Finance expert shares tips for women of color to negotiate for more money

This article has been updated to include 2022 data.

In 1963, pay discrimination was deemed illegal in the United States. But over a half century later, a persistent pay gap exists between men and women, negatively affecting women throughout their lives.

According to the American Association of University Women, the history of gender and racial wage gaps is linked to the history of labor in America. This gap has created lasting disparities in health, education and opportunity for women — predominately for Black, Latinx and Native women. Ongoing pay inequality means women — especially women of color — have less money and fewer resources and therefore face more inequalities.

The pay gap exists in nearly every occupational field. While women can work anywhere, the undervaluing of their labor still continues. Even as laws are enacted to protect occupations dominated by women, the laws often fail to protect women of color.

This year, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day falls on Sept. 21 — over a month later than in 2021, when it was Aug. 3. The later date is to reflect the effect the pandemic has had on Black women. According to data from March 2022, COVID widened the pay gap and showed that women of color were disproportionately impacted by caregiving burdens and pushed into part-time work or out of the workforce entirely.

Historically, Equal Pay Day dates were calculated using data collected from full-time, year-round employees. Due to the report’s findings, the Equal Pay Day coalition decided to use a more inclusive method to pick the date that would be more representative of the gender pay gap.

“If I had to define the gender wage gap, I would define it as the financial manifestation of sexism in our country,” podcast host Mandi Woodruff-Santos told In The Know. “Literally, when you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man just because you were born a woman. Totally out of your control and completely unfair.”

Woodruff-Santos co-hosts a podcast called Brown Ambition alongside Tiffany Aliche. The podcast, which started out as a blog, offers financial and professional advice to its listeners.

“When you look at the gender wage gap and you actually drill into it, you see that who’s most impacted are Black and Hispanic women, hands down,” Woodruff-Santos said. “You talk about a woman sitting across from an employer and being looked down upon or seen as not worthy of the same salary as a white man, try being a Black or brown woman sitting in that same seat.”

Of course, it’s not up to women of color to fix the wage gap. But Woodruff-Santos has some advice for those who want to overcome the disadvantage.

“My biggest tip for getting more money from your job is asking for it,” she said. “If you’re panicking, and your palms are sweaty, and you’re stressed out, then you’re doing it right. If you’re going in there cool as a cucumber, chances are you’re not asking for enough money.”

Woodruff-Santos recommends researching salaries to see what other people are making in your industry in your city and state.

“It’s really important to start negotiating from your very first job,” she added. “That first salary is going to be the foundation of the rest of your career compensation. And if you start off at a disadvantage being underpaid, every raise you get on top of that is going to be less than you might have [gotten] if you had just taken that little leap of faith and negotiated in the first place.”

Don’t just stop at salary either. There are plenty of benefits to take advantage of as well.

“I’m talking about flexible work-from-home policies; I’m talking about student loan forgiveness or a student loan cancellation. Do they have things like tuition reimbursement? Will they invest in your skills?” Woodruff-Santos said. “A lot of employers are willing to offer flexible childcare arrangements for their employees. This may not be cash in your pocket to pay for child care, but it could mean they’re willing to let you leave early so that you can pick up your kid from day care.”

Woodruff-Santos increased her net worth tenfold in under five years by quitting her job and going to work somewhere else.

“Believe me, quitting is the wonderful way to build wealth that nobody talks about,” she said. “There is a lot of power there.”

Ultimately, what women can do to help reduce the wage gap is not accept less than what they’re worth. In interviews, ask about diversity and inclusion, and inquire about how many female managers there are. Try to get a feel for what the upper echelon of the company looks like.

“We need more women as managers, more people of color as senior directors, more women and people of color in all of these high-level roles,” Woodruff-Santos said. “That is where the power lies.”

Before you go into that interview, though, you need to be willing to have a tough conversation internally. Negotiating for more, even when your interviewer may think less of you because of your gender or race, is an uncomfortable truth that you do not have to accept.

“Until [you’re] willing to have those tough conversations internally, I really don’t think the wage gap is going to be going anywhere,” Woodruff-Santos said.

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