We’ve all heard of the gender pay gap, but what about the racial pay gap? You may know that, in 2017, American women earned about 80.5 cents for each dollar earned by similarly situated men. Far fewer people are aware of the pay disparity between whites and African-Americans and Hispanics.
The racial pay gap is slightly larger than the gender pay gap, according to 2016 numbers from the Pew Research center. That research found that college-educated African-American and Hispanic men only earned 80 cents for each dollar earned by college-educated white men.
Recently, a Wake Forest University School of Business professor published research in the Journal of Applied Psychology attempting to explain at least some of the reasons for the racial pay gap. He found evidence that hiring managers — even well-meaning ones — can have implicit biases that prompt them to treat applicants of color differently than white job candidates during salary negotiations.
According to the professor, previous research has already established that African-American men tend to negotiate lower salaries than their white peers. This appears to reflect an expectation that their salaries will be lower combined with a lack of information about their own fair market value. Understanding this is a starting point but does not fully explain the racial pay gap.
Invest in diversity and implicit bias training to help overcome the racial pay gap
The professor’s research indicates a disheartening trend: hiring managers don’t have to be acting on overt racial animus to contribute to the racial pay gap. Many are blind to the biases they bring to the negotiating table.
The research involved experiments testing the experience of equally qualified male candidates. Some were African-American and some were white. In these experiments, the hiring managers actually expected the African-Americans to negotiate less often, which tracks with previous research showing that blacks do negotiate less often.
However, the hiring managers apparently took that assumption into account when the time for salary negotiations came. The hiring managers were actually less willing to make concessions to the African-American candidates than the white candidates. This resulted in lower salaries for the African-Americans, even among those who did negotiate.
The author acknowledges that overt racism is a real problem which must be addressed. However, the research indicates that even implicit biases among hiring managers can have the concrete effect of reinforcing the pay disparity.
A good way to address the racial wage gap, the professor argues, is to make it a part of the national conversation. In the meantime, addressing unconscious bias may require a genuine effort at learning about common biases and how to fight them.