Black Women's Equal Pay Day looks to close STEM wage gap

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- On Black Women's Equal Pay Day, advocates try to draw attention to how many days into the year Black women have to work to meet the earnings of White male counterparts from the previous year.

The goal is to close the wage gap.

Dr. Kasey Ashton, director of Wake Invests in Women College Initiatives and Assessment at Wake Tech, talked to ABC11 about plans for addressing the wage gap experienced by women who are working or plan to seek employment in the STEM field.

"Equal Pay Day marks the days into the year that a woman has had to work to meet the earnings of her White male colleagues from the previous year," Ashton said. "So, on Aug. 3 2021, Black women have worked 214 days into this year to earn what their White counterparts would have earned by the end of 2020. Ultimately, Wake Invests In Women wants to close the gender wage gaps for all women in Wake County."

That wage gap exists even among highly technical jobs, according to Ashton. Equal Pay Day is even later into the year for Native American and Latina women.

"Our research shows that we do have a gender wage gap in the county, in the RTP area, as well as a representation gap for women in higher-earning high-growth fields, like STEM fields. So, even in those high-earning, high-growth occupations, women experience a wage gap, and when you disaggregate that data, when you take it apart and look at it by population, we see that Black women, Latina women and other women of color, earn less than their White counterparts."

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Ashton said ethnic minorities are significantly underrepresented, especially in relation to their members of the workforce. About 5% of Black women are in STEM occupations and about 1% of Latina women.

"And for women in those higher high earning high growth fields, in our area that's predominantly STEM science, technology, engineering, we're looking at about 36% women in those fields," she noted.

Ashton pointed out that with the pandemic, many people are looking for ways to transition into different careers.

"So, (schools) like Wake Tech are a great opportunity to upskill, to learn new skills and get credentials for those high earning jobs, especially in the computer software IT fields," she said. "Coming to a place like Wake Tech, and going through the credential program is a great way to strengthen the economy, and be able to make those transitions into other occupations.

She also had advice for women already working in STEM fields.

"It's important to advocate for yourself, to talk to your managers and supervisors, let them know what you're interested in, where you want to go continue to upskill as well," she said. "But to be that advocate for yourself, take training on how to negotiate salaries, etc. We also want to make sure that women know that there are resources currently available for them to be able to strengthen their, their resumes, and their, their core leadership skills."

Ashton said her program is building a database of organizations that they want to work with now, and in the future, including Apple.

"Regularly identifying who are our employers that are posting jobs, have jobs to offer, and jobs that can fit within our STEM umbrella that we're currently focused on. We will move beyond that focus eventually but right now in STEM is our current focus," she said.

Some of the companies that have committed to working with the program include Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC, Citri, Samet Corp., and Wake County government.

Ashton said she welcomes women who reach out to her and can help them network, She also said they will be looking to launch some additional programs in the spring to work with women directly who are looking to transition into different fields.

For more information about training, or to get your company involved with apprenticeships and other opportunities, contact Ashton at kjashton@waketechedu or call (919) 866-5075.
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