For Diana Ramirez, covering the wage gap and its generational impact on families is personal. As Senior Manager of Policy and Coalitions, Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center, she’s seen first-hand how the wage gap, and specifically how it impacts Latinx women, can set a family back for decades.
Ramirez explains that at the beginning of the pandemic, her aunt got encephalitis, which caused permanent brain damage and left her completely disabled. “Before my aunt Elizabeth got sick, she was working, ironically, at a daycare center for adults with disabilities,” says Ramirez. “But she was making minimum wage and she didn't have health insurance. So when she became a disabled adult, we couldn’t afford to send her to the same daycare center [where] she was working before.”
Like many women who are underpaid, Ramirez’s aunt didn’t have a nest egg for retirement and she struggled to build savings. “When we finally got access to her bank account, she didn’t have millions saved up,” says Ramirez. “She had $50.”
“Had my aunt Elizabeth been paid what she was worth up until she got sick at 60 years old, she would have had a retirement account, she would have had a rainy day fund, and she would have been able to pay for her kids' college education,” says Ramirez. “Her daughter, my cousin, is an occupational therapist. She had to take out student loans and now she has two little boys. She's in this caregiving sandwich where she has to figure out how to take care of her disabled mom, who doesn't have retirement benefits, how to pay for daycare for her own two kids, and how to pay for her student loans.”
As a family, Ramirez says they rotate shifts taking care of her aunt because they can’t afford to pay for the 24-hour care that she needs. “So that's the way that I'm seeing this wage gap play out in my family,” she says.
Latinx women with college degrees lose nearly $2.5 million to the wage gap.National Women's Law Center
Currently, Latinx women working full-time, year-round, are paid $0.57 for every dollar paid to White men, equaling a loss of more than $1.2 million over a 40-year career, according to NWLC data. For Latinx women with college degrees, like Ramirez and her cousin, they stand to lose nearly $2.5 million over the course of their career, proving that educational attainment does not shield Latinx women from the pay gap.
“This is due to good old-fashioned racism and sexism,” says Ramirez. She explains how stereotypes and cultural biases lead Latinx women to be seen as caretakers first, even in the workplace. Currently, Latinx women hold just 1.6% of senior executive roles, and only two have ever held the title of Fortune 500 CEO. And while recent data shows that Latinx women, who lost the most jobs during the pandemic, are back to work in historic numbers, they are overrepresented in service industry roles with historically lower pay. According to NWLC, Latinx women make up 15.9% of the low-paid workforce, which is nearly double their overall share of the workforce at 8%.
Executives can help narrow the wage gap in several key ways. One of those, Ramirez says, is by ensuring that everyone at your company is making a living wage. “If the Elizabeth’s of the world can’t hold a steady job and make a fair income, then they can’t take care of their families,” she says. And, if they are forced to leave the workplace as a result, then that impacts the pipeline of women who can stay in the workforce and potentially move up to the C-Suite.
That’s why, Ramirez says, it’s important for company leaders to use their influence and platform to support bills such as the Raise the Wage Act, which calls for government leaders to raise the national minimum wage to $17 per hour. Currently, the national minimum wage, which has not increased since 2009, sits at $7.25 per hour.
Additionally, Ramirez says leaders should practice pay transparency by providing accurate salary ranges for open roles and they should provide clear parameters and requirements for promotions and pay increases throughout their organization.
“We also advocate for prohibiting employers from asking how much you are making at your current job,” she says. “Because women of color are likely making far less than their White male counterparts and then it traps us into this low-wage cycle.” Currently, 22 states have laws that ban the salary history question.
As someone who helped to unionize her own workforce to ensure fair pay, Ramirez says she also encourages leaders to not fight against workers exercising their power for better wages.
“Your biggest asset is your labor workforce, your human capital,” she says. “If your employees aren't happy and dedicated to your business, then your business is not going to do as well. I know for a fact that I am now making a fair market rate because I'm in a union at the National Women's Law Center.”
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