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I spent a lot of years believing that with my degree, a good work ethic and a pleasant demeanor I would earn the kind of money to comfortably support my daughter and myself. However, it turned out that the harder I worked, the more I was overlooked, which meant long hours with stagnant pay.

Black women earn just 65 cents for every dollar that their white male counterparts make, compared to white women who earn 77 cents to the dollar that white men make. There were times I gave my daughter my last so she could have school lunch, while I rationed dinner leftovers or rummaged the breakroom for abandoned snacks. It often made it hard to sit through conversations with my colleagues about eating at nice restaurants, buying luxury items or taking summer vacations. Even still, I showed up to the office everyday with fresh ideas and a drive to get things done.

It was not until I overheard one of the vice presidents having a conversation about my white male supervisor that I started to really examine the work I was doing and why it was worth so much less. According to him, my supervisor deserved more money because he had a family to support. At the time, my supervisor was already making more than double what I was making, but we shared all the same responsibilities for our department. Whatever work he was unable to finish, I made sure got done and vice-versa. We were a grossly understaffed team of two doing equal work but for unequal pay.

I continued trying to prove my worth by taking the initiative on new projects or reorganizing workflow systems, but I was often advised to “work within the chain of command.” I was further shut out of opportunities that would have allowed me to be recognized for my ability to lead, which was the gateway to greater pay. I was being professionally worked but not professionally developed, and that had a direct impact on my earning potential. This same situation is played out across every industry in this country.

Whether it is the private or public sector, Black women are treated like workhorses whose expertise and performance benefit everyone else but themselves. Although Black women are most likely to be the sole breadwinner or co-breadwinners in their households, that is not taken into consideration when we are hired or promoted, like it was for my supervisor. Instead, Black women are treated like the help, and our exceptional work performance is used to stroke the egos of our superiors like a “good” slave master.

Today, August 13, is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which means it took an additional 8.5 months for Black women to earn as much as our white, non-Hispanic male colleagues earned in 2019. This wage gap is a result of systemic racism and patriarchy. The feminist rallying cry for “equal pay for equal work” is meaningless to Black women when we understand that our willingness to go above and beyond is viewed as a condition of employment and not a means to get ahead.

Our white male (and female) counterparts are given title changes and promotions for doing the same work as a cover to pay them more than they pay Black women for doing the same job. That same vice president I overheard discussing an increase to my supervisor’s salary once asked me, “What do you want to do in the long term?” and I told him I wanted to have his job one day. He laughed.

Being a woman that is Black creates a dual hindrance to financial stability and professional advancement. We are expected to be helpful but not ambitious. Our salaries are bestowed like a handout instead of awarded as a measure of our value in the workplace. After years of being overlooked and subjugated, I eventually left that job. As a Black woman, I knew I deserved more. For everything Black women contribute in the workplace, in the home and in our communities, we all deserve so much more than we have ever received. Black women deserve equal access, equal recognition and equal opportunities. Black women deserve equal pay for equal work.