By Tribune Staff

NASHVILLE, TN — Despite progress made over the past 20 years, Black women in Tennessee still face substantial hurdles to reach pay equity. 

Noreen Farrell of Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) states that “Black women in Tennessee make on average just 58 cents to the dollar earned by white men.” Half of Black and Latina women in Tennessee say they are struggling to make ends meet. While systemic issues exist that continue to perpetuate the gender and race wage gap, ignorance continues to be the greatest barrier to pay equity. Many companies locally and nationally are not measuring the problem and are not dedicating resources to help mitigate. 

Progress in narrowing the racial and gender gap in Tennessee has not occurred. Farrell notes that many Black women still face pregnancy discrimination, experiencing a 58 percent wage gap compared to their male counterparts. Tennessee lacks adequate family and medical leave policies, with many women unable to take unpaid leave to take care of their children. 

While Tennessee remains a conservative state, progress is being made on the national level. Recently, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act required employers to provide reasonable accommodations. The federal minimum wage has remained the same for 13 years, and the push in Congress to raise it would also eliminate the current tipped wage, a vestige of Jim Crow America. 

According to Farrell, Tennessee could follow the lead of states like California and Illinois that requires companies to report pay data on gender and race. She states that pay transparency is a significant problem facing working Black women and other women of color. With the inability to know what others in similar roles are being paid, it is impossible to challenge pay inequality and achieve pay equity. 

Because of the lack of national legislation, except for the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a patchwork of rights exists for Black women and other women of color in this country. National legislation is needed to include an increase in the federal minimum wage and pay transparency. 

While the statistics on the racial and gender wage gap are sobering, the average Tennessean is not powerless in creating change in the state. It is crucial to know your rights. Farrell notes that “while your employer might prefer that you do not discuss numbers with your colleagues, federal law protects your right to do so.” Tennesseans can also vote in local and national elections for politicians that support workplace fairness and pay equity. 

This September, you can take part in Black Women’s Equal Pay Day to advocate across Tennessee for common-sense legislation to narrow the racial and gender wage gap. Equal Rights Advocates and Farrell state that “we currently have a patchwork of laws through which women are falling. Employers can be proactive to fill those gaps. And for those who won’t, we need federal law reform so that our rights do not depend on our zip codes.”