August 3 is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, marking the date that a Black woman in a full-time, year-round position must work into the new year to make what White men made at the end of the previous year. According to census data, Black women in 2021 make 63 cents for every dollar a White man makes. And a new study finds that a lack of leadership opportunities for Black women may be a contributing factor.

White men hold private sector executive positions at 9.2 times the rate of Black women, according to a study shared with The 19th. The study, conducted by pay equity startup Syndio, highlighted disparities between different races and genders in high-paying leadership roles. White men held 59 percent of the executive positions across the private sector from 2009 through 2018.

The report estimated that the executive and management opportunity gap between White women and White men will close in 2041, but predicted that the gap between women of color and White men may not close until 2124, 103 years from now. While there was an opportunity gap between White men and all other demographics, Black women and White men had the most significant disparity.  

This finding isn’t surprising to experts who have researched workplace racial inequity.

Tsedale Melaku, a sociologist and postdoctoral research fellow at the City University of New York who was not involved with the study, researched racial inequity in the workplace for her 2019 book “You Don’t Look Like a Lawyer.” She found that when Black women and other marginalized people are hired into a predominantly White workplace, they have additional stressors from the work environment. 

“Black professionals as a whole are really forced to engage in work that is neither compensated or recognized within predominantly White institutional spaces,” Melaku said. She had a name for that invisible labor: “the inclusion tax.”

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The inclusion tax, Melaku explained, is the constant need to withstand subtle racism and work out whether or not to address it, which becomes an unrelenting negotiation with oneself. She said that the women she interviewed for her book talked about how colleagues didn’t think they were qualified, even after being hired based on qualifications, or didn’t fully trust them, even when they demonstrated good work. Some, she said, talked about getting racialized comments on aspects of their appearance. 

Melaku said that these unceasing stressors “impact [Black women’s] trajectories in a very substantive way.” Through her sociological research, she found that many Black women lawyers moved out of the private sector because they couldn’t advance after having a hard time finding mentorship, colleagues who uplifted their ideas and opportunities to grow. These workplace stressors, she said, may be magnified at this time when long-standing racial disparities are at the forefront of public consciousness. 

“In a moment when race and racism are at the forefront of all conversations…being called upon to not only lead those conversations but navigate the learning experience for your White colleagues is absolutely taxing,” said Malaku. 

Elizabeth Higginbotham, faculty scholar emerita at the University of Delaware’s Center for the Study of Diversity, explained that one way to change work culture — and maybe get more Black women and other marginalized people into leadership positions — is actually to advance more Black women into leadership roles.

People who have faced barriers are more cognizant of what others are up against, Higginbotham said. “Their leadership is more inclusive, rather than exclusionary.”

Syndio also found that leadership position opportunity gaps lead to steep pay inequity. The study used data from a subset of Syndio’s customers and job categories from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which collects demographic workforce data annually from private sector employers with 100 or more employees and federal contractors with 50 or more employees.

Using EEOC job categories combined with aggregated Syndio customer data, the report found that executives or senior officials make on average $333,402 or $187,163 for mid-level officials. White men are overrepresented in both categories. Black women, the report found, are overrepresented in the four EEOC job groups with the lowest average pay. (The Syndio earnings report uses data from Syndio customers who agreed to have their information used for this purpose. This report is not nationally representative for EEOC reporting organizations.)

“You have a lot of turnover … because of a hostile environment,” Higginbotham said. And even Black women who earn advanced degrees or qualifications may not get the space to excel. “You get the education, but you’re not going to necessarily move into occupations that are going to pay a lot of money.”

One example, Higginbotham said, was law, in which women might end up moving from corporate or private practices to the public sector, or stay in non-management positions, which limit their capacity to make institution-wide decisions that could affect workplace culture. She said that when she taught a course called the sociology of work, she told her students that “you take your whole life experience to work.”   

“If you have never experienced discrimination, if you do not recognize your privileges, it means you have a limited vision of the experiences of others,” Higginbotham said. “However, if you have these experiences and know you lack privileges, your leadership can be very different.”