Equal Pay or Equal Representation? Why the Distinction Matters.

Thursday, August 22, 2019 represents Black Women’s Equal Pay Day – the approximate date, on average, that Black women in the U.S. must work into the new year to make what a non-Hispanic white man made at the end of the previous year. In other words, Black women make only 61 cents for every dollar made by white men, and it takes them more than 17 months to earn what white men make in 12 months.

For workers with intersectional identities (i.e. those who face overlapping forms of discrimination, like a woman of color or a queer person with a disability), gaps in median pay are even wider. Why? Since men  -  white men specifically - continue to dominate high-paying industries and leadership across sectors, traditionally underrepresented groups – like women or people of color – face limited opportunities to enter those spaces.

Which brings us to the next phenomenon that contributes to the Equal Pay Day discussion – a powerful force called occupational segregation. Basically, this is the word that describes the way that certain occupations have evolved as being male or female dominated.

Just think about how female-dominated professions like social work, nursing or teaching are paid less than male dominated fields like engineering and technology. There’s hope though, because the value we place on certain occupations can change over time.

In fact, computer engineering wasn’t originally a male dominated field. During the 50s, 60s, and 70s, women took important roles in computer engineering, and got underpaid for their contributions. By the 80s and 90s, as the profession became male-dominated, salaries increased considerably, signaling a highly valued skillset.

It’s time to open the doors to new perspectives and work to push Equal Pay Day back to January 1. Let’s keep talking about representation.


Pay Equity: equal pay for work of equal value.

Gender Pay Gap: “the difference between the median annual pay of all women who work full-time, year-round, compared to the pay of a similar cohort of men.”

Occupational Segregation: when “one demographic group is overrepresented or underrepresented among different kinds of work or different types of jobs.”

Intersectionality: the complex and cumulative way that the effects of different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, classism, socioeconomic status) combine, overlap and intersect.


Madeleine Winslow
by Madeleine Winslow

Diversity and Inclusion Specialist, Mercer

Colleen Cox
by Colleen Cox

Project Manager for When Women Thrive & Multinational Client Group

Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, When Women Thrive, Mercer

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