Better World

Black Women Face Major Disadvantages At Work—Even When Armed with Education and Experience

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If you think companies are more committed to diversity than ever before, you’re probably right. We certainly hear a lot more talk about the importance of diversity — and equality — these days. But does that mean we’re any closer to achieving equal pay for equal work? Not really, and black women — and their families — in particular are paying a huge price for it.  

On average, black women in the U.S. are paid 39 percent less than white men and 21 percent less than white women, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Compared to white men and women and even men of color, women of color are also among the least likely to hold managerial positions (12 percent vs 27 percent for white women, 45 percent for white men, and 17 percent for men of color). 

To put this in perspective, Lean In, the organization co-founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to empower working women, describes it this way: Black women had to work all of 2018 and until August 22, 2019 (Black Women’s Equal Pay Day) just to catch up with what white men earned in 2018 alone. 

In fact when Lean In showed a group of black women what white men earned on average for the same job, they weren’t just flabbergasted, they jumped at the chance to point out all the things they would do with the earnings if their pay was on par. From finally buying a house (or in some cases, two houses), to saving for their child’s education, there was no shortage of ways the extra money could change their family’s lives. 

“While many Americans don’t realize the pay gap for black women exists, black women and their families certainly feel the effects,” says Lean In co-founder Rachel Thomas.

Given that more than 80 percent of black mothers are the main breadwinners for their households, according to IWPR, this staggering pay gap impacts families’ ability to buy groceries, pay for childcare, invest in their children’s education, and more. If the wage gap were actually eliminated, here are just a few of the things a black woman working full time, year-round would have enough money to pay for:  

  • Two and a half years of child care
  • More than 2.6 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 17 additional months of premiums for employer-based health insurance
  • More than three years’ worth of food for her family 

Believe it or not, the gap rises for black women who earn bachelor’s and advanced degrees, making some question whether it’s worth the sacrifice to their families.

There’s clearly a lot of work to do when it comes to leveling the playing field for black women at work, and until we do, American families will continue to pay the ultimate price. 



The former Content Director at Parenting, parenting.com and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.