The Latina Pay Gap Actually Got Worse In 2019

Fixing this egregious inequity is on all of us.

This is the second in our two-part series on Latina Equal Pay Day (Nov. 20), which marks how many additional days into the calendar year Latinx women must work to earn the same amount as white, non-Hispanic men for the exact same labor.

Every year we have the same conversation about equal wages in the hope that the wage disparity between white men and women of every ethnicity will at long last be erased. A feature of this annual examination includes highlighting the fact that every ethnic demographic has its own wage gap, which is often illustrated by noting how far into the year the specified group of women finally make up the wages they lost the year before to the average white man.

Compared to white men, Asian women are at the top of the disparity pyramid; they have the smallest wage gap at 85 cents to every white man’s dollar, a disparity of 15 cents. White women come in second at 77 cents (or 23 cents’ difference), black women place third at 61 cents (a 39 cent disparity), and Native American women come in fourth, at 58 cents (a 42 cent difference). Latinas land squarely at the bottom with the largest pay gap at 53 cents, which is a whopping 47 cent difference.

It’s horrifying and extraordinary that Latinas, who make up the largest demographic of women of color in the United States at 29 million women, suffer from the wage gap the most. Latinas contributed to 54 percent of all U.S.-born population growth in the United States over the last decade, and control a minimum of $700 billion a year in purchasing power. When wages are withheld from Latinas, the impact is felt all over the economy, and directly in communities of color.

And the length of time it takes Latinas to make up for inequitable wages hasn’t improved, it actually worsened. Economists pegged Latina Equal Pay Day in 2018 to November 2; in 2019, the date moved 18 days back to November 20. So effectively, Latinas have to work an additional 18 days to make up for lost wages.

Yet Latinas are leading the way along a variety of positive economic developments: starting new businesses, driving revenue growth for the economy and increasing levels of educational attainment, and we’re being recognized as leaders influencing consumer trends.

Latinas control a minimum of $700 billion a year in purchasing power. When wages are withheld from Latinas, the impact is felt all over the economy, and directly in communities of color.

So what gives?   

A group this large and upwardly mobile doesn’t go backwards without some real impediments to growth. We already know that institutional bias and structural racism contribute to this. A casual survey of Latinas in your network will readily reveal the many ways in which we experience racism and sexism in the workplace and in professional settings. From being mistaken for the intern when you’re actually a senior executive or being characterized as “spicy” or “hot-blooded,” the slights and aggressions feel endless. Anecdotes we have plenty of; we need substantive research about why this is happening. It’s clear something is wrong, and we need to understand the drivers behind the increasing wage gap.

One area where recent research has revealed the most egregious disparities is venture capital. From 2009 to 2017, $400 billion was invested in companies. Latinas only received .4 percent of that funding. The same study also found that only 58 Latinas raised over $1 million in venture capital investment in 2017. Fifty-eight. Out of 29 million women. At the rate that Latinas are starting and growing businesses, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that this system isn’t operating on merit alone.

One of the culprits here is the tendency of white male VCs to use “biased pattern matching” to determine which entrepreneurs they’ll invest in. Venture capitalists often look for founders who look like past successful founders they’ve seen before, or who look and behave the way they do. Unsurprisingly, they overwhelmingly select founders who are white, male, and have the same credentials and networks they do, and ascribe much higher levels of risk to Latinas and women of color, with little or no evidence. When I launched Luz Collective, a digital media and events production company that centers Latinas in our content, I had no idea what they were –– but I quickly found out. The odds felt insurmountable and the environment felt profoundly unfair. When I finally secured venture capital investment a year later, I burst into tears on the phone with the fund manager who delivered the good news. I didn’t care. I was excited and ecstatic, but mostly relieved that I had finally convinced someone to see the opportunity instead of the risk.

While these institutional barriers are a major problem, if we as a society want to change the status quo, then we must also recognize and address the cultural barriers that exist within the Latina community … It’s well-documented that women in general tend to ask for less than they’re worth in terms of absolute compensation, and while some research indicates that women ask for raises at about the same rate as men, they are less successful in actually getting raises, which perpetuates a disincentive to ask.

However, the pervasive problem of not recognizing our full value is exacerbated in the Latina community, with rampant machismo and cultural norms that very often still condition Latinas to be humble homemakers and caretakers rather than boss ladies. The phrase, “calladita te ves mas bonita” translated as, “you look prettier when you’re quiet” is a phrase that many Latinas are raised with and that most Latinas immediately recognize. Counterintuitively though, Latinas are very much leaders and influencers in our homes and communities, but the prevalence of negative social conditioning produces the consequences in the workplace and very much contributes to the pay gap. This makes the availability of mentors and role models an urgent need. 

The relative lack of mentorship and examples of others achieving at the same rate as white men is almost non-existent. It wasn’t an uncommon experience for me to enter new spaces and not have a single Latina to turn to for advice or support. When I was elected to the Nevada Legislature in 2010, the people of Nevada had never elected a Latina to the legislature before. Eight years later when I launched Luz Collective I knew only one Latina digital media founder and I was lucky enough to count on her as a mentor. Therefore it’s no shock at all to find that one in five women have never had access to a mentor at all, and 52 percent of those women say the reason for that is because they haven’t found someone “appropriate.”  

The old adage of “you can’t be what you can’t see” applies well here. Latinas need a lot more of a lot of things, but the writing on the wall is clear: Funders withhold opportunity and investment from Latinas to the detriment of the future of the entire country. When venture capital looks at Latina entrepreneurs as a risk instead of an opportunity, we all lose. When Latinas don’t have access to appropriate mentors, we all lose. 

Venture capital funders must fund entrepreneurs based on merit, not on biased preconceived notions. Latinas must smash the cultural norms we are raised with by becoming active mentors and role models. Latinas are the present and the future and every metric of success that matters indicates that not investing in us is a losing bet. Let’s stop losing, America.    

Lucy Flores is a women’s rights advocate and co-founder of Luz Collective.