Latina Equal Pay Day marks the day each year when Latinas finally “catch up” to non-Hispanic white men’s earnings. That’s right. While the pay gap persists for all women, Latinas continue to be undervalued by the widest margin than any other group, working nearly an entire extra year to earn what their average non-Hispanic white male counterparts have in 12 months.
Experts attribute the divide to a “double wage gap” whereby Latinas are subjected to both gender and ethnic bias, crippling upward mobility and limiting earnings to an average of 55 cents on the dollar compared to white men. According to the Economic Policy Institute, while the types of occupation and lack of education remain critical factors, even when accounting for those factors, in addition to experience and location, Latinas are still vastly underpaid compared to their white male colleagues across professions.
This year Latinas narrowed the gap by a few cents — matching the earnings of white men nearly a month earlier than last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic is poised to nullify that hard-won progress. NPR reported that of the 865,000 women who left the workforce in September, more than 300,000 were Latina, citing occupational segregation as the primary determinant of the disparities in wage, access and job retention. Women of color are overrepresented in domestic sectors such as housekeeping, hotel and restaurant services — all jobs that cannot be fulfilled remotely. According to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, by April of 2020, 72 percent of domestic workers reported they were out of work and many remain jobless, with those who are undocumented hit hardest.
Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a public policy expert at the University of Texas, told NPR that an increase in education as well as diversification into growing fields such as STEM are slowly but surely narrowing income disparity. She warned, though, that progress is unsustainable without systemic support in childcare and a focus on future generations through targeted female workforce training. “The other piece of this is that we know that women are overrepresented in the jobs that are low wage, low skill that are the most easily automated. So if we’re not retooling our women and getting our young girls in school ready to engage in the fourth industrial revolution, women are in danger of falling behind,” DeFrancesco Soto said.
Joy Valerie Carrera is a young Latina in STEM, an anomaly and an advocate for increased representation in the field. “I got tired of being the only one in these spaces,” she told In The Know, “and instead of being competitive I’ve realized it’s about getting more people like me through the door.” Carrera is the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, an upbringing that inculcated her with a savvy work ethic, ingenuity and a dedication to community. “It’s all about teaming up with fellow women and people in your industry to keep lifting each other up, passing and referring opportunities because we all grow together and end up giving back to our communities,” she said, crediting mentors such as Malla Haridat and Katriel Safarti for providing the support she needed when she often considered giving up.
Carrera fused her fascination for the internet, which she discovered as a 13-year-old blogger, and an entrepreneurial spirit inherited from her parents into a focused career plan, making hard sacrifices from the beginning. “There’s a saying in the tech space, ‘You learn or you earn.’ I knew technology was the future, but I didn’t want to go into massive debt getting a master’s in data science, so I decided to take a pay cut and join a startup in the advertising tech space where I could learn the business of the internet. I specifically wanted to understand how the internet made its money.”
Carrera became the first employee at RTK.io, where she built five offices in four countries, generating millions, until the company was eventually acquired. She not only persevered in a white-male-dominated field, but she also gained the confidence to know and demand her worth and acquired the tools to become independent. “Companies need us more than we need them. Once I realized that, I took the leap and started my own agency. I went from side-hustle consulting while working full-time to launching CarreraDigital.io, which is focused on conscious consumerism, social impact, media analytics and operations.”
The founder of Basic Brown Nerds is keen on providing access to resources, training and networking opportunities to the marginalized, a mission she calls reclamando oro or “reclaiming gold.” “Historically, we’ve been exploited for our riches — gold literally taken from countries like mine in Guatemala and melted down to fund this exploitative colonial system. So it’s up to us to restructure it — to use the systems in place to make it work for us and be more socially conscious about where our money flows.”
This week Carrera teamed up with her most trusted co-conspirators, a squad she calls the Latinx Biz Avengers, to present the Side Hustle Summit hosted by Jannese Torres-Rodriguez of the Yo Quiero Dinero Podcast with Kerry Deliz, Vanessa Menchaca Wachtmeister and Delyanne Barros. “We need more space for women to share money wins, discuss negotiations, swap business skills because we all win when we share our knowledge and empower each other.”
While the state of the wage gap for Latinas is demoralizing, leaders like Carrera and her cohort are reimagining a cooperative future and leading by example. “As women, but more so as Latinas, we are severely undervalued while working three times as hard,” Carrera said. “The future is entrepreneurial. Ownership is key, because when women of color start building, they build for their communities. They build with the intention to uplift their communities not just for profit.”
If you enjoyed this story, check out Jessica Hoppe’s take on the #LatinidadisCancelled critique.
More from In The Know: