Protocol | Workplace

The pay gap persists for Black women. Coaches offer advice on how to push for change.

"The pay gap is a multifaceted problem and any time you have a complex problem, there's not a single solution that's going to solve it."

An illustration with a small money bag with a very large blurred money bag.

For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

This story is part of our Salary Series, where we take a deep dive into the world of pay: how it's set, how it's changing, and what's next. Read the rest of the series.

Last year's racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd led many tech companies to commit to promoting equity within their organizations, including working toward pay equity. But despite efforts, the wage gap for Black women still persists. For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Black Women's Equal Pay Day on Tuesday represents the estimated number of days into the year it would take for Black women to make what their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts made at the end of the previous year, according to the organization Equal Pay Today. And while the responsibility to fix the pay gap falls mostly on companies to rectify, some female employees have taken matters into their own hands and held companies to their asserted values by negotiating higher pay.

People analytics firm Visier found for Black employees as a whole it will take 78 years to reach what their white colleagues are making. And in 2020 there was a regression of earlier progress made for Black workers between 2017 and 2019, a recent change that is thought to be due to the pandemic.

Though in the past few months, the labor shortage and the "Great Resignation" has added some bargaining power for tech workers. In June 2021, the number of unemployed people who quit or voluntarily left their job to seek new employment increased by 164,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The competition for talent among tech companies has pushed salaries up despite the pandemic. The average U.S. tech salary rose 3.6% from 2019 to 2020, according to Dice, although the report did not include a breakdown of salaries according to race or gender.

Ariel Lopez, a career coach who works with women in technology, said that she is encouraging her Black female clients to recognize their power during this time.

"I think right now we're seeing a shift to where people are taking their power back and they're making their demands not only of where they want to be working, the type of place they want to be working and how they want to be treated."

Lopez has guided Black women over the past year in how to ask for more money without the face-to-face conversation in the office, but said she recognizes a lot of the responsibility lies with the companies to promote and retain Black women.

"I do believe the crux of the issue and what we're looking at has everything to do with companies and their lack of fair, efficient and inclusive processes as it pertains to hiring, and also as it pertains to retention," Lopez told Protocol.

She said technology companies can work to fix this by introducing more transparency into job descriptions and onboarding.

"People should know what they're getting themselves into so the moment someone signs an offer letter they are clear on what this looks like. I think if we're talking about tech specifically explaining to people what their stock options are," she said.

Lopez has found that many new employees are not made aware of what a vesting schedule is and how long a person would have to be at the company to reap the benefits. Omitting information such as this could cause a big disadvantage for women of color in terms of pay.

Jacqueline Twillie, a career coach with a focus on negotiation, has also spent time coaching Black women in tech during this time. Twillie, the founder of ZeroGap, a leadership development company that coaches women working in male-dominated industries, believes the solution to closing the gap should be varied.

"The pay gap is a multifaceted problem and any time you have a complex problem, there's not a single solution that's going to solve it," Twillie told Protocol. "So part of the work is going to be done inside of companies with their compensation teams, and part of that is making sure women have access to childcare, and family care. We know the burden, especially in 2020, that women took in taking care of their families."

Twillie said she likes to remind her clients that the one thing they can control is negotiating when they receive an offer, since even in the current job market the first offer is rarely the best offer.

Others also suggest being clear about what you want and expressing exactly what you need to do your best work, whether that's more compensation or a new location. Minda Harts, a career coach and author of "The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table," told Protocol that she encourages her clients to leverage their relationships at work and be honest about their specific needs.

"Because before we move on and look for another job, can it work where we are? We won't know that unless we let people know and we're clear and transparent," she said.

Jacquette M. Timmons, a financial behaviorist, told Protocol that with more tech employees working remotely, Black women are having to be even more intentional in reaching their compensation goals. She suggests networking in all directions by sending a short email to a colleague after a video meeting since in-office chats around the watercooler have become rare.

"I think that this is really an invitation to be that much more purposeful and intentional about who you are reaching out to, why you're reaching out to them, what projects you're raising your hand for. And then also, I think an important piece is making sure that you're tracking your work and you're tracking the reaction to the work," she said.

Timmons said true improvement in closing the wage gap for Black women will only occur if CEOs and other C-suite executives make the issue one of their values.

"If they do not do that, then no, there's no amount of hope that's going to change it," she said.

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