And while women of colour are set back, losing economic empowerment, these issues can be tough to reverse.
“This is deeply troubling,” says Hephzi Pemberton, founder of Equality Group, a London-based consultancy that focuses on inclusion and diversity in the finance and technology industry. She says that these effects are particularly concerning, because losses associated with being underpaid compared to another demographic group accumulate and grow over time. “As a result, women of colour are less able to build savings, withstand economic downturns and achieve some measure of economic stability. They are often the same women who are caring for others and supporting many community activities.”
This potentially growing discrepancy can also have widespread implications, adds Pemberton. “It is not only a deep loss for the workplace – it ends up having a large impact on society more broadly,” she says. “When we invest in women of colour, we are supporting whole families and communities. We have to appreciate the outsized impact reversing this gap can have on our economy and society.”
‘An extensive diversity penalty’
Experts agree that employers must bear the brunt of responsibility for ensuring that women of colour don’t fall even further behind their peers in the workplace.
As a first step, Pemberton says companies can start taking action by understanding the extent of these conditions, and collecting more nuanced data around them. Pay reports, she says, can be a useful resource to gauge and acknowledge just how much work needs to be done. Some countries, like the UK, mandate annual gender pay gap reporting for organisations of a certain size, but don’t require companies to break down gender pay data into categories that include race, for example. That, say some experts, could be one way of shining a light on the severity and urgency of the problem.
Subsequently, it’s important for firms to also recognise there are several factors exacerbating pay gap issues – especially amid current conditions. “As those with the power to implement change at a higher level, the responsibility lies on the shoulders of employers and managers to acknowledge, address and remedy all racial and gender pay gaps,” agrees Opie, of Babson. “Employers must take a look at the role of intersectionality in pay discrepancies, and ensure that employees are compensated in an equitable manner,” she says.