Equal Pay Day,in April, is typically known as the day women across the nation raise awareness of the pay gap between women and men working the same job. However, that gap is much wider in Indian Country. And September 27 marks Native American Equal Pay Day—a stark reminder that as a nation, and as allies, we need to do better.
According to statistics released by theNational Women’s Law Centerin 2017, Native American women on average make just $0.57 for equivalent work as do their male, white counterparts and 20 percent less than their white women counterparts.
It’s worth noting that Native women in urban areas make less than their rural and reservation community counterparts. And, unlike women from other groups, the wage gap actually increases with women’s education levels.“It’s a Native woman’s equal pay day crisis,” says Cherylee Francis, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and owner of avideo production firm.
Complicating the issue further is a dearth of solid statistics or education. “Very little data is generated by large organizations…” Francis says. “If that data is collected, it may or may not include a category for Native Americans.” Even the nonpartisan think tank Economic Policy Institute lacks data on Native Americans, she says.
“Studies show that, when women gain access to their own financial freedom, they are lifted out of poverty, children to become healthier and the overall economic status of a country improves.”
What’s the answer? Francis says it’s simple: More Native women should open their own businesses,and support each other through the process of learning how to make those businesses successful.
She’s the founder of an organization that provides support and networking to Native American women who own their own firms or who are considering the leap into crafting their own future—and creating their ownorganization, Native Women Entrepreneurs of Arizona, which celebrated its first anniversary in August, provides networking and peer support.
“Studies show that, when women gain access to their own financial freedom, they are lifted out of poverty, children to become healthier and the overall economic status of a country improves,” Francis says.
“It’s important to stand up and say, ‘Do you have a budget for that?’”
One important lesson that Native women entrepreneurs should take to heart: “Know your self-worth,” says Stephine Poston, a citizen of the Pueblo of Sandia in New Mexico, who also owns afull-service communication firm. “At conferences, we hear that women want to learn about gaining confidence.”
That confidence in their worth should also show up in what they’re paid. “It’s important to stand up and say, ‘Do you have a budget for that?’” Poston adds that the talents and skill sets that Indigenous women bring to the table, including cultural competency, should be reflected in what they’re paid.Poston also stresses that building a support network is vital to a thriving woman-owned business. “Find allies who you can have conversations with,” she says.
Francis and April Tinhorn, a citizen of the Hualapai Tribe from Northern Arizona and owner of amarketing and PR firm, recently took that entrepreneurial spirit—as well as finding new allies—to the next level: They participated in theGlobal WOMEN’s TRADE Summit-2018, held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia this past September.
Francis delivered one of the keynote speeches while Tinhorn was on a panel on women in STEM education and careers. Tinhorn, who has a master’s degree in computer science, wryly notes she was the only woman on the panel. But it wasn’t just to speak—Francis and Tinhorn were there to do business. Their goal is to someday expand to an international market.
Back home in Arizona, Francis reflects on the future—and what needs to happen next. “National, state, and tribal governments must acknowledge the disproportionate wage gap of Native American women,” she says.
“Native women also have an advantage in the business world: They have nurtured their families, communities, and cultures over the millennia.”
“Real conversation needs to be made on identifying the values of our tribal communities, as governments need to emphasize building diversity and being inclusive of Native cultures.”
Technology should also play a strong role in addressing the pay gap. “Being adaptive of this age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is crucial,” Francis says.
Native women also have an advantage in the business world: They have nurtured their families, communities, and cultures over the millennia. They are the backbone of Native communities across the continent. They have survived 500-plus years of oppression, genocide, marginalization and colonialism.
They are uniquely suited to thriving—and succeeding—in whatever they set their minds to.
Learn more at the websiteNative Women’s Equal Pay Day.