This post was originally published on Sacramento Observer

By Genoa Barrow 

She’s only seven, but Mikaela Baker’s daughter Kennedy is already learning an appreciation for earning her own money and the power that comes with it.

“We call her the CEO,” said Baker, owner of Sac City Stems, a brightly lit plant shop near Sacramento State.

“I like doing a bank with her every week where I give her money, not as an allowance, but she has chores. It’s just to get her starting to think about spending money. If you have your own money, you can spend it how you want to spend it.”

Mom’s the entrepreneur, but she’s planting seeds for her child’s future. Kennedy lives in a country where Black women are paid 58 cents for every dollar paid to White men. 

The issue of equal pay had California’s First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom visiting Sac City Stems last week. Siebel Newsom visited to raise awareness for Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, observed this year on Wednesday, September 21. Black Women’s Equal pay day is held on the approximate number of additional days a Black woman must work to make the same amount a White man does in a year.

“What is most disturbing or challenging to me is that when you look at it over time, generationally, not paying Black women their fair share for equitable work, what you have is a wealth gap,” Siebel Newsom said. 

“Black women basically have pennies, alongside Latina women, on the dollar of wealth compared to White men,” she continued. “That’s a problem because wealth begets wealth. Without some assets or ability to invest to accrue more wealth, it’s hard. There are so many more obstacles in your path.”

Mikaela Baker, a flight attendant, opened her plant shop in June 2021, after the pandemic put a halt on the travel industry.

Baker employs a small staff and acknowledges the importance of equal pay for women.

“I own my own business, there are no pay gaps here, we all get paid the same, but it’s important for us to be able to own stuff because you don’t have to deal with things like that,” Baker said.

A flight attendant by profession, Baker opened Sac City Stems as an online business when she was laid off during the pandemic. She’d initially planned for her H street location to only be a shipping facility for orders generated on the Internet. It grew and a year later, the shop beams with green things with exotic names and personalities.

Baker specializes in indoor tropical houseplants. Most people don’t know the difference between a Swiss Cheese Monstera and a Bird of Paradise, but she’s knowledgeable and  quick to help. “We have some rare items, but for the most part I try to keep them beginner-friendly,” she said.

Baker has since returned to her regular, full-time job, but when she’s not traversing the friendly skies, she’s in the shop teaching self-proclaimed “plant killers” how to keep their plants alive and sharing information on what house plants do best during Sacramento’s triple digit summers. 

Friend and part-time employee Briana Lucio calls working at Sac City Stems a rewarding experience. “We’re all Black women, we’re all on the same playing field,” she said. “She understands my struggle. I understand her struggle.”

For her regular 9 to 5, Lucio coordinates civil rights and fair housing investigations.  

“I’m the only Black woman on my team, so I know what I make compared to others. You see the difference between people’s pay when you’re working in corporate America,” Lucio said. 

The goal at Sac City Stems, Baker and Lucio say, is  to help each other rise and grow.

Baker spoke to Siebel Newsom about some of the challenges of being a Black-woman entrepreneur, namely how difficult it was for her to secure funding when she opened her business a year ago. She’s also dealing with inflation and supply issues that stem from the pandemic.

“There’s been a ripple effect,” Baker said. “The cost of plants, the cost of supplies, everything is rising. That’s  really tough to keep up with because it’s plants, you don’t want to sell your first born to have plants in your house. I try to keep my prices as reasonable as possible.” 

“Also,  I really try to pay my team a livable wage, so that means that if cream cheese at the store is costing $7, I have to pay them a little bit more.”

Baker is navigating the ebbs and flows of owning a business owner and other responsibilities.

“It is difficult to balance my full time job and this, but I have a great team behind me. I’m very, very grateful for that. Baker also talked to Siebel Newsom about her dream of sharing a love of nature and science with area school children. The First Partner talked about her efforts to “green the schools” by introducing programs that are meant to bring local, fresand nutritious meals to California school children and starting gardens that teach young students how to take care of plants and see some as healthy food options. She encouraged Baker to apply for a Farm to School grant that allocated $30 million last year to make her idea come to fruition.

As for equal pay, Siebel Newsom admits there is much room for improvement. The needle hasn’t moved all that much, she said.

By creating awareness and making the public understand what we have to do, to not just support Black women, but support Latina women and support Native American women, and uplift in particular, these communities and mothers who are seen as less valuable by the way we pay them because unfortunately in America, we value people through pay.

Siebel Newsom, California’s first partner

“Even if we have the strongest pay laws in the nation in California, we still have a major pay gap for women, in particular women of color,” she says.

Siebel Newsom has championed Equal Pay California, in partnership with the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, since 2019.

“By creating awareness and making the public understand what we have to do, to not just support Black women, but support Latina women and support Native American women, and uplift in particular, these communities and mothers who are seen as less valuable by the way we pay them because unfortunately in America, we value people through pay,” Siebel Newsom shared.

“Through awareness and consciousness, you can shift attitudes and behavior and hold people accountable,” she added. “That’s what we’ve done through the Equal Pay pledge to hold companies accountable to looking at their promotion and hiring practices, to conducting annual pay gap analyses and to highlighting best practices so that we can close the pay gap.”

Sixty corporations have taken the pledge, including Adobe, Apple, Intel Lending Club, Mattel, RingCentral, Twitter, Uber and the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD).

During the pandemic, many Black women were in “essential” jobs, but still didn’t get their due.

“One in three Black women were essential workers and working in professions and service professions whether it was food services or health care or elderly care, but different services professions that don’t pay as well as the high tech, engineering, managerial positions in our state,” Siebel Newsom said.

“Part of that is our barriers to entry and both structural and cultural obstacles that are unjust and that we have to find solutions to. One of the things we’ve done in the governor’s office recently, which I’m really proud of, is appointing Pam Chueh as the new chief equity officer to ensure that the state and everyone that the state contracts with is prioritizing equity and inclusion.”

Women in general need to have an inclusive, “we’re all in this together” attitude and fight for pay parity for all rather than fight each other for a piece of the pie.

“I feel like after the 2016 election, there was this hope that we would come together more as marginalized or minority communities, and partner and collaborate. I think we saw that to an extent and then some of that collaboration, maybe weakened,” Siebel Newsom shared. “But from my position and platform, it’s about moving us all forward together. That’s the fight. we’re in this together, and your success is my success. We all live in a society together, there’s no leak on your side of our boat, your health, your wealth, your success,  is our communal success.”

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