The 6-3 Supreme Court decision that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which previously protected mainly women against sex discrimination in the workplace, and now more broadly protects gay, lesbian, and transgender workers, too is a huge step toward leveling the workplace playing field for the LGBTQ+ community.
But while this SCOTUS decision means that they can no longer be fired for being LGBTQ+, there is still a massive wage gap facing the community. The hosts of the Queer Money Podcast David Auten and Josh Schneider call it “the pink ceiling.”
It’s a substantial gulch. In general, the average lesbian woman makes 12% less than the average heterosexual woman. Between gay and straight men, the gap is even wider.
Where It All Began
The LGBTQ+ wage gap dates back decades. From the 1950s leading up to the Stonewall riots in 1969, gay businessmen were outed for being seen at a gay bar in their free time. “You had these very professional people with great careers who lost their livelihoods because they were [seen] at a gay bar one night,” explains Schneider.
Post-Stonewall, LGBTQ+ people began slowly to feel more comfortable coming out about their sexuality, but when the AIDS crisis hit in the 80s, that momentum stalled. “You [didn’t] want to tell people what you [were] because they assumed you [had] AIDS and you might not [have been] hired because of that, too,” Schneider says.
Progress, but not enough
Progress was made, state-by-state, with rulings against disrimination. But up until this week, only 20 states had implemented laws that protected LGBTQ+ people from being discriminated against for belonging to that community. Because of that, Schneider explains, LGBTQ+ people were more likely to gravitate toward lower-level positions in big companies. Why? Because the higher you advance on the corporate ladder, “you have to be more social and more giving of information about yourself,” Auten explains. That runs the risk of being outed as gay, which could then, in turn, put your job in jeopardy. Remaining in those less-ambitious roles translates to a smaller paycheck. Additionally, studies have shown that people who seem gender-nonconforming are less likely to get hired or promoted — even if it isn’t confirmed they are a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Diverse community = diverse gaps
The more ways you are discriminated against, the increased likelihood of a more sizable gap. When looking at women in same-sex couples, African American LGBTQ+ women are three times more likely to be poor than white women in the same situation. Latina women are twice as likely to be poor.
The wage gaps aren’t mutually exclusive, either. LGBTQ+ women of color face more workplace discrimination because they belong to multiple minority groups. African American trans women, specifically, are hit the hardest by the wage gap, Auten notes. The Asian and Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ community faces a 75%-82% rate of workplace discrimination and 42% of African Americans in the LGBTQ+ community have faced employment discrimination, according to a report on the financial penalty for LGBT women in America.
Bridging The Gap
What can companies do to become better allies and advocates for their LGBTQ+ employees? Schneider encourages companies to go beyond posting a rainbow logo for Pride month — “they need current executives and HR departments to reach down to lower level positions — specifically to those in the LGBTQ+ community — and take an active role in trying to help those people move up the ladder.” Auten calls for more “out leadership” so that younger LGBTQ+ people will be inspired to take steps to enter the C-suite at their own companies without the fear of losing their jobs.
It’s also key to think about the value add this community can have. Lee Badgett, Professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts Amherst and Senior Scholar at the Williams Institute, explains that by holding back this community, any business risks suppressing creative and productive minds that will not only negatively affect the company’s work, but the entire economy at large.
Finally, what can you do as an individual to help bridge the wage gap for the LGBTQ+ community? “Know that it exists,” says Schneider. “Start to become aware of your unconscious biases and how that may be affecting you and your relationships with LGBTQ+ people at work.”
With Rebecca Cohen