Interview with Nicole Coakley: Pay Equity Obstacles for Black Women

January 31, 2022

 Raised up and pushed forward!

This is the motto of Nicole Coakley.

And she’ll be the first to tell you that she’s not perfect, but she is ORIGINAL.

About Nicole D. Coakley

Springfield College named Nicole Coakley, Assistant Director of the Springfield College Center for Service and Leadership following a national search on January 25th, 2021. Ms. Coakley has over 20 years of experience in the field of Early Education and Care. She was born in Springfield, MA, but raised in Charleston, SC. She attended Garrett Academy of Technology and upon graduation, earned her Cosmetology License, and an academic scholarship through the National Honor Society, to attend any South Carolina state college or university.

A native of Springfield, Coakley is also the current administrator for the Springfield Police Department Mason Square C3 community - policing program. In addition, she has been a lead organizer of Unity in the Community, a local program helping bridge the gap between youth in the community and law enforcement.

Ms. Coakley is a mother of five and currently holds an Associate of Science Degree in Law Enforcement, Bachelor of Science in Human Service, Master of Education (LMHC/ Trauma Studies/ Substance Abuse), Medical Assistance Certification, First Aid and CPR certified, EEC Director II Certified, and is three classes away from completing her Doctor of Business Administration with a concentration in Organizational Leadership. Ms. Coakley has held an array of job titles but the one that stands out the most and holds many memories would be her position as a Program Director at Morris Professional Child Care Services, located in Springfield, MA. She started as a Teacher Assistant in 1999, while completing her Law Degree, but decided to work her way up to Director two level (highest level earned through EEC).

Ms. Coakley is a member of The National Society of Leadership and Success (Sigma Alpha Pi), the largest collegiate leadership Honor Society in the United States. She’s also on the Board of Directors for Easterseals Massachusetts (services for children and adults with disabilities), a Volunteer Disaster Action Team Supervisor with the American Red Cross (fire response and follow-up), member of the Chicopee Women of the Moose, Clerk for Morris Open Pantry (non-profit organization), member of Neighbor 2 Neighbor, member of the Gun Violence Elimination Alliance (G.V.E.A), member of the Western Mass Peace and Justice Coalition, Project Manager with Digital Boombox Networks (DBN) / DBN Access, she’s also on the Veritas Prep High School Advisory Board, and was recently voted in as the newest Director of Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club Board of Directors. Ms. Coakley is also a member of Greater Harvest Church of God in Christ, with Pastor Zachery Reynolds, and First Lady Patricia Reynolds.

Ms. Coakley is a strong advocate for children and works closely with school officials to help make changes where needed. She enjoys spending time with her family, but also has open arms for at-risk-children. She is currently the Executive Director of the non-profit Gun Violence Elimination Alliance, Inc. (G.V.E.A.), whose mission is to improve the quality of life and life outcome of individuals from disenfranchised communities by reducing gun violence and being an umbrella organization committed to uniting community partners to develop and implement evidence-based strategies to address and eradicate gun and gang violence in Springfield and the Western Massachusetts region. The goal of G.V.E.A. is to save lives and eliminate gun violence through early intervention and prevention programs, outreach, education, and advocacy.  By doing our part, she believes, as a community, we can help steer children in the right direction to becoming successful young men and women of society.

1. Could you tell us about yourself, your educational and professional background, and some of the barriers you faced as a Black woman trying to obtain an education and progress in your career path? How did you overcome such barriers, and how can your experience serve as an example for others trying to forge their own path?

My name is Nicole Coakley. I am a strong, smart, humble, dedicated, independent Black woman with a beautiful family, a demanding valuable career, a master's degree, and a clear path to my doctorate. As the mother of five children and the guardian of two of my nephews, I know about money. I know how to work hard to earn it, how to stretch it, how to spend it and how to save it, repurpose it, and flip it.  I know about money because I have to. With these professional, volunteer, and life experiences, I am confident in who I am. What I think and why I think it. I am honored to share my thoughts with you and to encourage you to think about the same in your own life. As a Black woman, but also just as a mother and family contributor in general, I have had to worry about the realities of life, family, health, and childcare costs. Tuition fees. Rent, bills, food. Clothing, life insurance, transportation, extracurriculars, enrichment programs. Choosing between tuition or rent or sports fees or food on the table. All while trying to maintain a balance of health and wellness for my family and myself. In order to overcome financial barriers and logistical barriers and to maintain a healthy balance, I had to draw from my own strengths— such as dedication, knowledge, passion, etc. and from the support of others, like my parents, brothers, and extended family and friends for things like carpooling, babysitting, shoulder to lean on or ear to listen. Overcoming barriers requires working within a network or support system of those family and friends. Relationship building and collaboration is a strength for me and a key factor in overcoming obstacles and achieving successes. As a professional, a leader, and a model citizen in my community, I am using my knowledge, skills, and life experiences to try and bring change to the systemic challenges of poverty and limited access to resources etc. I recognize that these barriers are not created by the individuals and I believe it is my duty to support the efforts of other women—especially Black women. As a woman of color in a leadership role, I have to hold myself accountable for extending my knowledge to others so that they can feel inspired to aim for and achieve their goals and dreams. In elevating myself through work life experiences and balance and achieving higher degrees and financial stability, I believe the impact will transfer to my family, colleagues, community members and organizations with whom I am affiliated.

2. Could you highlight some of the inequities that exist in Massachusetts, despite advancements in Equal Pay legislation?

According to my own academic and work experiences and the experiences of my peers and colleagues of color, I know Black women go through many challenges while acquiring our education or seeking advancement in the workplace. For example, often our families are more dependent on us, so we have the responsibilities of childcare and supporting our families on top of everyday work responsibilities. Additionally, we are often ignored when highlighting the workplace challenges we are faced with, especially when it comes to professional advancement, rising to senior level positions, and negotiating salary increases.  We are also often not believed when we raise these challenges and are left out of movements that should support and center us. These issues just worsened with the pandemic.

Compared with other women in the United States, Black women have always had the highest levels of labor market participation regardless of age, marital status, or presence of children at home (Banks, 2019). “Black women are often less likely to be associated with the concept of a ‘typical woman’ and are viewed as more similar to Black men than to White women, which may lead to some antiracist and feminist movements failing to advocate for the rights of Black women, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.” (Coles, 2020) According to Dr. Diane Coyle, professor of public policy at the University of Cambridge, women of color were disproportionately impacted by the negative economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (in addition to the devastating health and social effects). Women of color in the workforce already faced significant challenges prior to the pandemic when it came to pay equity and earning living wages, childcare, flexibility in work hours, and more; the pandemic worsened these obstacles, and industries which were hit particularly hard – like the food and service industries – are largely comprised of women of color.

3. What are some of the barriers Black women specifically face in the workplace regarding performance evaluations, promotions, and salary negotiation?

From my experience or observations, racial discrimination has made it difficult for Black women who seek advancement to senior level positions in the workplace. Misconceptions of Black women as less knowledgeable, experienced, or skilled can sometimes inhibit advancement and keep the women at a lower level with less pay. Additionally, some people in positions of authority harbor feelings of resentment fearing their jobs are being threatened by a Black woman who is confident, capable, dedicated, and acts as an agent of change for the company or organization. I, myself, as a Black woman in a leadership role have been passed over for a promotion and salary increase; for example, my dedication to my family and community obligations underscores the belief that I may not be able to handle the extra time required of a promotion, or that I may not be able to commit to the extra hours and effort required of a salary increase. Without even having a conversation with me, management has made the assumption of my capability to move to the next level.

Research indicates that Black women are more ambitious and more likely to say that they want to advance in their companies than their white women counterparts, but are less likely to find mentors who will aid their climb up the corporate ladder. (Wingfeild, 2021)

“Black women disproportionately work in caregiving jobs, and Black mothers with young children have the highest labor force participation rates among all mothers. Minimizing the importance of responding to care needs has practical consequences that affect Black women’s earnings, job success, health, and well-being.” (Cusick et al., 2017)

A merit system is one of the criteria for salary fluctuations within comparable jobs as stipulated by the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (Miller & Vagins 2018). Notably, the employer is the one who usually makes decisions based on the performance of an employee. An organization's employer may be discriminatory and opt not to award a Black woman the agreed token for her excellent performance. It has been witnessed that the earnings disparity between White women and Black women is significantly increasing because most employers focus on the White women's challenges, ignoring Black women's issues.

4. What are some of the factors that contribute to higher unemployment rates among Black men (relative to white men)? What impact does this have currently and in the long run?

Limited access to educational, structured recreational and enrichment, and medical, health, and wellness resources can contribute to the barriers for Black men in achieving higher education and thus more stable, consistent, or higher levels of jobs. In addition to the socio-economic barriers, we cannot negate the effects of the systemic oppression inflicted upon Black men by the criminal justice system. These effects not only impact men who are victims of the carceral state, but also the women and children in their lives. Black men who have been convicted of a crime are more likely to be sentenced to prison or probation for longer terms, leaving them unable to fulfill employment obligations, resulting in job loss. As the sister of six brothers, some of whom have experienced job loss or incarceration, I know that sometimes when a Black male is unable to work or contribute to the finances for a family, the woman of the household is often responsible for earning the money to support the family, single-handedly catering to the family's needs, and/or educating the children. This obviously adds additional economic burdens, as well as stress and pressure to the family dynamic, creating anxiety for both adults and children. The impacts on mental health – increased rates of anxiety and depression, which can affect school, work, and daily life in general – illustrate the vicious cycle of poverty. All these factors are interrelated and can, in part, explain the higher rates of joblessness, homelessness, and incarceration that affect communities of color.  For example, the school to prison pipeline is a prime example of why equitable access to educational, vocational, enrichment, and other valuable resources is fundamental to advancing socio-economic well-being and mobility, particularly pay equity.

5. What are some policies (either at the government- or workplace-level) you believe will eliminate or mitigate discrimination in the workplace and that can promote pay equity, outside of existing legislation (specifically the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act)?

  • Workplace and government policies that ensure equitable access to job training programs, skill-building courses, leadership opportunities, professional development, and more.
  • Implementing mentorship programs in the workplace, particularly for Black women and minorities in general, which allow people of color to more easily navigate professional challenges which their mentors may have already faced.
  • Policies that encourage inclusivity and safe zones for reporting up the chain of command in the workplace.
  • Policies that ensure transparent promotion tracks for all employees, especially minorities.

6. Finally, can you tell us a bit about your current research and the role it could play in transforming economic outcomes for Black women?

Though my thoughts in this interview are drawn more from my own life experiences rather than research and thoughts from others, I am currently working on a doctoral thesis: Women of Color in Leadership and the Effects of Work Life Balance. The research and content of this thesis have supplemented my life experiences and afforded me the knowledge to focus on supporting women (and men) of color in aspiring to work life balance, including appropriate and equitable pay. I believe limited access to education and skill-building for some women results in being held to junior-level employment when their goal may be to achieve a higher-level position.


Banks, N. (2019). Black Women's labor market history reveals deep-seated race and gender discrimination. Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from

Coles, S. M. (2020, July 13). Black women often ignored by social justice movements. American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from

Cusick Director, J., Seeberger Director, C., Oduyeru Manager, L., Gordon Director, P., Shepherd Director, M., Frye, J., Glynn, S. J., Solomon, D., Holmes, K., Bruce, D., Bergmann, M., Spitzer, E., & Simpson, E. (2017, July 31). Racism and sexism combine to shortchange working black women. Center for American Progress. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from

Wingfield, A. H. (2021, January 6). Women are advancing in the workplace, but women of color still lag behind. Brookings. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from