This week marked International Day of the Girl Child, a time for a global push for gender equality and the empowerment of girls around the world. Many brands and companies use the day as an opportunity to uplift the contributions of girls, making a difference in their communities and celebrating their leadership. But what does it all mean in the context of the DEI space, and in particular for Black and Brown girls?
While the visibility of the day can feel heartwarming, applying a DEI lens to the conversation helps us take a step back and analyze the progress that is and is not truly being made for gender equality. That progress should begin early in the career lifecycle through strategies that include:
Building pathways for mentorship and meaningful learning opportunities
Larger corporations may have massive internship, fellowship, or apprenticeship programs in place for younger talent, but Black and Brown girls are disproportionately left out of those opportunities. A survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that more than nearly 75% of paid interns were White, while Black students were only 6%. Latine students were more likely never to have had an internship, paid or unpaid.
That gap spirals into disparities that can follow Black and Brown students through adulthood. Paid internships open up the door for full-time career opportunities and the potential for a significantly higher starting salary coming out of college. Without equitable opportunities for paid internships and meaningful professional opportunities at the very beginning of their careers, Black and Brown girls start their journeys already playing catchup to their White counterparts.
By implementing an internship program that recruits, mentors, and retains Black and Brown girls, your organization gives their careers an equitable start. Recruitment here is also crucial– top candidates aren’t only found at Ivy League schools, elite colleges and universities, or other pipeline programs that already weed out young people from low-income backgrounds. Expanding the definition of what your organization deems as a ‘cultural fit’ can invite Black and Brown girls to opportunities they are more than qualified and ready for.
Making the leadership of your organization accessible to its interns and other girls figuring out their career paths can remove the red tape and elitism that too often plagues the working world. Creating opportunities for Black and Brown girls to explore their interests and have meaningful assignments entrusted to them can begin to build their experiences and confidence early on.
Ensuring that the women on your team– and the girls in their lives– are cared for
If your organization is not yet in a place where a fulfilling and meaningful internship program is feasible, it can still live out the values that International Day of the Girl Child tries to espouse by building a culture that supports girls and women. Exploring where decision-making power rests within each corner of your organization and ensuring Black and Brown women are a leading face of that is a crucial step in the right direction.
Consider adopting benefits that directly center girls and women
Despite the buzz that DEI has become over the last few years, it’s done little to tangibly shift the living conditions of Black and Brown women and girls. The gender pay gap has hardly budged over the last two decades, yet many Black and Brown women are the breadwinners or sole providers for their families. Black women earn 64 cents for every dollar a White man makes, while Latine women earn just 57 cents. A benefits package that centers the needs of Black and Brown women– and the girls in their lives– compensates them abundantly and equitably, given the wage gap that persists.
These benefits should include the basics of a retirement package, strong health coverage, and the like. Still, a strong DEI strategy takes this a step further by examining how to use benefits as a way to intercede amidst the inequity Black and Brown women face financially. With them being more likely to have high student loan debt, employers should be invested in supporting them in paying off the burden. The federal government isn’t the only entity with the power to do this. Under the CARES Act Section 127, employers can pay off up to $5,250 in student loan debt for their employees tax-free until December 31, 2025. That action, in combination with annual bonuses, competitive starting salaries, and consistent and meaningful pay increases, can provide Black and Brown women with the capital they need to build financial freedom– and for the girls in their lives, too.