Closing The Gap

Latinas stand to lose over $1.1 million in lifetime wages due to the pay gap—here's what can be done to fix it

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This year, April 2 marked Equal Pay Day, which represented the day that the average full-time working woman in the U.S. had to work into the new year to earn the same pay a man earned the previous year.

While this day brought national attention to the fact that women, on average, earn 80 cents to every dollar earned by men, the reality is that women of color face a pay gap that is far larger.

On average, black women earn 61 cents, Native American women earn 58 cents and Latinas earn 54 cents on the dollar when compared to white men. For Latinas, this pay gap not only equates to more than $1.12 million in lost wages over a 40-year-career span, but it also means Latinas have to work an additional 11 months into the new year to reach equal pay on Nov. 20, according to the National Women's Law Center. For some Latinas, like Honduran women, Guatemalan women and Salvadoran women, the road to equality is even steeper as they earn just 42.1%, 43.1% and 46.6%, respectively, of what white men earn, according to NWLC.

"In some ways, this equal pay day is really the most important," Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at NWLC, tells CNBC Make It. Because it represents the biggest discrepancy "it is the one that measures really how far we have to go to achieve gender equality."

Adult Hispanic woman CEO in a conference meeting room alone. 
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According to data from LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey, 52% of Americans agree that discrimination is one of the top factors that contribute to the pay gap Latinas face. More specifically, 34% attribute the pay gap to racism, 35% attribute it to sexism and 31% attribute it to prejudice against immigrants.

In addition to discrimination, 40% of Latinas say the lack of representation in leadership positions contributes to this continuing wage disparity. LeanIn.Org's Women in the Workplace report found that for every 100 entry-level men who are promoted to a manager-level role, just 68 Latinas are promoted.

"One thing employers should do," Martin says, "is take a look at their pay and promotion practices to make sure they are objective and based on clear standards that don't come down to the supervisor's gut feeling about whether someone's a superstar or not. Because those gut feelings are often informed by conscious and subconscious discrimination."

Employers and public policy makers really need to commit to solving [this gap], because you can't negotiate your way out of structures that are really built to your detriment.
Emily Martin
National Women's Law Center

Martin points out this bias around pay and promotion is prevalent in both low-wage and high-wage industries where Latinas work. According to NWLC, janitors, maids, housekeepers and building cleaners are common occupations for Latinas. In these roles, Latinas make just 61 cents to every dollar earned by white men doing the same work. In high-wage occupations like lawyers, engineers, physicians or surgeons, Latinas make 60 cents for every dollar earned by white men in the same role.

"While it is important for individual women to negotiate their worth and to work to get as much information as possible about the market and about what their coworkers and others in their field are paid, this is a problem that really shouldn't come down to individual women's negotiation efforts," Martin adds. "Employers and public policy makers really need to commit to solving [this gap], because you can't negotiate your way out of structures that are really built to your detriment."

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Monica Ramirez, activist and founder of Justice for Migrant Women and co-founder of The Latinx House, agrees that enforcing policy change is a crucial component to closing the pay gap. Since 2015, Ramirez and several other activists have traveled to Washington, D.C., to host the National Latina Equal Pay Day summit to bring awareness to the need for equitable pay.

"The purpose of the summit is to talk about the way the pay gap is impacting Latinas and our lives, and to have discussions around what the solutions are to close the pay gap," Ramirez says. "So what are the policy gaps that are currently existing at the state, local and federal level? And what kind of legislation needs to be enacted to make sure that this gap closes?"

Ramirez emphasizes the event, which will host over 100 individuals this year, will address the need for greater pay transparency at companies, the need for universal paid parental leave and the positive impact unions have on closing the pay gap. According to a 2017 report from the Economic Policy Institute, unionized working women, on average, are paid 94 cents to every dollar earned by unionized working men. Additionally, according to EPI, unionized working women are more likely to have access to paid leave, paid sick days and vacation time.

"There will also be conversations about what equal pay day means overall and what the pay gap means in context of the upcoming 2020 election," Ramirez adds. "Because while it is true that [Latina Equal Pay Day] is the last pay day that is observed by many of us together as a group, I think it's really important to point out that there are whole groups of women who aren't even being counted, since we don't have good data on the experiences of trans women or disabled women."

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