4 Causes For The Latina Wage Gap And What You Can Do To Close It
Updated: Nov 13
Latinas are the lowest earning female subgroup: on average Latinas make 54 cents for every White man’s dollar (2019) compared to White women .77, Asian women .90, and Black women .62. As a young girl, I was taught that education was ‘the great equalizer,’ hence leading me to obtain the highest degree possible, a doctorate. It makes sense that we might expect education to play a role in narrowing the gender pay gap. But as it turns out the gender pay gap increases as we become more educated, and is worse for Black women and Latinas like me.
Possible causes for the Latina Wage Gap and
why it keeps growing
As I reflect on my own experiences, I posit forth below potential hypotheses for why the gap grows rather than narrows with education and recommendations to work toward reducing the gap.
1. Failure to use our cultural capital. My Latinx community possesses negotiation skills; however, we have not learned how to transfer these skills into the professional workplace. As a young girl, I went to the swap meet (flea market) weekly with my family. At the swap meet, I learned the art of negotiation through bartering for the best prices, a common practice in Latinx households.
However, when I negotiated my first job salary, I was afraid to ask for more, thinking that I should be thankful that they even wanted to hire me. Furthermore, I did not know that you could negotiate your title. My former supervisor negotiated the highest title, “director,” and I accepted the lowest title, “analyst.”
2. Implicit bias. In the absence of corporate transparency about salaries, we are forced to speculate, and it is hard not to assume that implicit bias does not play at least some role in this decision-making. Implicit biases are our unconscious assumptions about particular groups. They affect all decisions we make, especially when we decide who to hire and what to pay them. I have experienced this personally. In my first job postgraduate school, my supervisor and I were hired at the same time.
Implicit biases are our unconscious assumptions about particular groups. They affect all decisions we make, especially when we decide who to hire and what to pay them.
Me, a Latina with a PhD, and him, a White male five years older with a bachelor’s degree. I reversed the situation in my head, and asked myself would my former employer have hired a 35-year-old Latina with a BA to oversee a 30-year-old White male PhD from the University of Pennsylvania? I knew the answer was no, but I cannot prove it. I do believe implicit bias contributed to the decision to hire him as my supervisor and likely pay him a much higher salary.
In my first job postgraduate school, my supervisor and I were hired at the same time. Me, a Latina with a PhD, and him, a White male five years older with a bachelor’s degree.
3. Lack of social capital. My parents' education does not extend beyond 9th grade in Mexico. As a first-generation college student, I have to develop the social capital that our society values. Marginalized communities are largely underrepresented in positions of power.
Full-time college professors are 81% percent White compared to 3% of Latinx professors. While today’s US Congress is the most diverse in history, it still has only 10% Latinx members compared to 78% White members. Seventy-three percent of executives at Fortune 500 companies are White compared to 3% who are Latinx (only 16 disclosed their data).
4. Decreased salary transparency. My first job ever at the local mall advertised the pay, minimum wage. When I graduated college, seldom did entry-level job descriptions post salaries. As my career progressed and at the same time as I became more educated, I noticed salaries were no longer posted on job descriptions, instead I repeatedly read “competitive pay commensurate with experience.”
This is a vague statement, and it is unclear which experiences employers are valuing. Oftentimes underrepresented women undervalue ourselves because we are unaware of the salary of our colleagues and/or peers in the field. In a moment of solidarity, my former colleague and I shared our salaries even though we were advised to keep our salaries confidential by our supervisor. She, a White woman with fewer years of work experience and a Master’s degree, was making 12k more than I was.
What we can all do to close the Latina Wage Gap
Not all hope is lost because there are actions we can take immediately as individuals, employers, policymakers, and researchers.
As individuals, we need to share our salaries with each other and eliminate it as a taboo topic of conversation. This is particularly important with our co-workers and potential new co-workers. We should also attempt to alleviate our implicit bias. One strategy is to reverse the situation as I did above, and think about whether you would treat someone in a similar way had the roles been reversed.
Employers, need to increase salary transparency. Rather than posting “competitive pay” as the salary, they can explicitly state the salary. Some industries, like big law, have industry-standard starting salaries (although discrepancies can still happen via bonuses and promotions). In addition, employers should be expected to provide implicit bias training to at least their management team; it is now required at almost all Fortune 500 companies.
Public policies can be used to incentivize employers to report salaries at least at the aggregate level. Another policy recommendation, already implemented in New York state, is prohibiting employers from asking you about your prior salary history. New York also ranks second in gender pay equity with women earning 88 cents relative to a White man’s dollar.
New York also ranks second in gender pay equity with women earning 88 cents relative to a White man’s dollar.
Public policies should also encourage the integration of ethnic studies curricula. Ethnic studies could inspire marginalized communities to take pride in their heritage and use their cultural capital to their advantage. Our cultures include complex languages and rich histories in this country and our countries of origin.
Researchers need to continue doing qualitative and quantitative research to better understand and provide rigorous evidence to explain the growth of the pay gap as well as develop solutions to narrow the gap. A meta-analysis on the effectiveness of implicit bias training programs would help employers in choosing which training to offer their employees. Lastly, the continuous collection of data is imperative to observe our progress. "
If you are a Latinx leader looking to gain confidence, clarity, and a personalized leadership plan to take the next step in their careers schedule a free call with the LEAD Media team.
Dr. Wendy Castillo studied Education Policy and earned her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. She also holds an MSEd in Educational and Social Change from the University of Miami and a BA in International Relations from Brown University. She is currently Senior Director of Data, Equity & Impact at the National Urban League. Follow Dr. Castillo on Twitter @WCastilloPhD and Instagram @WCastilloPhD.