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Before We Talk About Equal Pay, Let’s Talk About Equal Opportunity

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Candace Barnes
Candace Barnes
Manager, Global Diversity Programs, Global Talent Organization & Culture of Inclusion, Rockwell Automation
Candace Barnes

The gender pay gap continues to generate discussion. Statistics affirm that, on average, women earn $0.79 for every dollar men earn. (This figure looks at the median salary for all men and women regardless of job type or seniority.)

While those numbers are concerning, there’s an area of distinction that tends to get lost in the discussion. While the wage gap widens through the course of women’s careers, the reality is worse for women of color.

When we talk about the gender pay gap – or any employment gap – it’s important to remember that women are not one homogenous group. Women of color face a different set of barriers in regards to pay and advancement compared to white women.

That’s the racial pay gap.

What metrics mean – and what they don’t

When we’re talking about this problem – and the only way we can address an issue like this is to have open and authentic discussion around it – we must refrain from grouping people and their experiences together as if a part represents the whole.

When we group all women together, metrics can be misleading. Statistics will tell you that women are closing the gap.

But for Latino, African American and Asian women, the move forward is slower.

If you want a truer picture of what’s happening in your company, first look at race and ethnicity; then at gender. Most importantly, look at the different experiences of your PEOPLE.

Do not let the numbers generalize and overlook the work that we still need to do to enhance the experience for all employees – women and men.

Before we talk about pay, let’s talk about opportunity

Career advancement can look different for women of color. Ingrained in me (and so many of my contemporaries) from an early age was this: Keep your head down, do a good job and you’ll earn your reward.

But the reasons people move ahead (or don’t) in their careers is more complex than that. While career progression can be solely related to performance, a key element often is relationships – who has mentored or sponsored you, connections you have made throughout your career.

If few leaders have a similar experience to yours, look like you, understand your point of view, your path is narrower. When there are fewer people of color at the table, fewer people of color are invited to join them – and the cycle continues. When you do get a place at that table, you might be the only. It’s a difficult spot; and it’s a hard thing to change.

Path forward for women of color

My company, Rockwell Automation, devotes significant time and resources to building recruiting, hiring and retaining processes to support diversity as a business imperative.

But this is not just the company’s work. Employees – and especially women of color – need to:

  • Actively look for mentors and sponsors. The better known you become among your colleagues and peers, the better your chance of hearing about and developing into new, advanced roles.
  • Ask for help. I’ve had honest, open and direct career discussions with people I respect (some look like me and some don’t). With my best interest at heart, they offer feedback that at times can be difficult to hear but always helps me develop and grow.
  • Diversify. A broad and diverse network will offer advice on different parts of your work, career and development.
  • Mentor others. We all have something to offer and to give. When you advance, look back to see who you might be able to influence and help.
We’re doing good. We can all do better.

It’s human nature to want to talk about the positive side, the advances.

On the flip side, we must talk about areas of opportunity. When we stay silent, that’s when we run the risk of losing talent who will seek an environment that promises greater career advancement opportunities.

Our differences make us better. See for yourself.


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