By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Since 1996, September 21 has been designated as Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. The observance is associated with Equal Pay Day in April, which was
launched by the National Committee on Pay Equity.
The date marks how far each year Black women must have worked until Sept. 21 to make what a white man made at the end of the last year.
As part of the local observance, the Urban League Guild, the affiliate of the Urban League of Hampton Roads (ULHR), the National Coalition of 100 Black Women-Tidewater Chapter, and the Chrysler Museum of the Arts organized the “African American Equal Pay Day” forum on September 28.
It was hosted by the National Urban League.
A group of panelists gave their insights on the “impact” of economic inequity on Black men and women.
Participants were activists and faith leaders Rev. Glenda Murray-Kelley and Rev. Gary McCollum; Audrey Douglas Cook, President of the Tidewater 100 Black Women; Nathan Richardson, who does an interpretation of Abolitionist Frederick Douglass; J.T. Hasty of the Town Insurance Company; Dr. Cynthia Tyler, Entrepreneur; and Francine Humphrey, the President of the Hampton Roads Urban League Guild.
Humphrey, who organized the first event in 2019, said each of the participants was invited to address the issue of pay and income inequality from their respective fields of expertise. She said she was encouraged to research and organize the first
equal pay event after President Barack H. Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
The act was the first piece of legislation signed by Obama in January 2009 after being elected the nation’s first Black President.
Ledbetter discovered her employer was paying her less than men doing the same job. The law makes it easier for women to effectively challenge unequal pay in the workplace.
Humphery, who is also a career and financial advisor for low to upper income families and individuals, said job applicants must learn to negotiate their salaries upon applying for employment.
Upon applying for employment, she said applicants must research the pay structure and starting salary for the specific job they are seeking. She said if they accept a starting salary of $30,000, for example, “you may find out it’s not enough to pay your bills. This may prompt you to start looking for another job elsewhere after a company has spent money to place and train you.”
She said people should also strive to create employment opportunities to generate a living wage.
Job applicants, notably women, should also be cognizant of biases directed toward women who may be slighted because they may take time out to give birth and be caregivers for their families.
Virginia and other states have laws barring discrimination because of the hairstyle a Black woman specifically wears.
But, she said, they must be aware of the biases imposed based on whether an applicant’s name sounds other than European, such as the names “Keisha” or “Sarah”.
Studies show that Black women who work full-time, year-round jobs typically make 61 cents for every dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts. This, according to the website of the National Women’s Law Center, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that fights for gender justice.
According to equalpaytoday.org—based on census data—the 2021 wage gap for Black women compared to white men is 58 cents for every dollar.
The American Association of University Women says, as a whole, women are taking home about 84% of the pay men do.
Also, September 21 was created to highlight the income disparity not only for Black women but for Black men, too. They earn 87 cents for every $1.00 a white man earns.
Overall, nationally, according to the most recent Department of Labor numbers relative to race, there are some 97.4 million (62%) whites in the workforce who earns on average $1,046.52 a week.
Compare this to African Americans who make up 17.7 million (11.43%) of the nation’s workforce. Their weekly earnings are $791.02 a week or 76 cents of what whites make.
Panelist Nathan Richardson noted the basic resolution to the pay and income disparity is for African American men and women to create their own businesses, thus controlling their employment and financial destinies.
“We are told when, how, and where to work,” said Richardson. “We are not exactly body slaves of society. But we must learn to establish our enterprises and make our wages. Building a client base that values your creative brand is key to parity.”
Even when they hold management positions, Black men are paid less than their white counterparts. Executive-level Black men earned 97 cents for every dollar a white man with the same qualifications took home, PayScale found. Even more concerning, the racial wage gap widened as Black men moved up the corporate ladder.