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Setting the Table for Prosperity

Equal Pay Day began in 1996 as National Pay Inequity Awareness Day, a public awareness campaign by the National Committee on Pay Equity, to highlight the disparities in men’s and women’s pay.

Now, as we acknowledge Latina Equal Pay Day, I am met with a dichotomy of generational advancement and disparity.

Studies from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and other leading reports show that Latinas make 57 cents to a white male counterpart and we are the lowest paid of all the female demographics. Considering the rate of advancement and pay increases, there is a 30-year gap between Latinas and white men and it would take 90 years to be on equal footing.

While these bleak statistics highlight the fact that Latinas are being dreadfully under-compensated for their work, it’s important to look further into the implications of this inequity. In addition to overlooking measurable contributions such as productivity and profitability, key decision-makers historically fail to recognize the cultural contributions Latinas make in their organizations - especially in terms of positive communication, resiliency, decisiveness, adaptability, trustworthiness, and optimism.

Being unrecognized and therefore underpaid does not mean that Latinas are not serving in powerful leadership roles. In fact, they are often tapped to share their perspectives and to weigh in on conversations that improve the appearance of an organization’s cultural sensitivity and, in turn, its profitability. Too often their hard-won seat at the table only serves to strengthen the organization, while doing little to advance the Latina sitting there.

As a CEO, former Texas state legislator, and school board president, I am certainly an exception to the statistics, and at this level, I am often the only Latina in the room. Representation matters at all levels to impact generational change. I am a success story yet we must fight to ensure our collective mission is achieved across all communities, states and the nation.

Like many Latinas, I didn’t come from generational wealth and oftentimes, my priority was putting food on the table, making rent or paying a utility bill. I didn’t always have the tools and resources to move up the career ladder. There wasn’t anyone who looked like me or who I could trust.

I recognized that this kind of struggle is not unique to me, but is systemic for many Latinas and if I was going to create real change I needed to take real action. Something in me knew that staying quiet, as we Latinas are often culturally told to do, was not an option for me either. Too much was at stake. The qualities and values I learned from my family, like tenacity and perseverance, empowered me to use my voice and make a difference on issues like education, equity, and inclusion - key issues that help people and communities thrive.

But as another year comes to a close when Latinas are still being grossly undervalued, we have to ask what more can be done.

Here are three actions I believe will help:

1 - Build awareness, but don’t stop there.

Awareness is only a baby step to real change. For example, we are all aware that climate change is a problem, but knowing about it and fixing it are two different things. We can build awareness by having conversations with those who might not think the way we do and honestly assessing the health of our organizations by the equitable treatment of everyone in them. Throughout the years, I have developed the ability to have open and welcoming conversations to make a lasting and sustainable impact. It takes patience, practice, and persistence. While this process may bring vulnerability, it also generates new ideas and solutions.

2 - We must empower and educate Latinas on how to negotiate for themselves.

It’s already been said we work twice as hard to receive half as much. One way that persists is if we don’t recognize our own value and continue accepting less than we deserve. Organizations need us to thrive and we often have more leverage than we realize to ask for fair compensation. Moreover, we are our own barrier in not supporting or uplifting each other’s goals and journeys by perpetuating limiting beliefs. We must recognize our behaviors and nuances toward this emotional discord.

3 - Vote!

In my current leadership role at Jolt, I see the direct impact of registering Latinas to vote and encouraging them to become civically engaged because change comes through policy and legislation. Negotiating for fair pay should not rest solely on the shoulders of Latinas! We must put policies in place that make equity the default, rather than the exception…because it’s the law.

Now, as the CEO of Maldonado Strategies, I get to use my platform and experience to help organizations create programs and streamline processes that are not only equitable but are also profitable and sustainable. And for those individuals who know it’s their time to take the lead, run for office and create new policies that serve the Latina community, I offer a mastermind program and one-on-one political consulting to help them in that mission.

I hope you’ll join arms with me to accelerate change, close the pay gap, and set the table for prosperity. I look forward to a time when Latina Equal Pay Day is a folklore ballad or corrido in our cultural history.

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