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Americans underestimate the pay gap between white men and Latinas—but there’s hope

Americans underestimate the pay gap between white men and Latinas—but there’s hope

In 2018, the topic of immigration has become a focal point of public attention, and Latinx people feel they’re facing unfair aftershocks in the workplace. Seven in ten Latina women (69%) think that discrimination against immigrants is a major cause of the inequality in pay between themselves and white men. But the population as a whole doesn’t seem to agree: A full 70% of Americans are either unaware of, or underestimate the gap when asked. And what’s worse, some don’t believe it’s a problem.

The average Latina woman makes only 53 cents on the dollar when compared to a white man. In advance of Latina Equal Pay Day, we partnered with Lean In to research whether people recognize this pay gap between white people and Latinas, whether they understand the root causes, and whether they’re motivated to see change.

Our teams surveyed 12,543 people over three six-day periods in June, July, and early September—a time when attitudes about U.S. immigrants, and by association, people of Latinx descent, were especially loaded. In spite of, or possibly because of, the headlines at the time, most people we surveyed didn’t appreciate the extent of the gap between a white man’s salary and a Latina’s for similar work. Thirty percent didn’t believe the gap existed at all.

Many underestimate the inequities between whites and Latinas—or think they don’t exist

It seems that the dramatic difference between white men’s wages and Latina’s is likely a reflection the uneven conditions the two groups face. But not all Americans agree: Four in ten people (39%) don’t believe Latinas face challenges which aren’t faced by white women, yet 51% of Latinas report that they have been personally discriminated against at work because of their race or gender.

According to Pew Research, four in ten Latinx people say they have experienced discrimination in the past year. They defined discrimination with the examples, “being criticized for speaking Spanish or being told to go back to their home country.”

The good news is that once people do understand the problem, they are accurate in their assessment of why it exists. Sixty-eight percent of Americans believe that the current atmosphere of discrimination against immigrants has an effect on the pay gap between white men and Latinas. When asked about the causes of the gap, people cited:

  • Racism (40%)
  • Sexism (40%)
  • Too few Latinas in leadership positions (39%)
  • Unconscious bias (39%)

But other responses cast some light on what the non-believers might be thinking:

  • 32% say the reason behind the gap is because Latinas choose less lucrative careers than white women
  • 21% think it is because Latinas are less educated than white women

Although the pay gap is explained as a difference in compensation for equivalent work, many people still think that Latina’s career paths (and experience) and educational histories are what set them back, rather than workplace discrimination.

This thought process might explain the study’s most alarming statistic: More than a third (36 percent) of the population do not consider the pay gap between white men and Latinas to be unfair.

Regardless of the presumptions about Latinas’ education or career choices, it’s also important to note that the career a person “chooses” could also often be framed as the one they “have access to.” Since Latinas are likely to face obstacles that white men won’t, their career opportunities may be more limited. Which means that even if these respondents were correct to think that Latinas “choose less lucrative careers,”  it is no justification for unequal pay.

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Hope for change

All of this said, the landscape is ripe for change. Sixty-six percent of workers do think that either racism or sexism will affect Latinas’ careers, and 66% recognize the pay gap as unfair. Unsurprisingly, Latinas themselves are especially conscious of the impact:

  • 67% are aware of the pay gap between themselves and white men
  • 69% think that discrimination against immigrants is a major factor in the gap
  • 32% think discrimination is actively happening at their current place of work

The past few years has given rise to powerful Latina business women like PG&E CEO Geisha Williams and outspoken celebrity activists like Eva Longoria. Both women have spoken about obstacles that they faced specifically because of their Latina heritage (Williams was once a Cuban refugee), and their success has both illuminated the unequal playing field and paved the way for an evener one. Thirty-eight percent of our respondents said that racial diversity is a high priority at their organization.

At the same time, education rates among people with similar racial identities have been improving. The rate of Hispanic high school graduates going to college grew from 22% to 37% this year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

What businesses can do

The most obvious step is for businesses to ensure they’re paying their employees equally, but it’s also important to recognize whether there are cultural barriers  keeping Latina employees from feeling comfortable at work or being able to succeed.

According to previous SurveyMonkey research, one in every four people doesn’t believe that they belong at their current company. We created an Inclusion and Belonging survey template, in partnership with Paradigm, a firm that specializes in inclusion, to help companies measure their employees’ comfort levels. Our Wage Gap Evaluation survey template can help leaders understand whether employees think they’re being fairly compensated.

Measuring feelings of inclusion helps businesses uncover opportunities to create resource groups for internal communities (like Latinas), address potential cultural challenges, and generally give workers a voice.

The first step toward addressing the pay gap between Latinas and white men is to acknowledge it and address it in our own places of business.

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Methodology: These three SurveyMonkey/Lean In polls were conducted online among a total sample of adults age 18 and over living in the United States. The first poll was conducted from June 29 - July 4 2018 among a total sample of 5,269 adults, the second was conducted from July 13 - 18 2018 among a total sample of 4,223 adults, and the third was conducted from September 21-27 2018 among a total sample of 3,051 adults. The modeled error estimate for all surveys is plus or minus 2 percentage points. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over.