By Courtney Connley
If the idea of being paid 46% less than your peers sounds absurd to you, then consider the fact that it’s a reality for Latinas. On average, Latinx women working full-time year-round make $0.57 for every white man’s dollar. When factoring in the wages of part-time workers, which millions of women were forced into during the pandemic, this number drops to just $0.54. According to the National Women’s Law Center, this racist and sexist wage gap costs Latinx women nearly $1.2 million in lost earnings over a 40-year career. If progress around closing this gap doesn’t change, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that Latinx women won’t see equal pay to their white male peers until 2206.
“Awareness is not enough,” says Emily Martin, Vice President for Education and Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center. “We really need action, and the answer is multi-fold because there are a lot of different causes driving the wage gap for Latinas.”
From a policy standpoint, Martin says government leaders need to strengthen equal pay laws at the federal level so that employers can’t base a new employee’s salary on what they made in their last job. So far, 21 states and 21 local jurisdictions have banned the salary history question, which means that paying an employee based on their previous underpaid wage is still legal in many parts of the country.
“We also need initiatives at the federal level to collect pay data from employers so that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a better window into which employers have unusually large race and gender wage gaps,” adds Martin. Recently, a few states and local jurisdictions, including California and New York City, have passed pay transparency laws to help close the gender and racial wage gap. But, many employers found loopholes in the law, allowing them to post astronomically wide pay ranges that make it hard to decipher the accuracy of one’s salary.
“I think that there are definitely conversations happening among lawmakers about whether they need to change how these laws are written to ensure that employers are really providing pay ranges in good faith,” says Martin. “I also suspect that employers will soon find that they are not doing themselves any favors in attracting candidates when they're setting out really large and unrevealing pay ranges because if you as an employer are trying to skirt around that then you're sending a message to applicants about whether you should be trusted and whether you're likely to pay them fairly.”
In addition to strengthening equal pay laws and enforcing pay transparency at the federal level, Martin says company leaders need to also adjust their workplace culture so that employees aren’t penalized for discussing their wages with other colleagues.
“A law and culture shift towards greater transparency is important for a few reasons because it means if you know you are being paid less than the white guy down the hall then you can raise it to your employer, you can bring about a lawsuit, and you can help identify the problem,” explains Martin. “But even more broadly, pay transparency helps shift power from employers to workers. When employees have a better understanding of pay scales and how people are placed on pay scales, they also have the information needed to collectively organize for fair pay.”
With Latinx women being overrepresented in lower wage, non-managerial roles and underrepresented in high-paying leadership positions, Martin says that having the ability to organize for fair pay is critical. When looking at the S&P 100, Latinx women currently hold just 1.6% of senior executive roles, with only two Hispanic/Latinx women ever holding the title of Fortune 500 CEO. This leadership and wage gap, Martin says, are fueled by Latinx women playing a disproportionate caregiving role in their family, which can lead to even greater bias and social pressures at work.
“That’s why it’s also important to have affordable childcare available and paid family leave to help ensure that when you leave work to have a baby, you're more likely to come back,” she says. “And, you’re more likely to be able to successfully do your job and parent at the same time without cycling in and out of the workforce in ways that depress your wages.”