
- Exposure to sponsors willing to spend their influential or political capital to support Black women.
- Equitable consideration for opportunities based on merit, values, capabilities and performance.
Black women also routinely face gender and racial discrimination and lack peers in the workplace. The combination of these factors creates what Jones calls a "concrete ceiling" that limits the career growth of Black women.
"For Black women, it's a concrete ceiling above her, because not only is she not up there where the men are, she cannot even see what the opportunities are," Jones explained. "For her, the concrete ceiling is a dead end, and she's alone, wondering if she can ever get through."
If the Wage Gap Didn't Exist …
The National Partnership for Women and Families examined a world in which the wage gap does not exist for Black women. In this scenario, Black women working full time, year-round, would have enough money to pay for:
- More than 2.5 years of child care.
- More than 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.
- Nearly 16 additional months of premiums for employer-based health insurance.
- 174 more weeks of food for their families.
- 15 additional months of mortgage and utilities payments.
According to the Center for American Progress, Black women lose an estimated $964,400 to the wage gap over the course of a 40-year career.
"It simply doesn't make any sense and it's a total disgrace, but it's a brutal reality," said Octavia Goredema, a Los Angeles-based career coach who authored Prep, Push, Pivot: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women (Wiley, 2022). "The economic and societal implications of persistent inequity are just too huge for us to ignore."
To combat the pay gap, business leaders should:
- Stay abreast of the latest news related to employment and compensation laws.
- Educate themselves on the plight of Black women in the workforce, including pay discrepancies.
- Afford Black women opportunities for advancement through training programs.
- Use a data-driven approach in their employee compensation packages to ensure fair pay for all.
Tipton said HR professionals also play a significant role in ensuring equal pay, as they serve as the gatekeepers for job seekers and employees.
"Recognizing that the onus for pay equity is on HR professionals as well as leaders and managers," she said. "It is up to all of us to ensure we are responsibly practicing equal and fair pay for all."