At first, I thought it was my imagination. But the more I searched for jobs, the more I ran across it. Two job descriptions, essentially identical, except that one requires the candidate to be bilingual. Again and again, I found that the postings for bilingual candidates offered the same or even lower wages than the one that only required English.
I thought being bilingual in English and Spanish was supposed to get me ahead in the USA. Instead, I feel like I’m being penalized because of the assumptions employers hold about my language, my culture, my background.
Being bilingual is not just a language skill; it’s a proficiency in cultural interactions, opening a company up to new audiences and markets. An article in TIME tells us that “new studies are showing that a multilingual brain is nimbler, quicker, better able to deal with ambiguities, resolve conflicts and even resist Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia longer.”1
What makes this more saddening is that much of my job search was in the non-profit sector, a female-dominated field. I was absolutely stunned when I came across a posting from a local non-profit that assists victims of domestic violence, offering a meager $8.50 per hour for a Bilingual Advocate, even though one of the requirements was possessing a two or four-year degree. The most likely candidate for the posting would be, of course, a female Latina. If the non-profit’s mission is to support women’s rights and serve marginalized communities, then it should live up to that mission in its employment policies. That includes providing livable and fair wages for women, and extra pay for an important skill that is in demand, such as being bilingual.
The wage gap for Latina women is shocking. In 2013, Latina median weekly wages were only 59 cents to every dollar earned by white men. This has improved only marginally in recent decades — in 1980 the figure was 54 cents to the dollar.2 My state of Texas holds the sad title of having the fifth worst wage gap for Latina women. In 2012 our median weekly wage was only 45 cents to every dollar earned by white men in our state.3 There are many factors contributing to gender and racial wage gaps, but it is absolutely clear that discriminatory assumptions and undervaluing the work of Latinas are hurting us every day.
I am so proud to be Latina, to be a woman, and to be bilingual. But it comes at a heavy price.
This blog post is part of 9to5’s collection Faces of the Wage Gap, illuminating the many factors which contribute to income inequality and the necessary solutions needed to reach true economic justice for all women. Please share via social media!