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Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Businesses Must Confront Bias Head-On to Fix Pay and Promotion Gap

We break down the systematic causes — and suggest steps that companies need to take — to address the ongoing promotion gap that Black women often face.
Promotion Gap

In the first article of this two-part series in honor of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, TriplePundit explored the depth of the pay gap and its effects on Black women and their families with leadership consultant and author Arika L. Pierce. In this second article, Pierce breaks down the systematic causes behind the pay gap along with the steps corporate leadership needs to take place to address the ongoing promotion gap.

“We talk about the business case for diversity, but what about the moral case?” Pierce mused. She hopes that businesses will recognize Black Women’s Equal Pay Day as a call to action for prioritizing equity not just in pay, but in tackling the promotion gap Black women face in attaining leadership positions as well. “We know inherent bias starts at hiring,” she said, explaining that while women in general are underpaid, the intersection of being both a woman and Black together results in even lower offers. “When we are hired, there is bias around salary.” 

That bias doesn’t just affect present employment either. As Pierce explained — salary history affects how much workers will be offered in the future as well. In fact, salary history could be to blame for the widening pay gap during the most recent economic recovery as workers with lower wages had less to leverage when changing jobs. Emily Martin of the National Women’s Law Center was quoted in Bloomberg Law as saying: “If you set pay in a new job based on what someone was earning in their last job, and you’re in an economy where women and people of color are typically paid less than white men, that system allows for pay discrimination.”

Pierce also described how the corporate hierarchy discourages some people from negotiating their full worth. “Especially when it comes to Black women — if we’re given a reasonable salary we’re supposed to be happy with it.” Of course, it isn’t just about wages either. Black women held just 4.4 percent of the top management positions in 2021 despite being more likely than white women and men to report having aspirations for top management. “We are not offered the same opportunities as some of our counterparts.”

Pierce believes that it is time to hold companies accountable on this promotion gap. “Executives are still mostly white men,” she pointed out. “It gets difficult to take companies seriously when the executive team is not diverse.” She’s calling on corporations to figure out why there aren’t Black women in their leadership – after all – “If we’re not represented at the top how will we get there?”

So, what can businesses do to rectify the problem? Pierce suggested compensation audits as an effective tool — but not just once, audits need to be done continuously and at every level, from entry employees to executives. By being transparent, companies will be able to ensure equity in compensation and promotion. She put it simply — “If you’re committed to diversity it should be easy to commit to paying everyone the same across the board.”

Organizations will also need to look at how they’re advocating for and promoting employees to ensure equal representation.  As Pierce made clear, Black women are over-mentored and under-sponsored in the workplace, yet they need someone who is in a position of power to advocate for better positions and pay. She explained — “Men are judged on their potential while women are judged on their actual performance and the challenge for Black women is that we are often not given the opportunity to showcase either.”

As Pierce described the steps that Black women are forced to take to advocate for their own fair wages to narrow this promotion gap – from extra networking to collect compensation data, to learning new negotiation tactics, to finding an executive willing to risk their reputation by being a sponsor – she made clear that  “[Black women are] being asked to fix problems that we didn’t create.” It’s past time for corporate America to take stock of its biases and rectify the problem so that all Equal Pay Das can be rendered obsolete. 

Image credit: Moses Lando via Unsplash

Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Riya Anne Polcastro is an author, photographer and adventurer based out of Baja California Sur, México. She enjoys writing just about anything, from gritty fiction to business and environmental issues. She is especially interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North. One day she hopes to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and her trusty laptop.

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