Closing The Gap

Why the gender pay gap still exists 55 years after the Equal Pay Act was signed

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On June 10, 1963, the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, mandating that men and women receive the same pay for the same work. Yet, 55 years later, the American workforce still struggles with a gender pay gap that affects all women, especially women of color.

This year, April 10th marked Equal Pay Day, which is the time a woman has to work into the new year to symbolically achieve the same pay a man earned the previous year.

Working an additional four months to receive equal pay may sound absurd, but consider this reality: For African-American women, Equal Pay Day won't be recognized until August 7th. For Native American and Latina women, Equal Pay Day won't be recognized until September 7th and November 1st. (Equal Pay Day for Asian American and Pacific Islander women was marked on February 22, but massive pay gaps persist between subgroups.)

As it stands, black women earn $0.63 for every dollar earned by their white male counterparts. Native American women earn $0.57 to every dollar, and Latina women earn $0.54. Meanwhile, white women and Asian women earn $0.79 and $0.87, respectively.

"There are a lot of reasons why this gap remains," Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, tells CNBC Make It, "and there is certainly room for some of that to be discrimination."

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Despite the fact that women earn college degrees at a higher rate than men, research shows that more women, especially women of color, are still stuck in low-paying jobs. According to the National Women's Law Center, women of color account for 17 percent of the overall workforce, but make up 33 percent of some of the fastest-growing low-wage jobs like retail, fast food, personal care aides and home health aides. This means that women of color are overrepresented in jobs that pay the federal minimum wage of just $7.25 per hour.

The disparity is even greater for African-American women, whose share of the fastest-growing low-wage jobs is 2.6 times their share of the overall workforce.

"In general, there are things firms can do and the government can do, like raising minimum wage and improving discrimination policies," says Gould.

When applying to jobs, research finds that white applicants receive 36 percent more callbacks than equally qualified African-Americans, and 24 percent more callbacks than Latinos. A poll by NPR found that one-third of Native Americans say they have experienced workplace discrimination when it comes to looking for a job, getting a promotion or earning equal pay.

Lisa Crooms-Robinson, Professor of Law & Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Howard University, says that much of this discrimination and unfair treatment can be linked to women of color being locked out of leadership and decision-making positions.

At leading tech companies like Apple, Google, Pinterest and Lyft, women of color make up less than 10 percent of the overall workforce. At Apple and Lyft, women of color account for less than 4 percent of those in executive and management level roles.

"There are a lot of reasons why this gap remains, and there is certainly room for some of that to be discrimination." -Elise Gould, senior economist, Economic Policy Institute

Just 24 of the CEOs of the companies on the Fortune 500 are women. Since Ursula Burns left Xerox, none of those 24 spots are held by black women. PG&E Corporations CEO Geisha Williams is the first Latina to be featured on the list, and she's joined by PepsiCo's CEO Indra Nooyi and Yum China's newly-appointed CEO Joey Wat as the only other women of color holding the top spot at a Fortune 500 company.

"For most organizations, this would require a shift that goes beyond diversity committees and affinity groups," says Crooms-Robinson, in regards to creating workplaces where women of color are not only hired, but also promoted and treated equally. "Committed organizational leadership at the very highest level is essential to make such a significant culture shift."

Emily Martin, General Counsel and Vice President for Education and Workplace Justice at the National Women's Law Center, says that in order for the pay gap to close for women of color, individuals in positions of power need to be aware of the role they play when it comes to enforcing workplace bias.

"I think part of it is [people] really engaging in self-examination," she says. "The thing about implicit and unconscious bias is you may really not be aware that you are discounting individual experiences and expertise based on characteristics like race and gender."

She says one solution to fixing the problem is for employers to not look at gender and racial bias as two completely different issues.

In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg confronted the challenging intersection of race and gender that women of color face at work.

"More companies prioritize gender diversity than racial diversity, perhaps hoping that focusing on gender alone will be sufficient to support all women," she wrote. "But women of color face bias both for being women and for being people of color, and this double discrimination leads to a complex set of constraints and barriers."

Sandberg referred to the treatment as "profoundly unfair" and explained how one black woman told her, "We can have the same degree, the same years of work…[but] we are not tapped on our shoulders as often as other folks are. And we're not getting feedback on why."

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has championed the importance of scrutinizing bias as it related to both race and gender. Benioff revealed last year that his company spent an additional $3 million to help close its pay gap. He told CNN that Salesforce looked at bonuses and checked for pay differences based on gender and race.

"People are looking to us as an example and as a role model," Benioff told Poppy Harlow in a podcast interview.

As the fight to close the pay gap continues, Crooms-Robinson suggests that one way to make the conversation more inclusive is by honoring Equal Pay Day on November 1st, which is the day that women of all races will have finally reached pay equity.

"If Equal Pay Day 2018 was celebrated on November 1, when all women have earned as much as white men earned in 2017, then Latinas, not 'average' women, are the standard by which the pay gap is measured," she says. "This allows us to tell a different and more inclusive story about women, work and wages than the story we tell by celebrating Equal Pay Day 205 days before all women actually earn as much as white men earned the year before."

This is an updated version of a post that appeared previously.

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