The year 2023 is almost behind us, and sadly Native American and Alaska Native women are only now approaching the point where their pay has caught up to non-Hispanic white men. That date falls on November 30 this year. It serves as a striking reminder of the disparities in wages and economic opportunities that Native women face and the pay gaps they still face.

All women are disadvantaged when it comes to equal pay and we’ve covered other commemorative days as a way of continuing to raise the issue and its importance, including Latina Women’s Equal Pay Day and Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. More organizations are, indeed, taking seriously the need to ensure equitable pay for all employees. Yet gender pay equity remains elusive.

Origins of Native Women’s Equal Pay Day

Native women, of course, were among the first people to inhabit the country we all now live and work in. Despite–and perhaps because of–this fact, as of 2021 they make only about .57 for every dollar white, non-Hispanic men make. That, says the National Women’s Law Center, amounts to losing $2,400/month or almost $29,000/year. “If today’s median wage gap does not close, a Native woman stands to lose a staggering $1,151,880 over the course of a 40-year career,” they say. 

According to 19thnews.org, “Native American women have never been adequately compensated for their labor due to the systemic effects of colonization.”

The first effort to formally recognize these wage disparities for Native Women was in 1996 when Native Women’s Equal Pay Day was established. 

Today, organizations like Above Board take steps to recognize this day and others, raising awareness of the unique challenges Native American women face. For instance:

  • 64% of Native American mothers are primary breadwinners in their households.
  • Even having an advanced degree doesn’t address these significant gaps. “In fact, the salary of a Native woman with a bachelor’s and master’s degree is equivalent to the salary of a white man with only a high school diploma,” they report.
  • More than 20% of Native American women live below the poverty line.

Taking steps to close these gaps isn’t only the right thing to do, in many areas it’s the law.

Laws Related to Pay Equity

It’s also somewhat shocking to consider that pay inequities continue to exist despite laws requiring both pay equity and transparency. Today 42 states and many more local governments have passed, or are proposing, new legislation focused on pay equity and transparency. 

The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963 when women were paid, on average, only 59 cents for every dollar men were paid. Today, according to The White House, women overall are paid 84 cents for every dollar men are paid. And, of course, as we’ve seen the landscape for Native women is far less equitable. 

The legal landscape related to pay equity is changing in an effort to close these gaps. It’s important for employers to stay up-to-date on the laws that impact them in any geographies where they employ or hire workers. 

What You Can Do

Employers can make a difference by ensuring that their own pay practices are equitable—not only to comply with legal regulations and requirements, but to attract and retain top talent. As Josh Bersin has said, “if you want to win the war for talent in 2022, fair pay may be one of your biggest techniques.” One way to do this is to conduct a pay equity analysis or audit.

Employee resource groups (ERGs) can be another way to raise awareness of and address pay inequities that may exist and persist. 

In addition, November 30 represents an opportunity to raise awareness and reflect on these pay discrepancies with your own staff members, especially those who are Native Americans or Alaskan Natives. Over time, we can continue to make a difference.

Download: Pay Equity Definitive Guide

Conducting a pay equity audit is a key component to ensuring equitable compensation within your organization. Just as important as the analysis is how you communicate findings and progress with various stakeholders. Download The Pay Equity Communications Planner to learn best practices for discussing compensation, both internally and externally.