Examining the Inequalities for Black and Latina Women
Doneisha L. Posey, Esq., Vice President and General Counsel
Women's Equality Day is commemorated on August 26 in the United States to celebrate the accomplishments and advancements made by women over the course of our history. This day represents the culmination of years of protests and advocacy by women for equal rights in a male-dominated society.
Women's Equality Day not only commemorates the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution that gave women the right to vote, but it also recognizes the significant achievements made by women in fields that were previously reserved only for men. This day is observed to raise awareness of the issues that women face in society, such as wage disparities, abortion rights, equal opportunities, gender-based violence, and gender-based discrimination.
The 19th Amendment states, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
However, the amendment did not guarantee all women in America the right to vote. Although the Amendment removed some of the barriers that women faced at the polls, Black and Latina women continued to face legal challenges. The 19th amendment was especially significant for Black women, who could not vote despite the 15th amendment's promises of equal voting rights regardless of race. The fact that it took two different constitutional amendments passed half a century apart, to secure Black women's right to vote demonstrates how race and gender have always played important roles in our lives.
Inequities must be analyzed at the intersections of different social identities in order to address the barriers – both systemic and institutional. Black and Latina women continue to face the most severe gender wage gap in the United States. Sexism, racism, and other forms of bias, alone or in combination, can influence the industries that welcome Black and Latina women, the hiring decisions, retention policies, and promotion opportunities. These same forces disproportionately burden women, particularly women of color, with caregiving, housework, and other unpaid responsibilities. Biases and discrimination are experienced by Black and Latina women at the intersection of multiple identities, including but not limited to gender, race, ethnicity, motherhood status, and immigration status.
A report published in 2019 by the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gender equality, says the average Indianapolis woman made 79 cents for every $1 an Indianapolis man made in 2018. Black and Latina women earned even less. Black women made 58 cents for every $1 an Indianapolis man made and for Latinas, it was 53 cents.
The good news is that we know what must be done for organizations to become more equitable. PAY BLACK AND LATINA WOMEN WHAT THEY ARE WORTH. A first step is to change hiring practices so that organizations understand the systemic practices that have perpetuated sex and racial dominance in the workforce. Instead of tinkering around the edges of existing policies, companies can directly involve their employees and DEI experts in developing solutions.
However, we know that when companies implement measures aimed at increasing gender diversity and equity, Black and Latina women frequently lose out unless there is an explicit focus on race as well as gender. Affirmative action policies implemented in the aftermath of the civil rights movement benefited white women disproportionately, and this is still true in today's workplaces. This is not to say that white women have an easy road ahead of them, especially in professions dominated by men. Race and racism, on the other hand, present unique challenges for Black and Latina women that are all too often overlooked in favor of broad platitudes that seek to advance women's representation without questioning which women are most likely to advantage.
While we reflect on the significant social progress for women on Women’s Equality Day, we risk undermining future gains if we fail to learn the lessons of the past. While companies, government, and nonprofits continue to develop various initiatives and policies to reflect a rapidly diversifying population, it is critical that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past by ignoring and overlooking Black and Latina women.