By: Barbara E. Kauffman, Michellene Davis, Esq., and Anna Maria Tejada, Esq.
This year, as our nation grapples with its legacy of systemic racial inequities, there is an issue that must be a part of our national conversation if we are to truly do the work of creating a more just and equitable society. August 13th was Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, a designation focused on raising awareness of the severe pay gap between Black women and their white male counterparts. The date of August 13th, 2020 is symbolic, representing on average how much longer it would take a Black woman to earn the same amount that her white male counterpart made in the previous year. In other words, if a white man earned $100,000 in 2019, it would take a Black woman all of 2019 plus 8 months of 2020, or nearly 20 months in total, to earn the same amount for the same job in corporate America. This is utterly unacceptable.
Despite the nation’s intense focus on equity, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day 2020 received very little attention this year. Ironically, it was lost in the reverberation of the historic announcement on August 11th of United States Senator Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee. While we applaud the progress that Senator Harris’ candidacy represents, we cannot lose sight of the pervasive disparities that Black women face in the workforce, particularly the pay gap. This disparity has a devastating and generational impact on Black women, their families, and their communities. As institutions issued statements of solidarity, their employees and organizations like ours are watching to see the action steps that they will take to address their contribution to structural economic inequality.
Executive Women of New Jersey is an organization that strives to ensure women have equal access to corporate leadership opportunities and that they are paid equitably in those positions. Our organizational leadership continues to be intentionally one of the most diverse of women’s professional organizations in the nation. Our mission is to attain pay equity, inclusion, and belonging for all professional women, which is why we felt it necessary to keep this crucial issue at the forefront of the conversation our nation is having about equity.
EWNJ publishes biennial reports that track the progress of women in securing access to boards and top corporate leadership, and it addresses the gender pay gap, which is substantially wider for Black women. It also shows that the number of Black women occupying top leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies is dismal. Even when they do occupy leadership roles, they are expected to work for wages that their white male counterparts would never accept. Black women earn just 66 cents for every dollar of a white man’s salary, while their white female counterparts earn just 81 cents; Black mothers earn even less at 50 cents for every dollar. Studies show that this disparity in salaries is a clear symptom of structural and systemic racism, which harms a family’s ability to generate and build wealth for generations.
The reality is that Black women live the impact of racial inequities every day. When working mothers earn so much less, they are unable to climb the career ladder or even to afford adequate childcare to support a demanding career. For every $100,000 a white man earns, a Black woman earns $66,000. Broadly speaking, over a 40-year career, this inequity essentially robs her of more than $1 million in compensation and negatively impacts her retirement savings, a clear indication of why the racial wealth gap in the United States continues.
The time to take action is now. We believe that legislation at the city, county, and state level can go a long way towards guaranteeing that corporations take actions beyond a mere statement to address structural inequalities. When we offer tax credits to incentivize them to bring their businesses to communities, why not require them to publish an annual list of their employees’ wages by both gender and race to illustrate the progress they are making towards their statements of diversity?
Corporate executives and leaders, we are asking you to commit to an audit to examine how your organization is paying its women executives—along both race and gender lines—and announce your strategy to correct any inequities found. EWNJ’s most recent report, and every report we’ve produced, proves repeatedly that investing in women adds tremendous financial and operational value to companies. Compared to companies with less than 10% women in senior management, those with 15% or more found a 52% higher return on equity and a 22% higher ratio of dividend payout for companies with more women in the ranks of senior managers. Companies with at least one woman director had better share price performance than those companies without women for the last 6 years.
Instead of a social media post or a template message of support for racial equity, paying Black women and all women what they’re worth is the statement we need. By doing this, corporations will undoubtedly see a positive financial and cultural return on their investment. True change begins with leadership, with intention, action, and accountability. We see opportunities for change, and we want to see our society, from business to government, rise to the challenge.
Barbara E. Kauffman is the President of Executive Women of New Jersey, Michellene Davis, Esq. is the immediate past President of Executive Women of New Jersey, and Anna Maria Tejada, Esq. is the President Elect of Executive Women of New Jersey.