Latina Women Earn Less Than White, Black, and Native Women—Here's How We Can Close the Pay Gap

·9 min read

By 2021, we've all heard about the pay gap that affects women. But for Latinas (even white-presenting ones like me), the pay gap is even wider. Newly released data from Lean In—an organization dedicated to helping women achieve their ambitions and work to create an equal world—shows that while white women earn $.79 to the white male $1.00, Latinas only make $.57, which is 43 percent less than white men and 28 percent less than white women.

What's even more shocking is that while women are paid less as a whole, women of color are paid even less—with Latinas on the very bottom of the list, according to Lean In. The latest data from 2019 shows that Asian women make 13 percent less than white men, Black women make 37 percent less, and Native American women make 40 percent less.

And for Latinas, who earn a whopping 43 percent less than white men, the data is even more depressing: Not only does the pay gap between Latinas and white men begin early, but Latinas with a bachelor's degree see the worst pay gap in comparison to white men with a college degree, and even though they ask for raises and promotions at rates similar to men, only 71 Latinas are promoted to manager for every 100 men who receive a promotion, Lean In's 2020 data shows.

Latina Equal Pay Day falls on October 21 in 2021; it's the day Latina women's earnings from 2020-2021 finally catch up to what white men made in 2020 alone. Yep, Latinas need to work almost a year more—i.e., twice as hard—to break even on white men's earnings. On this Latina Equal Pay Day and every day, what can we do to turn the tide? Read on for tips and more information about this important day.

The Importance of Latina Equal Pay Day

Growing up in a Latino household, my parents never talked to me about money. When it came to entering the workforce, I did everything they encouraged me to do: I got good grades, went to a top private university, and started working as soon as I could. But when it comes to my 15-year career, I have never negotiated my salary. In fact, despite being given a wide salary range several times during the application process, I was always ultimately offered only the very lowest number in that range—and never did I feel confident enough to ask for more.

It turns out, this is a common story. "Culturally and historically speaking, Latinas have been told to be grateful for the opportunities given to them," says Yai Vargas, a career and diversity strategist. "They have been told if they work really hard and keep their heads down, someone will recognize their contributions and they will eventually be rewarded."

Unfortunately, that's simply not what happens—which is why Latina Equal Pay Day is such an important start to the conversation.

Despite being given a wide salary range several times during the application process, I was always ultimately offered only the very lowest number in that range.

"Latina Equal Pay Day reflects how far into the year Latina women must work to earn what the average white man made the previous year," says Melissa Gonzalez, a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual. And the problem with that, says Gonzalez, is that a large wage gap creates financial disparities that can impact your overall financial health. Moreover, women in general experience certain life factors that can alter their financial plans, such as increased life expectancy, maternity leave, and caregiver responsibilities.

The problem increases when you consider that nearly one in three Americans are not aware of the pay gap between Latinas and white men, according to Lean In. Even Latinas themselves may not know about the pay gap, something that Ana Flores, founder and CEO of the We All Grow Latina Network, found out in 2017—when her group shared Instagram posts with the data. "We learned that most in our community didn't even know the gap existed," she says. When it comes to Latina Equal Pay Day, Flores believes that raising awareness is step one.

What if you are a Latina making less?

Several times in my life, at different companies and at different points in my career, I have found out that I was making less than a coworker in a similar or lower position than mine—with similar or less experience than me. To say that I was disappointed, embarrassed, and hurt would be an understatement. But this is why Latina Equal Pay Day exists, right? So that we can talk about this pay gap and actually do something about it.

If you have just found out that you make less than a coworker with equal or lesser professional experience or job title, the first thing to do is to remain calm, says Flores. "It's important to gain an overall perspective, do some research, and schedule a meeting with your direct manager."

Once you are ready to have this admittedly awkward conversation with your boss, Gonzalez recommends doing four things:

  1. Do your homework. Take time to research how your current salary compares with similar positions in your field, then use that number to help determine whether your ideal salary is a realistic ask.

  2. Bring numbers to the table. When asking for a raise, you need to come with evidence of your hard work. Show tangible examples of how you have contributed to the company with specific performance indicators.

  3. Don't get personal. When you are sitting in front of your manager having this conversation, try to keep it strictly business. Go back to tip number two and keep this a merit-based case.

  4. Be prepared to push back. There will likely be a negotiation between you and your employer, so be prepared. Ask above your desired salary and push back if you are offered a promotion with more responsibility but not an increase in salary.

Ultimately, though, if you find that you are not being paid equitably, it is really important to advocate for yourself. "Latinas leave upwards of $2 million on the table over the course of a career by not self-advocating for equal pay," says Adriana Herrera, Founder of PayDestiny. She herself experienced being underpaid at a job that she loved, which is why she now encourages Latinas to advocate for themselves.

"When bringing the issue to the attention of a direct supervisor, never have a 'my pay versus their pay' conversation," she says. "Instead, let them know it came to your attention that your pay is not competitive for the market, your contributions, or your company. Express that you'd like a pay adjustment that reflects the value you contribute."

Remember that this discussion may take time, so keep doing your best with a positive attitude. And if the response is a "no," Herrera recommends saying "thank you" and continuing to do your job exceptionally—while looking for another position or speaking with a lawyer.

"Self-advocating for equal pay is not easy," she says. "It's not something we should have to do, but it is something we must do for ourselves, our families, and our community."

How to Level Up Your Career and Pay

When it comes to closing the pay gap, there are several things that Latinas themselves can do in order to financially advance in their careers.

Vargas suggests that Latinas do three things:

  1. Do a self-assessment. When it comes to growing in your career, it's important to figure out what skills you need to learn or develop. Figure that out and go for it, so that you can make yourself more marketable.

  2. Work on your professional brand. Your industry colleagues need to see you as a subject matter expert. Join community boards and organizations that will open up career prospects in the future.

  3. Monetize your other skills. If you aren't able to leave your current role, figure out what other skills you can monetize so that you can develop multiple income streams to pay off debt, save, and invest money.

Meanwhile, Flores recommends that women talk with other women about money—and learn how to negotiate.

Herrera adds that Latinas should also collaborate, not compete, with coworkers. "The further up the corporate ladder we go, the more homogeneous the composition of our coworkers," she says. "But competing rather than collaborating is a huge misstep and hinders career growth."

She reminds us that getting things done at work depends on others freely sharing information, opinions, perspectives, and resources with us. "Our success is naturally dependent on how well we work with others." Instead of putting up walls and not helping colleagues, build bridges to facilitate reciprocity.

As you rise up to become a leader, remember that leaders empower others to do their best. "In order to achieve the best outcomes, you need to be seen as a leader," says Herrera, "and to develop a reputation as someone who empowers others to practice collaboration, not competition."

But it's not just about what you can personally do to help your own wage gap. It's also about taking action on a government level—something which allies can also do.

"The single most important action we can take is to urge your senator to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act," says Flores. "It already passed in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support, but failed in the Senate."

Meanwhile, Vargas says that companies themselves can do something as well: "Employers should conduct regular pay audits to determine pay inequities, post salary ranges for job transparency, and eliminate the use of salary history to set wages."

Herrera says that change also happens when Latinas gain better media representation. "The more the media represent Latinas in the roles of doctors, lawyers, professions, and business owners, the less foreign it will be to perceive a Latina as equally capable and worthy of equitable pay—in any job within any work environment."

Ultimately, in order to close the Latina wage gap, we need to do everything listed above and then some. Whether you are a Latina or not, closing the pay gap benefits us all—and even strengthens the global economy. And that's good for everyone, isn't it?

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