It’s been three years since Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission released a report showing Black residents have a much lower quality of life than white residents.

But the Black Women’s Policy Center is working to make sure city residents don’t forget its critical findings and feel equipped to take action.

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“The Black Women’s Policy Center is committed to making sure that what we learned in that report, what we learned in our surveys, what we’ve learned in our own experiences with Black women will inform the work we do moving forward,” said Rochelle Jackson, the center’s director and founder. “We will continue to work to change the narrative to change the reality Black women face in this region.”

This week, the center, in partnership with the Women and Girls Foundation and YWCA Greater Pittsburgh, is announcing its Pay Equity Campaign to encourage employers to close the gender pay gap, which disproportionately impacts women of color. 

As part of the campaign, businesses are asked to take the policy center’s pledge, which consists of these five parts:

  • Promote wage transparency by including the salary range on all job postings
  • Commit to reviewing policies and practices to ensure compliance with The National Labor Relations Act of 1935
  • Ensure a fair and equitable hiring process by eliminating desired salary and salary history questions from the application process
  • Provide annual company-wide diversity trainings to address, reduce and educate about unconscious biases and associated barriers that impact hiring, promotion and organizational culture
  • Undertake an annual review of gender and race pay differences among employees performing comparable tasks … considering levels of education, prior experience, skill and company tenure.

“We are not naive to think we can change this and close this wage gap in a year or six months, but we do think that we have to start somewhere,” said Jackson. “When you pledge to us, we take that as an acknowledgment that this is an issue and that these are challenges for Black women and you’re willing to work with us to close this wage gap.”

Jackson spoke with PublicSource about how her organization is working to make progress. 

(The interview is edited for brevity and clarity.)

Why did you start the Black Women’s Policy Agenda in 2020 and subsequently, its nonprofit arm, the Black Women’s Policy Center?

I’ve spent the better part of my adult life doing public policy advocacy, understanding that a lot of the challenges and struggles that my mom faced and that I faced (I raised four children as a single mom and I was raised by a single mom) were rooted in policy, some good, some bad.

Black women were really not centered, but at the same time we disproportionately are impacted by those policies. Oftentimes you’re not seeing any of us sitting at the table. We’re oftentimes not a part of conversations — not only discussing issues but discussing solutions to the issues. 

We need to do something different, and I believe that something different is policy. It’s centering us in policy, trusting us as experts of our own experiences and inviting us to be a part of those conversations and being a part of solutions and strategy. And that’s where the [Black Women’s Policy] agenda comes into play. 

The Equal Pay Act, aimed at ending wage disparity based on sex, went into law in 1969. Why are we still talking about this in 2022?

That is the question. And that is the exact reason why we have a pledge, because we’ve been talking about this for far too long. What we haven’t been doing is really action, is really building a strategy and actually taking steps to change the status quo. Every year, there’s Equal Pay Day in March [marking the date white women make the same amount as men made in the previous year with the current gender pay gap]. In August, it’s Equal Pay Day nationally for Black women. Everybody knows those days. Everybody does some social media, and we talk about the horrific reality that this exists and all of that stuff, and what’s being done? 

I think if we’ve learned nothing else from that [Pittsburgh Gender Equity Commission] report in 2019 we’ve learned that Black women, when it comes to economics, are really, really struggling in this region. …It’s 60 cents on the dollar for Black women in comparison to white women nationally. It’s 54 cents in Pittsburgh. 

We don’t have any more time to wait. The time is now. 

Why is this an important issue for all people to care about? 

There is a gender wage gap for women in general across this country. I think the win for everyone is when you start to work on closing that wage gap and achieve pay equity for Black women. When Black women win, all women win. 

Rochelle Jackson, director and founder of the Black Women’s Policy Center. (Photo courtesy of Rochelle Jackson)

All of these social issues that we think about that unfortunately Black women are disproportionately impacted by, when we start to address those issues, the whole community prospers from that. To me, that’s the benefit. 

And the pandemic has illustrated this. 

Black women do some very valuable work in our communities. 

The No. 1 reason why women have reported having left the workforce during the pandemic was lack of child care — not necessarily the inability to pay for it but just the nonexistence of it. And when you look at child care, Black women are overrepresented in the workforce. At the same time, they’re paid some of the lowest wages in the country.

The same can be said for certified nursing assistants who work in our hospitals, who work in our nursing homes and rehabilitation centers where our elderly, disabled parents and relatives are.

But their wages are horrifically low for the work that they do and the care they provide to our loved ones every day.

There’s just that devaluation; the work of Black women is just not valued in this country. 

What do you think that says about this region that Pittsburgh ranks so low in quality of life for people of color?

I think it says we have a lot of systematic and institutional racism and discrimination in this region that has never really been addressed. The difference between Pittsburgh and a lot of other places is that racism in this city and this region is very overt, and because it’s overt, it’s not something that people are ready to address or even to acknowledge. 

It’s harder to bring to the surface whenever we as a region have grown to just accept that this is the way things are. So it’s going to take us really as a region to say no more and to just say that it’s unacceptable to continue to do things that way.

Lauren Davidson is a freelance writer and editor based in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at laurenkaydavidson@gmail.com or on Twitter @laurenmylo.

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Lauren Davidson

Lauren Davidson started her journalism career at The Pitt News while earning her bachelor's degree in English at the University of Pittsburgh. She has worked at newspapers and magazines in New England...