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It’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, and WNBA players are speaking out

LeanIn.org suggests a few solutions to help move the needle on the pay disparity

11:46 AMIt’s been 10 years since Atlanta Dream point guard Renee Montgomery was selected fourth overall in the 2009 WNBA draft, but she’s still facing down the harsh reality that she earns far less money than her male counterparts.

So she tries not to focus on the pay disparity. Like many women in the workplace, she attempts to limit her gaze to her job.

“I can’t actively do anything right now,” she said. “So I control the things in my life I can control.”

Thursday is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. That means that it took black women from day one of 2018 until today, or 20 months, to earn as much as white men did just in 2018.

“It’s a kind of a tough day in that it marks something that’s not really great to be celebrating or that even exists,” said Raena Saddler, vice president and managing director of Lean In, an organization built to help women break down barriers of inequality while providing support to ensure that they attain their goals and dreams.

This year, Lean In teamed up with SurveyMonkey to conduct a nationwide survey that reveals mind-bogglingly problematic results, including the following:

  • A third of Americans don’t know there’s a pay gap between black women and white men.
  • Forty-two percent of the people who are aware of this pay gap underestimate its size.
  • Moreover, half of Americans don’t even know there’s a pay gap between black women and white women.

Although Montgomery works in sports, where men drive eyeballs and dollars, she is not shocked by the survey results.

The lack of support from the outside world for black women’s work is evident now more than ever. And who’s left to fight for them?

The rhetorical question has a fairly easy answer — black women.

“As a whole, I’m not really surprised that people are clueless,” Montgomery said. “I think people tend to only pay attention to things that affect them, so if you asked the people that are receiving less, I’m sure they know all about it.”

Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO/president of Lean In, said the organization reviews its research on women in the workplace annually.

“For the last three years we looked really closely at the experiences of women of color, and year over year over year we see that black women on almost every dimension are having a worse experience in the workplace than other groups, the women, white women, Latinos, Asian women,” Thomas said. “And so for me, this is just a good day to remind people how much further we have to go and how many more barriers women of color, particularly black women, are facing in the workplace. It’s just unacceptable, so it’s a good day to punctuate it.”

Tennis great Serena Williams also penned a letter, published in Forbes in 2017, asking for allies to speak out about equal pay for black women. “Be fearless. Speak out for equal pay. Every time you do, you’re making it a little easier for a woman behind you. Most of all, know that you’re worth it,” Williams wrote.

Saddler believes that to help change the narrative, companies should take steps to solve the problem. “We believe strongly that on the solutions side, the onus is on companies to change, and we have really concrete recommendations, based on our research, on what companies can be doing,” she said.

For black women, pay disparity is just one obstacle among many. LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace research reveals that black women are less likely to be promoted, get far less mentorship or sponsorship, don’t receive as much support from managers, have fewer managers who promote their accomplishments, and face instances of discrimination daily.

“In terms of the solutions, we know that black women have been doing everything that they can,” Saddler said. “I think companies need to make sure that employees who are doing the same work are being paid the same amount. Companies need to be actively looking at that and making sure that promotion and performance reviews are fair as they’re looking for ways to improve areas like internal equity. Another thing is they need to be training their employees to identify and challenge bias.”

Saddler and Thomas also suggest women seek out mentors and sponsors to form a network of people they can ask for advice, guidance and a different viewpoint on the internal dynamics of the organization.