When we talk about the gender wage gap, we hear the oft-cited stat that women make about 82 cents on the dollar to men.
But today, on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, the statistics are starker. The day is noted on Aug. 3 to represent the additional days in the new year that Black women work to earn what white men made at the end of the previous year. In 2021, Black women make about 63 cents on the dollar to white men — hence, an extra seven-plus months of work.
There’s no quick fix to this problem. Women will be fighting for pay equity for decades to come, experts say. And the pandemic likely made conditions worse. But companies and the leadership that run them are capable of creating change within their organizations.
RoMaine Jones-Wise, a senior human capital consultant at Old City-based people operations firm Exude, Inc., has been working in HR across a verity of industries for nearly 20 years. At Exude, she helps companies form DEI policies and advises them on ways to build diverse workforces. She shared with Technical.ly some of the most concrete ways organizations that are striving for pay equity can achieve meaningful change.
Stop asking a candidate’s salary history.
Women of color, who often are the lowest paid at their organization, shouldn’t be paid less just because they were making less before, Jones-Wise said: “Underpayment repeats itself.”
If the new organization is trying to just beat the old salary to entice them to join the team, the cycle of inequity will continue. Instead, compensation should be based around the value-add of the position and the skills the candidate will bring to the organization, she said.
Create a base salary for every position.
Companies Jones-Wise works with aren’t usually super forthcoming with how or why they have a gender pay gap, and the reason doesn’t actually matter that much, she said.
“There’s usually not a great answer,” she said. “Sometimes I hear, ‘Oh, well, she felt comfortable accepting this offer.’ My suggestion is to find your compensation metric, a base salary that starts everyone out on the same foot.”
That base salary should apply to employees who fit all the qualifications of the job description, or the “must-haves,” Jones-Wise said. When an employee brings additional “desired” skills to the table, such as speaking another language or having a graduate degree, there can be compensation add-ons. But everyone should start in the same spot.
Note that posting salary range isn’t the end-all-be-all.
While transparency is an important part of moving toward pay equity, posting a salary in a job description might not be a clear-cut answer, Jones-Wise said. For some who are underpaid currently, seeing a high salary could intimidate them from applying, even if they’re qualified. And those who have higher compensation goals might not apply if they don’t think the salary could be negotiated.
“You could end up limiting yourself on some great, diverse hires,” she said.
But when they do enter these situations, Black women should do behind-the scenes homework. Talk to a mentor, find comparable salaries across industries and practice negotiating.
“Black women can be intimidated for asking too much, but ask for it,” Jones-Wise said. “Understand you have the right to ask questions. It doesn’t make you combative, it means you know your worth.”
Consider pay as part of an overall compensation package.
And while salary is at the center of this conversation, it’s only one piece of what could make a workplace more equitable, Jones-Wise said. Women in the workforce right now are juggling a lot — many are mothers or caregivers to family members and have responsibilities in their home as well as in their workplace.
Policies around paid time off, flexible working schedules and healthcare benefits can help “deter the cost of being a woman,” the HR pro said. Offering a health savings account, flexible savings account or childcare subsidies are ways that companies can provide resources to keep their women in the workforce.
In her consultations, Jones-Wise encourages employers to create the culture for all women to be successful, and that means affording opportunities to women across your organization. At the end of the day, it costs more to deal with constant turnover than to invest in your employees.
“Make sure those women have the tools for them to growth within your orgs,” she said. “It’s an investment, but it’s an investment in your company as well.”