Serena Williams: How Black Women Can Close the Pay Gap
by Serena Williams
Today is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. This day shines a light on the long-neglected fact that the gender pay gap hits women of color the hardest. Black women are 37 cents behind men in the pay gap—in other words, for every dollar a man makes, black women make 63 cents.
I’d like to acknowledge the many realities black women face every day. To recognize that women of color have to work—on average—eight months longer to earn the same as their male counterparts do in one year. To bring attention to the fact that black women earn 17% less than their white female counterparts and that black women are paid 63% of the dollar men are paid. Even black women who have earned graduate degrees get paid less at every level. This is as true in inner cities as it is in Silicon Valley.
Together, we will change the story—but we are going to have to fight for every penny.
Growing up, I was told I couldn’t accomplish my dreams because I was a woman and, more so, because of the color of my skin. In every stage of my life, I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself and speak out. I have been treated unfairly, I’ve been disrespected by my male colleagues and—in the most painful times—I’ve been the subject of racist remarks on and off the tennis court. Luckily, I am blessed with an inner drive and a support system of family and friends that encourage me to move forward. But these injustices still hurt.
I am in the rare position to be financially successful beyond my imagination. I had talent, I worked like crazy and I was lucky enough to break through. But today isn’t about me. It’s about the other 24 million black women in America. If I never picked up a tennis racket, I would be one of them; that is never lost on me.
The cycles of poverty, discrimination, and sexism are much, much harder to break than the record for Grand Slam titles. For every black woman that rises through the ranks to a position of power, there are too many others who are still struggling. Most black women across our country do not have the same support that I did, and so they often don’t speak out about what is just, fair and appropriate in the workplace. When they do, they are often punished for it.
Unfair pay has prevailed for far too long with no consequence. Through decades of systematic oppression, black women have been conditioned to think they are less than. In many cases, these women are the heads of households. Single mothers. The issue isn’t just that black women hold lower-paying jobs. They earn less even in fields of technology, finance, entertainment, law, and medicine.
Changing the status quo will take dedicated action, legislation, employer recognition, and courage for employees to demand more. In short, it’s going to take all of us. Men, women, of all colors, races and creeds to realize this is an injustice. And an injustice to one is an injustice to all.
The first step in making a change is recognition. We need to push this issue to the front of conversations so that employers across the U.S. can truly understand that all male and female employees must be compensated equally. Not close. Not almost the same. Equally.
Recently, I have joined SurveyMonkey’s board of directors, with this specific initiative in mind. SurveyMonkey wants to make information accessible so that all of us can make informed decisions. As they say: knowledge is power. As a black female entrepreneur and person in the spotlight, I am trying to figure out how I can move the needle forward and open doors for everyone, no matter the color of their skin. But I want to start with the wage gap.
In celebration of Equal Pay Day for Black Women, I partnered with SurveyMonkey to find out Americans’ opinions on the pay gap. The response was powerful. Here are the key findings:
- Sixty-nine percent of black women perceive a pay gap, while just 44% of white men recognize the issue.
- Nearly two-thirds of black women say that major obstacles remain for women in the workplace.
- In addition to gender, black women see obstacles to racial equality: three-quarters of black women workers say there are still significant hurdles holding back minorities.
- Still, some black women remain optimistic: more than 43% of black millennial women believe men and women have equal opportunities for promotion.
While a majority of those surveyed believe that the pay gap is real for both women and minorities, not everyone understands that black workers—specifically women—see more obstacles to racial equality and barriers in the workplace. Data doesn’t lie. It just gives a number to the gap women feel every day. It is my hope that I can give a voice to those who aren’t heard in Silicon Valley, and the workforce as a whole.
I want to bring my perspective and experiences as an athlete, an entrepreneur and a black woman to the boardroom and help create a more inclusive environment in this white, male-dominated industry. And I want every woman of color to do the same. Every step forward you take is two steps of progress for womankind. Let today serve as a reminder that we have a voice. We deserve equal pay for our mothers, our wives, our daughters, our nieces, friends, and colleagues—but mostly, for ourselves.
Black women: Be fearless. Speak out for equal pay. Every time you do, you’re making it a little easier for a woman behind you. Most of all, know that you’re worth it. It can take a long time to realize that. It took me a long time to realize it. But we are all worth it. I’ve long said, “You have to believe in yourself when no one else does.”
Let’s get back those 37 cents.