Back in January, Black Twitter and Instagram lost control when comedian Mo’Nique took to social media asking black people to boycott Netflix after the content powerhouse offered her $500,000 for a comedic special, while her peers were offered upward of $5 million.
We all chuckled at the videos and memes poking fun at the Oscar-winning actress. The absurdity of her to “humbly” proclaim herself “the most decorated comedian alive” while being interviewed by Sway on Sirius XM’s Shade 45. I, too, balked at the sentiment that Mo’Nique, although very funny and talented, is the most decorated comedian alive. I mean, really Mo, the most decorated alive?
As funny as it was, Mo’Nique’s comment on Shade 45 made us all disregard her, chalking it up to Mo’Nique just being Mo’Nique. After all, she was blackballed for being demanding, querulous, even a diva, some might say. Rumors circulated that even Oprah and Tyler Perry said working with Mo was no walk in the park. How could anyone take her seriously?
I’ll tell you how: by noting that black women on average are paid 37% less than men, which means for every dollar a man makes, a black woman makes only 63 cents. And, for every dollar a white woman makes, a black woman makes 65 cents.
Mo’Nique’s self-proclaiming title as “the most decorated comedian alive” may have been exaggerated, but the public’s reception of it overshadowed a very real issue: the wage disparity between minority women and everyone else.
Mo’Nique’s complaint about being offered $500,000 may seem trivial to some, particularly since the average salary in the US is only 10% of that. But imagine you have 20+ years of experience in your field, you have earned the highest award that can be given to anyone in your industry and you have a resume showcasing all your consistent work and diverse skills. Now, imagine with all your glowing qualifications, you are offered $50,000 for a position for which your peer is offered $1.1 million. That is what happened to Mo’Nique.
Netflix reportedly offered comedian-actress Amy Schumer $11 million dollars for a comedic special; that’s over 95% more than they offered Mo’Nique. 95.45% to be exact, which means Mo’Nique was only offered 4.55% of what Amy was offered. With numbers like that, Mo’Nique had every right to implore a rallying cry against wage disparity.
Some might say comparing Mo’Nique to Amy Schumer is like comparing apples to oranges. However, comedian DeRay was allegedly offered $5 million for his Netflix special; an apples to apples comparison because DeRay and Mo’Nique share a similar audience, following, and career. So why is it that DeRay was offered 10 times that of the “Oscar Award-Winning” Mo’Nique?
Equal pay is meant to ensure individuals are paid based on industry benchmarks, the duties of the job and the candidate’s experience, regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, health history and in some states, salary history. Valerie Wilson, director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute said it best: “Race is not a skill or characteristic that should have any market value as it relates to your wages, but it does."
As a black woman working in corporate America, I’ve had my fair share of experience with wage disparity. Even with having a Masters degree, 10+ years experience and industry accolades, it is a battle I constantly fight.
Some years ago, I interviewed with a well-known black publication. Once I scheduled the interview, I called a friend who worked for the publication in the past to get the scoop. My friend shared that she knew about the opening because her friend had previously held the position. She then proceeded to tell me I shouldn’t waste my time because her friend was only paid $45,000 a year for that position. I was blown away. How could that be? How could such a recognizable, influential publication that is owned by one of the largest media companies in the country pay someone $45,000 for that position — a position for which the salary industry average is $80,000? In the end, I didn’t get the job, probably because they were able to hire another black woman for half of what I required.
One might say I wasn’t offered the job because I wasn’t the best fit, and that may be true. But the fact remains that the Black woman who previously held the position was paid nearly half of the industry standard, a problem that has become all too common.
After being lowballed early in my career, I promised to never accept a salary less than the industry standard. I have walked away from jobs because the offer wasn’t up to snuff. I have had moments where I’ve considered lowball offers thinking, “It’s not that low, I can live with it.” But, with every low offer I accept, not only am I devaluing my professional worth, I’m also widening the wage gap for the next woman. It may not sound like much, but for every offer women say “No, do better” to, the wage gap shrinks. It is up to us to take a stand not only for ourselves but also for everyone who is absurdly underpaid.
Asking a potential employer for a better offer or walking away from a job is not an easy thing to do, but I do it often. I also encourage the students of the career development college course I teach to do it. We should always be armed to negotiate when interviewing for a job. Use sites such as Indeed.com, Salary.com and Glassdoor.com to pull salary data. Also, find a personal salary buddy, someone of a different race and/or gender who can be your archetype when negotiating. I have a [white] friend whom I consult for negotiations. After doing my research, I ask her, “What would you ask for X position?” And based on her number, I ask for $10 - 20K on top of that, because that final number is closer to what a white man would get paid.
Now, the reality (for now) is I may not get to that “white man” number, but I will get as close to it as I can, helping to increase my pockets and decrease the wage gap.
The plight of being a minority woman in corporate America is that you are stereotyped as soon as you walk in the door. Upon the initial handshake, the interviewer already knows whether or not they can underpay you, because, well… statistics. And if fighting the battle of wages isn’t enough, black women also have to deal with the institutionalized perception of what we are. I have countless stories unrelated to wages where I was a direct target of presumptuous misconceptions based on my gender and race; whether it was the time a colleague implied I was only good enough to be an assistant or the time a client assumed my white, male assistant was my boss and I was the assistant. A good friend of mine was once asked by her VP, “who did you sleep with to afford that bag?,” that “bag” being a thousand-dollar Gucci bag. #TrueStory
Black women are teetering on the corporate tightrope, trying our best to balance unequal pay and prejudice all while biting the shit out of our tongues so as to not be labeled the “angry black woman.” We have been muted and are continuously denied carte blanche, which is why I commend Mo’Nique for taking a stand. All women should applaud her for speaking out against wage disparity because so many of us forget our professional worth and are apprehensive about calling “foul.”
Women need to be reminded that we should never accept the first offer, we should always ask for more money and we should never be afraid to walk away like Mo'Nique did.
About the author
Curize Richards-Godet works in New York City as a Creative Marketing Director for a media company. She is also an educator, teaching Career Development at a New Jersey college. Curize is passionate about teaching young professionals how to navigate the job market and corporate America and is an advocate of wage equality.