Black women make up the most educated segment of the U.S., representing the highest percentage of college enrollees than any other race or gender. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, black women earned 68% of associate’s degrees, 66% of bachelor’s degrees, 71% of master’s degrees and 65% of all doctorate degrees awarded to black students. Despite this rise in educational attainment, the Pew Research Center found black women earn $2 less per hour than their male counterparts, and $8 per hour less than the average white male.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates it will take an additional 44 years for all women to catch up to men in pay. At this pace, the discrimination against black women with respect to pay equity could continue for several generations, leaving our great granddaughters still fighting for leadership roles and earning less pay for equal work.
So, why are college degrees earned by black women failing to secure leadership roles and higher salaries? Below are some key factors:
American occupations have not experienced significant growth in gender integration since the 1990s. Though educated, the most qualified talent – well-read black women – are being restricted from moving into the occupations that suit them best. This intensifies skill shortages as employers have to select talent from a smaller and less motivated pool of employees. The gender gap dampens economic growth, as the lack of skill and low levels of job satisfaction results in reductions of productivity. Even as highly qualified women enter traditionally male held occupations, their earnings fall short as the occupation undergoes a ‘feminization.’ It is this devaluation of what is considered female skills that contributes to the continued occupational segregation of men and women.
Devaluation of skills:
When women begin to enter leadership positions across industries, “it just doesn’t look like it’s as important to the bottom line or requires as much skill,” according to NYU Sociology professor Paula England. There are also barriers to wage parity in occupations that involve caregiving, teaching, or are anchored to nonprofit organizations, where women make up a disproportionate share of the workforce. This social bias must be addressed, and this begins with women continuing to confidently and competently challenge the societal relics and remnants of segregation.
Achieving greater equality between women and men requires change at many levels. Women in leadership positions and employees must continue to provide and undergo mandatory equity and diversity training as a condition of employment. Safe avenues to communicate instances of gender exclusion through surveys, interviews, and mediation must be provided for all employees. Changes in legal frameworks, economic institutions, and political structures are required to confront this deep-rooted problem, that extorts significant costs from America’s women, families, businesses, and its economy.