‘Overt propositioning’ and racism Black women face in workplace reflected in wages: Brookings

Sibile Marcellus
·3-min read

According to the U.S. Census, women earned 81.6 cents for every dollar a man earned in 2018.

But that number doesn’t tell the whole gender pay gap story.

“Black women make less than that,” Washington University sociology professor Adia Harvey Wingfield told Yahoo Finance. She authored a report on how Black women are still behind in the workplace for Brookings Institution.

Black women earn 64 cents for every dollar a white man is paid, according to Brookings. “The intersections of race and gender really matter in terms of shaping the outcomes and the wage outcomes in particular that are present for women of color,” Wingfield said.

Wingfield writes that underrepresented Black women face racism in the form of “subtle but pervasive doubts about competence, intelligence, and skill that are unrelated to actual performance.”

“When [Black women are] one of very few in these workplace settings, they’re more likely to face these discriminatory patterns where they are subject to expectations that they can’t succeed, that they lack the skills, that they lack the knowledge and the capabilities of advancing to upper level positions within an organization,” said Wingfield.

Sexism also takes a toll. “In some cases and in some settings, [those unfounded doubts about intelligence divorced from reality] can transform and lead to sexual harassment where women are subject to various forms of mistreatment based on gender and the way that it intersects with race,” said Wingfield. “That can lead to overt propositioning. It can lead to more subtle and narrower forms of harassment.”

The one-two punch of sexism and racism conspires to make thriving in the workforce difficult for many Black women, said Wingfield.

A Group of colleagues are sitting at a conference table, focusing on a presentation at a coworking space.
Black women earn 64 cents for every dollar a white man is paid, according to Brookings.

“What these types of environments create overall are spaces where it becomes very challenging for Black women to succeed and to thrive. Not because they lack the skills or the capabilities or the proficiency or what have you,” she said. “More so because the environments in which they are working are ones that are not really designed for them to thrive and to succeed or designed to offer the support and the infrastructure that allows them to do their best work.”

‘Organizations have to make changes in several key areas’

For workplace sexism and racism to be addressed, “organizations have to make changes in several key areas,” said Wingfield when asked to suggest a solution in 90 seconds or less during her Yahoo Finance interview.

First, companies need to examine their hiring and promotions process. “How organizations hire workers is a big part of how we see these [wage] disparities occurring. A lot of the ways in which people get promoted in terms of the relationships that they have with mentors and sponsors within an organization also matters in terms of who is able to advance in organizations and who is not able to advance,” said Wingfield.

Second, paying close attention to workers’ experiences is paramount. It’s “important for organizations to take stock of the experiences that their workers have in these settings and to be attuned to the climate and organizational culture that employees face,” she said.

Assuming all workers of color are having the same experience is also a mistake. “Experiences that workers of color are going to face actually vary depending on the position where they are employed in the organization,” said Wingfield. “What an executive’s experience looks like is not necessarily what an entry level worker’s experience looks like.”

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