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Latina Equal Pay Day: What We Need to Fix the Wage Gap

When we talk about the wage gap it tends to be framed around the perspective of “the economy” and how paying women of color fair wages is “good for business.” Year after year, we hear the same boring story about how we need to “lean in” and “ask for a raise” and “believe in ourselves.” Unfortunately, this is some BS that doesn’t get to the heart of the problem — structural inequality, institutional racism, sexism, and cultural barriers to success.

We need to stop pretending the wage gap is some wondrous phenomenon that apparently no one knows how to fix. Because that’s also a load of crap. People in positions of power know what needs to be done — they just don’t care. “Awareness” isn’t enough and instead of begging for the 1% to see us, it’s time for us to make the moves required for us to level the f**k up.

But what are they? Well, the fact is that there is no silver bullet to fix every situation. What a first-generation mestiza goes through is very different than what a second-gen Maya woman goes through. It’s also totally separate from what an immigrant Afro-Latina experiences in the workplace. We’re different. But what we all have in common is that we’re overlooked, underpaid, and fed up.

There are three main reasons for the Latina wage gap:

  1. Workplace bias/racism/sexism
  2. Structural barriers to getting higher-paid positions
  3. Self-advocacy and negotiation deficiencies

Realistically though, there is not much we can do about the first two. Most of the conversations around the wage gap focus on convincing employers that hiring us will be good for them. Because yes, let’s try to reason with racists and sexists because that always works! Trying to convince the rich and powerful to see our humanity and pay us fairly because it’s “bad for business” is not working. And anyone who has been in corporate America long enough will tell you that you can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools.

We can’t change a structure we have no equity in, especially when it’s someone else’s company. But what we can do it fight like hell, follow a road map to promotions, and always be on the lookout for better opportunities. In order to close the wage gap, we need to be in positions of ownership, management, and human resources. And once we get there, we’ll be tasked with not only taking up space but taking on the responsibility of creating space for the next generation.

Be More Than Grateful Mija

As Latinas, we stay way too long in nowhere jobs because they are “good” and safe. There are tons of reasons why we do that like the need for financial security or fear of the unknown. But to level up we have to take risks. There is also the cultural perspective of “be thankful you have a job at all.” Or as HR Consultant Alma Coronado put it, “[a lot of times] our families tell us ‘ay mija just be grateful.’ We’ve been socialized to believe that just being in the room is enough because our parents weren’t even allowed in the room,” she tells HipLatina.“We need to unlearn that we just need to be grateful. We need to deconstruct and decolonize our brains from the narrative we’ve been taught. It’s not enough anymore. Because we’re entering with the same skillset and education. We need to remind ourselves that we are as worthy and entitled as everybody else,” Coronado adds.

Owning the space you occupy is one part, the other is having a road map for what you want. The hardest part is being prepared to leave if the goals you set won’t be met at that company. You can ask for more money all day but if your company doesn’t have money for that position, you’re not going to get it. It’s also a matter of learning the language people use to talk about raises and promotions.

“Negotiation techniques are very real skills. I think we over-focus on let’s ‘lean in’ when negotiation is like anything else,” says Ramona Ortega, founder and CEO of fintech company My Money My Future. “I think we often times think that negotiation is just about having more confidence — but no, there are actual ways to study it and practice it. You need to take classes and read books. Not just for negotiating your salary but for your overall career.”

How Do You Ask For What You Want?

Most of us don’t just magically have the skills or the knowledge on how to tackle the corporate world. And it’s not our fault because we had no one to teach us. But this is the part where we have to teach ourselves, find the resources, and start a development plan with management. It’s important to begin communicating expectations as soon as your first interview. Jump on the “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question. Coronado says it’s a matter of knowing how to ask for what we need.

“We need to say ‘I would like to be in a management position in the [next] 3-4 years’ or ‘I see myself as director 3-4 years.’ Say something like ‘I’d like to be at a company that offers growth and lateral opportunities.’” She says. “We need to say to ourselves: what is the job family in this department? What is the average time in a seat before a promotion would be considered? And what development opportunities will be given to me in order to attain that?”

According to Coronado, there is a big difference between having a good attitude and knowing how to promote your skillset in the workplace. Self-advocating “means placing yourself in opportunities to be visible and opportunities to influence others. It also means championing yourself to be placed in projects and tasks where your skills will be optimized for the benefit of your department and company,” she adds.

The Revenue Gap in Entrepreneurship

Another fallacy of the wage gap conversation is the lie that entrepreneurship is an equalizer in terms of income and opportunity. Although entrepreneurship might seem like a way out of the grind of corporate America, Latinas who start their own businesses hit the same walls. The revenue gap between Latina-owned businesses and businesses owned by white women is enormous.

According to the American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report in 2019, there were 2,346,200 Latina owned businesses. The average revenue per Latina business is $50,900 compared with $218,800 earned by white women. There are no numbers on Afro-Latinas. But the numbers for Black women-owned businesses isn’t much better. In 2019 the average revenue for Black women-owned businesses was $24,000.

Hussle culture has done a great job (no pun intended) of making us feel like we need to be working every second at what we “love.” When in reality labor isn’t going to fulfill your wildest dreams — financial stability and creating intergenerational wealth will. The amount of love you have for your work won’t determine how much you get paid for it. Period. If you look at the Merriam Webster definition of passion, you won’t find a photo of Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg. Passion is obsolete suffering — it’s Jesus on the cross.

So What Now?

Be proud. We’ve come a long way! If you think about it, we’re the first generation of women in history to have this much self-determination. That also means that closing the wage gap is probably not going to happen in our lifetimes. It’s not realistic to think that we can undo hundreds of years of oppression in even a few generations. What we can do though is find allies, become allies, and learn to speak the language of power so we can pave the way for structural change and empowerment.