Have you ever looked at a pay stub or check, seen how much money you got, and said to yourself “this is so wrong”?
You are on to something. And it may be on an even deeper level than you might realize.
In this post we look at getting and making money as a thing that happens to people who are – still – paid differently by gender and race, examining race-disaggregated gender equal pay day dates, and pay averages by gender and race. It might be enough to make you want to march into your bosses’ office and demand a raise or increase your rates for your clients, I’ll tell you that. Then we think about capital power, and this report about the racial wealth gap. We’ll end with ways you can strategically get around some of these hurdles and agitate to change them because I am about your informed and strategic resilience.
MONEY IS A LIMITED RESOURCE ONCE YOU GET IT
Let’s start with a simple idea: The amount of money you have is the money you have to work with.
If the amount of money you have is more money than you need, you may be trying to figure out how much to save, which things you’re gonna buy, and how to share some dough back out. If it’s less money than you need, you’re probably trying to figure out how to juggle bills, things to buy, and wanting to save; and let’s be real, you’re still sharing money. Less or more, what’s in your accounts is what ya got.
MONEY MANAGEMENT IS THE MANAGEMENT OF A LIMITED RESOURCE
Making that money do all it’s gotta do can be a real challenge. Cover all the bills, hook up your kid or a loved one with something, self-care, pay down debt/loans, save up for a vacation, sock some away for retirement, put some back into the world… especially if you’re trying to work with having less money than you would like to cover all this stuff, you’re probably working hard to manage the money in one way or another. (This is a smart idea, by the way!)
If that’s the case, you might put some limits to your restaurant spend here, some automated savings here, some “we’ll wait til next month” there. Normal stuff, and helpful when you’re dealing with a limited resource. But, what if it was less limited?
Making, or having, more money would mean you didn’t have to spend sooo much energy moving your dollar bills around extra mindfully. It would mean less time put into squeezing the value out of your money.
IS THE ANSWER REALLY JUST … EARN MORE MONEY?
Various money guru teachers out there sometimes get it right and sometimes make me feel some kinda gross way about how they put things, so this next statement is one I’m about to problematize. The solution, as I’ve learned it from the internet, is to just make more money.
They’re not wrong, exactly.
The logic is that “there’s a limit to what you can cut, but not a limit to what you can earn.” There is a bottom limit to savings: I can get a grocery bill down to a consistent $30/week but it’s really hard to go under that while still meeting my base nutrition needs. Rent and mortgages are fixed costs and set a hard limit baseline. You need to find a minimum amount of money regularly no matter what.
But, hmmm. Is there, really, no limit to what you can earn?
Technically, sure. In theory there is no limit to any one of us launching into a wildly successful professional practice, entertainment career, or business – and reminding ourselves that can be a good motivator. Any one of us can potentially be a well-paid outlier and there are plenty of examples of how others have done so.
But here in the world of reality where people get paid or need capital to start a potentially wildly successful business, there are blocks in peoples’ way, including those which manifest as unequal pay across both gender and race and lack of access to startup funds.
Do I want to be paid more, and do I want it for you? YES. We must not internalize the oppression that is around us. It is important to believe and act in ways that let us change our realities, we’d also be silly if we said “that ol’ set of facts doesn’t apply to me” and pretended there’s not a reason we got to a place of unequal pay and unequal wealth. ESPECIALLY if what you’re trying to do is to break down the inequity – let’s learn more about how it works.
THAT RESOURCE IS LIMITED FURTHER IN ABILITY TO EARN IN THE FIRST PLACE
I’ve had lots of paychecks I’ve looked at with real side eye thinking about what went into getting it versus the money going into my bank account — and what I was gonna do to stretch those dollars to their max.
The bummer? It’s statistically likely that those sad paychecks would have been about 21% less sad were I a dude. Pay scale averages* [source, IWPR] look like this when we separate out men and women earners (and hello I’d LOVE to see trans*/GNC folks in one of these data sets sometime):
“Women’s median weekly earnings for full-time work were $770 in 2017 compared with $941 for men…If the pace of change in the annual earnings ratio were to continue at the same rate as it has since 1985, it would take until 2059 for women and men to reach earnings parity.”
I had better not still be working in 2059 when I’m 80, but DAMN if I don’t want to finally get that equitable paycheck!! Lord knows I have worked as hard as plenty of the men around me.
And, the reality is since I’m a white woman, my 79% of a white man’s paycheck is, on average, more than it would be if I were a Black or Latinx man or woman. That’s messed up! My POC colleagues also work as hard as me. In this write-up on the race-disaggregated gender equal pay day, they point out that it’s not just that I’d need to work until April 10 to earn what a male colleague does by Dec 31 of the previous year – my working sisters of color are going until August, September, and November when we break out pay by race. ACK.
CAPITAL AND A RACIAL ANALYSIS OF WEALTH
The idea of this report out of Duke University’s Center on Social Equity is that the racial wealth gap isn’t something we’ll be “buying our way out of.” The authors systematically decimate tired racialized myths which suggest that Black people are bad with money, with facts about higher savings rates in Black families.
Crucially, the report unearths the impact of having less generational wealth, saying “wealth is far more unequally distributed than income. While income primarily is earned in the labor market, wealth is built primarily by the transfer of resources across generations, locking-in the deep divides we observe across racial groups.”
Translation: I might outearn a POC colleague by a hundred bucks, translating to a difference of $5-10k/year, which definitely adds up – but even more, if I’m handed $50k cuz sweet Aunt Sally has it to share, I can leverage that capital to have more resources: a property, an investment, a degree, start a business.
Without access to the literal buckets of money that get passed along generationally – and are highly skewed towards white families – there’s going to be some limits on how I level up. Student loan debt, or a business that has less fail forward innovation room since it has less cushion are two examples.
So – you’re not getting paid or starting your wildly successful business in a vacuum. Your money comes from your business or your boss or your clients or someone, and you, another someone, get the money, and all that can be impacted by your gender or race. Then, you gotta make decisions about how to use that money, and if it’s less than you need you’re doing extra work to manage it all. GEESH. This can’t go on and on and on, it’s time for action.
RESIST THIS TRIFLING BULLS&!T
If you understand something a bit better, then you’ll understand how to hack it a bit better. Now that we know more about how pay works inequitably, we can actively do things to hack back.
If you’re in a workplace, things you can do are:
- If you’re a hiring manager, pay your employees based on job and agitate for transparent and equal pay at your workplace. ESPECIALLY if you have any power or heft there. The CEO of Rent the Runway announced they’d be giving equal benefits to their executive and shipping staff – a great start.
- Talk with a close coworker about their salary. Buffer shares company salaries and the calculator that got them transparently online.
- Ask your boss for a raise (with the data to back up what awesome work you do, of course) or find a job that pays you more equitably (apparently when you switch jobs on average your salary goes up 13%)
- Start a union, start a co-op, start a horizontal structure committee, and invest time in democratic practices tied to economic justice at work.
If you work for yourself, you could:
- Reassess your rates annually, and raise them sometimes. If you’ve never raised your rates, it’s time; if you have and feel it’s not time again yet, challenge yourself to raise them even a tiny bit before you think it’s time just to get it going.
- Resist the urge to continually grandfather in that one client at a well-past-due rate unless you have a darn good reason. Hey – they could have more money now, too.
- Ask your colleagues – especially ones who might have a different place in the salary report than you – what they charge. If it’s higher, ask more details with the goal of seeing if you can charge that, too.
If you have wealth to capitalize or are starting a business, see if:
- Check out Backstage Capital, who’s got a $36M “It’s About Damn Time” fund expressly to back POC, LGBTQ and Women’s startups, which get a measely 3-15% of all VC funding (depending if you break it out by race or gender). If you have wealth, consider giving them some.
- If you’re a VC or angel investor, equity balance your investment portfolio. If you’re only investing in 22 year old white dudes with disruption innovations, not only are you definitely missing fresh thinking that could transform an industry for real, but you’re perpetuating centuries of access to real wealth being gated to people based on race and gender. GROSS.
- If you’re starting a business, learn about VC and angel investors and go get their money. Investors are, in fact, aware that funding only one type of founder/business is a risk and they’re looking to expand. Diversity of thinking, as coming out of diverse founders, IS the future of innovation. You could be who they are looking for – go find out!
If you’re a human who makes money, try:
- Talking with your friends, partner and family about how much money they make – just rip the curtain down and ask. Transparency practice with those we love is a great way to know more about them
- Ask your friends and loved ones “how can I support you in making more money?” (I ask this to my BFFs all the time), and be a cheerleader to someone who’s going for breaking above the ceiling.
- Don’t get down on yourself if you make at or less than average – and don’t feel awkward if you make more. Money is distributed unequally and we all know it, so advocate to make earnings based on job duties and not someone’s birth characteristics.
- Or heck, advocate for universal basic income or to start using a different, better, sustainable, democratic economic system. That would also help.
It takes money to make money is not just a thing your economics teacher said once, it’s critically true. The less you have, the more damn work it is to juggle everything or try to come up with a starting point to go get more.
When we aren’t accessing the money we need, then we end up doing more work to manage money carefully. There really is a bottom limit to how much money you can squeeze outa yr money.
Getting paid more will lessen our work – and there’s hurdles in the way for a lot of us to be paid more or start the process to level the heck up. Knowing this, we can advocate for and help ourselves and others to get the resources we need to thrive.
* Now, averages are kind of crappy because they hide a lot of things that happen on the edges – one super-well-paid person can skew the whole thing up, for example. Averages also make it look like there’s some normal when really there’s just a number in the middle of a mess of them that we use to narrativize ourselves.