Pay Me What You Owe Me: A Black Women’s Guide To Self-Advocacy At Work

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Here’s a proposed game plan of strategies for Black women to take matters into their own hands—and pockets.

It’s been almost 60 years since the Equal Pay Law of 1963 was enacted and more than 25 years since “Equal Pay Day” was launched by the National Committee on Pay Equity to bring the issue of pay inequity to the forefront. Yet, after multiple decades of fighting to advance economic fairness, Black women continue to face pay inequities. Black Women’s Equal Pay Day takes place on September 21, representing the day a Black woman must work into this year to make what a white, non-Hispanic man made at the end of last year. 


The significance of Black Women’s Equal Pay Dayand the issue it representsis much deeper than achieving higher salaries. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on what financial parity can do for Black women’s wealth-building capacity, their financial legacy building and, ultimately, their economic freedom and power. 


Accomplishing these challenging goals requires a critical mindset and narrative shift. Consider this a manifesto to help Black women take matters into their own hands by developing a strategic game plan to create economic equity for themselves, Malcolm X style—by any (legal) means necessary.   


Put Some Respect on My Pay

“Pay me what you owe me / don’t act like you forgot.” – Rihanna 


When the chances that a corporation will voluntarily offer to equitably compensate Black women without being asked are close to nil, Black women must step into their own power. 


After all, it took a lawsuit filed against Uber by 400 female Black, Hispanic, Native American and Alaskan Native software engineers for Uber to change its ways. The lawsuit called out practices of intentionally hiring female software engineers and engineers of color below their credential and experience levels and paying them less than white and Asian software engineers for the same work. The case was settled for more than $10 million dollars. 


Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that there’s still a lack of transparency regarding pay. A 2020 Harvard Business Review article revealed that out of 922 U.S. companies, “only 22% reported performing a salary audit between 2016 and 2020.” Salary audits are a critical tool in assessing—and fairly adjusting—gender and race-related pay differences. 


The good news is that Gen Z is no longer having it. They’re talking openly and intentionally about what they earn to empower the march towards equity.


In order to achieve equitable pay, Black women may need to mimic Rihanna’s vibes: come with “receipts” and make it clear to their employer (as early on as the job offer stage) that they deserve—and require—pay that’s in alignment with their value, as well as pay equal to their white male counterparts.  


Be(y) Prepared to Walk Away

“And I just quit my job / I’m gonna find new drive / Damn, they work me so damn hard / Work by nine, then off past five / And they work my nerves /That’s why I cannot sleep at night” – Beyoncé  


If you’ve already had the “pay me what you owe me” talk with your employer and it became clear that your over-and-above efforts will remain unappreciated and uncompensated, you may need to get your proverbial hat and exit stage left.  


If you do decide to leave for greener pastures, take comfort in knowing that you won’t be alone. The Great Resignation (or “the Great Renegotiation”) that began in 2020 is a movement still currently impacting the workplace landscape, and it shows no signs of going anywhere.  


The data doesn’t lie either: On average, a worker who changed employers between April 2021 and March 2022 saw earnings jump by nearly 10%. 


The overall moral of the resigning story for Black women? If they’ve been overdelivering in their position, consistently performing at peak levels on projects, constantly expected to train superiors yet always passed over for promotion, or experiencing a similar situation that has not resulted in sufficient compensation, then it might be time to take a calculated risk, bet on themselves and make their next move.


If that move entails going the entrepreneurial route, Black women-led venture capital investment groups including Fearless Fund1863 Ventures and Reign Venture Capital are here to help.


Fake Quit ‘til You Make It

“Never sell out / She never will / Not for a dollar bill / She works hard” – Donna Summer 


Virtually everyone has at least heard of the term “quiet quitting”—even if many folks don’t seem to quite understand or agree on what the actual concept of it is. 


Gen Z-ers brought this concept into the mainstream, but it’s actually something that’s been around for quite some time. The quiet quitter is someone who draws boundaries around their time and prioritizes those delineations between work and life rather than continuing to submit themselves to unfair employer expectations that exceed the scope of reasonable work requirements. 


Quiet quitters still perform quality work but now do the amount of work that is commensurate with what they’re paid to complete. They actually take their earned vacation days. They eat during their lunch break instead of working through it. They avoid taking work home with them. 


That said, for Black women, who often feel they need to work twice as hard to get half as much, the privileged nature of quiet quitting may not always feel like a viable option. (Revert back to option #2 — Be(y) Prepared to Walk Away) 


Put Your Money Where Your Goal Is

“Rich in the mind, / that’s why I’m making deposits / Can’t we all empower? / It’s time to realize it” – Tierra Whack, Beyoncé, and Moonchild 


While we’re working towards and fighting for equal pay, we can’t forget to capitalize on opportunities to create change for ourselves individually in the interim. This is where investing enters the chat. 


Over the course of a lifetime, Black women lose out on well over a million dollars in cumulative earnings due to inequities in salary, which in turn affects their quality of life in retirement. To address this issue, president and CEO at TIAA, Thasunda Duckettwho was also recently named one of 2022’s Most Influential Black Executives in Corporate America launched the #RetireInequality initiative, which seeks to help women get proactive and take advantage of the tools and resources available to them today to create a game plan that will enable them to retire well, and on their own terms, in the future. 


If you’re looking for other ways to get started in your investment journey, check out real estate investor and developer Brittney Rogers, who’s made it her mission to facilitate the creation of wealth in the African-American community through “multi-family projects funded by the people.”  


A Power “Black-out”

“Sisters are doin’ it for themselves / Standin’ on their own two feet / And ringin’ on their own bells, / Sisters are doin’ it for themselves / Now this is a song / To celebrate / The conscious liberation / Of the female state” – Aretha Franklin and Eurythmics 


One of the biggest ways Black women can change the narrative and close the wage gap is to shift the power dynamic from the top. Black women at C-suite levels, specifically, can do this by serving on corporate boards.


Flooding Fortune 1000 and business advisory boards with highly skilled, intelligent Black women is a win-win scenario. The women sitting in these board seats are often compensated for their service and will also have authority of voice to bring pay equity to the forefront of issues that a company must address, especially in achieving its DEI goals.


The question then becomes, “How do we help more Black women get the opportunity to serve in these leadership positions?” 


The organization Black Women on Boards has the answer. The organization’s ultimate goal is to put “talented Black female executives in their rightful place: on board seats,” with more than 150 women becoming members and more than 15 women already being placed on board seats. 


If you’re looking to keep this energy surrounding pay equity flowing, check out this Spotify playlist containing all the songs mentioned in the article (plus more!). 


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