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We can make Black History Month more relevant by addressing systems and institutions that hinder the growth and development of Black folks in the U.S. The first in a series, I explore the racial wage gap still found in 2021 across experience and education backgrounds.

Earlier today, a Facebook memory popped up that I wrote last year. It was the first in a series of posts I made last year about Black History Month. Each week, I picked one of the parts of my life that were impacted by Black and African American folks – in my work life, professional life, and among my friends and family.

The post reminded me that Black history isn’t just something we celebrate with some picture we post on our social media. No, Black history is created daily by the people we know. With the ones we work for and with. And sometimes by those we love and are related to.

This year, the official Black History Month theme as created by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) is The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity. I am once again reminded of the importance of knowing more about the Black experience of those I know and love from an entirely different point of view.

This is the first in a series of posts about how to make Black History Month matter in your workplace or organization; it will address racial wage gaps.


How to Connect Black History to Our Own Work and Lives

After the racial justice uprisings from the summer of 2020, in support of Black Lives Matter, it is no longer enough to say we support Black people in our lives. We must take active steps to know and understand how we personally contribute to a better world. Personally, I believe the strongest impact we can make in advancing a racial justice agenda is to start in our workplace.

And I mean EVERY workplace.

I believe celebrating “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity” theme starts with looking at where and how Black folks hold senior leadership in your organization. Or held by Black folks elsewhere in the organization? Do these numbers represent the statewide or national ratios among other racial or ethnic groups? Does your organization have a diversity, equity, and inclusion group? Ask them to look into how Black folks’ salaries compared to other ethnic groups in your organization.

Because even if there are an equitable number of people represented in the organization, that doesn’t mean that they are paid equitably.

women at the meeting
Celebrating Black excellence starts with ensuring Black folks are paid the same – or more – than their counterparts. Photo by RF._.studio on Pexels.com

“It’s important that individual employers have a reckoning as it relates to pay and equality by race, ethnicity and gender, but it’s going to require broader and more systemic changes to really bring it down,” Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy, told CNBC recently. In other words, we can begin to celebrate the contributions of Black and African American folks in our organizations by starting to dismantle the systems of oppression we inherit and perpetuate around wages and salaries.

Understand The Racial Wage Gap in Your Organization

Recently, Payscale.com released its 2020 Racial Wage Gap analysis. From their analysis, the report shared the following:

Black men and women have some of the lowest earnings compared to white men. Black women earn $0.97 for every dollar earned by a white man with the same job and qualifications. And Black men see a pay gap of $0.98. The median pay for white men in our sample is $74,500, thus the controlled median pay for black women is $72,300 – 97 percent of white men’s earnings in the same job. For black men, controlled median pay jumps to $73,000. This suggests a $2,200 pay disparity for being a black female and a $1,500 pay disparity for being a black male

If we expand these annual salaries over a 40-year career and account for average yearly wage growth, these differences can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, at a $0.97 wage gap black women earn $5.46 million over their career relative to white men who earn $5.62 million. A black woman with the same job and qualifications would need to repeat 2020 2.2 times to catch up to white men’s lifetime earnings. Over the last five years, the average yearly improvement of the controlled pay gap for black women was $0.004. To close the $0.97 controlled pay gap for black women at this rate would take another seven years.

From The Racial Wage Gap Persists in 2020, Payscale.com, https://www.payscale.com/data/racial-wage-gap

In order to meet the needs of the Black family, whether large or small, we must make sure people are paid their worth.

Black man in grey hat and glasses. Photo by Jason Little from Scop.io
It is important to recognize the contributions of Black creators – and make sure their work is compensated, such as the work of Black photographers and other content creators found online. Photo by Jason Little from Scop.io

Continue Your Education: Racial Wage Gap

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Joseph Rios, EdD
leadershipandvaluesinaction@gmail.com
I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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