In the vast mosaic of American employment, Black women occupy a unique position. They are a formidable force — one that has surmounted incredible challenges and yet, in many ways, continues to face systemic barriers in the workplace. While the gender wage gap is a widely discussed issue, the disparities grow more stark when race is added to the mix. Black women, on average, earn considerably less than their white male and female counterparts. In 2020, Black women earned $0.63 for every dollar earned by white men, and this disparity persists even when accounting for factors like education, experience, and location.
It's a paradox that has baffled many but is made clear when you consider workplace systems. Statistically, Black women are among the most educated groups in the US, yet their earnings don’t reflect their academic achievement. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of Black women aged 25-29 who had completed a bachelor's degree or higher increased from 23% in 1995 to 39% in 2019. And yet, despite this uptick in educational attainment, the wage gap remains stubbornly persistent.
This underscores a systemic problem. According to the American Dream rules of engagement, education should, in theory, lead to better employment opportunities and higher wages. The fact that Black women aren’t seeing the expected returns on their educational investments points to other factors, such as discriminatory hiring practices and societal biases.
Promotion is a pathway to increased wages, more responsibilities, and better career opportunities. Yet, Black women often find this pathway riddled with obstacles, both seen and unseen. A McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org report revealed that for every 100 men promoted to managerial roles, only 58 Black women received similar promotions. Such disparities don't just impact the economic well-being of Black women but also deprive organizations of diverse leadership, which has been shown to drive innovation and profitability.
The disparities highlighted above aren't just numbers — they represent real, lived experiences. For genuine change to occur, businesses must actively commit to inclusivity and equity, and this means:
Transparent Reporting: Companies should publish wage data, categorized by gender and race, to highlight disparities and track progress.
Mentorship and Sponsorship: Senior leaders should actively mentor and sponsor Black women, providing them with career growth opportunities.
Bias Training: Organizations must invest in regular training sessions to educate employees on implicit biases and how to counteract them.
Diverse Hiring Panels: Diverse panels can help ensure a more equitable hiring process, reducing biases that may favor one group over another.
The disparities faced by Black women in the US workplace are undeniable and deeply entrenched. While it's encouraging to see the rise in education among Black women, it's disheartening to witness the consistent disparities in wages and promotions. Corporations, small businesses, and all stakeholders must come together to address these issues head-on. It’s not just about fairness — it's about unlocking the full potential of the American workforce.
National Partnership for Women & Families
National Center for Education Statistics
McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org, Women in the Workplace 2019 https://womenintheworkplace.com/