Today is Equal Pay Day - what does that mean? Each year, that day marks the amount of time women have to work into the current year to match the earnings of their male counterparts in the previous year. (Women and men of color experience on average an even greater pay inequity and have to work further into the year to make up the difference.)
In Minnesota, we tend to pride ourselves as state that fosters strong, healthy communities and looks out for our most vulnerable residents. Although we do stand ahead of many states in community health and well-being in some measures, we still face challenges prevalent across the country and world, including a gender wage gap. Women make a fraction of the wages of their male counterparts, even with identical training and experience.
The #ynpnwagegap event on April 1 at the Nicollet tackled this subject. The event opened with Debra Fitzpatrick from the University of Minnesota's Center on Women and Public Policy, which convenes and connects across divides to bring down barriers to gender equity and build broad-based public responses. She and her colleagues at Gender Justice have done extensive research and work on the gender wage gap and its causes and its implications for our communities.
The Center’s recent update on the Status of Women and Girls in Minnesota states women represent two-thirds of those in the state earning at or below the minimum wage and continue to be the majority of those living below the poverty line. Compared to about thirteen years ago, the average income for single mothers in Minnesota and across the country has declined significantly, whereas the median income for most families has stayed the same. Women earn an average of 80 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts in Minnesota, and the gap is even larger in rural areas and reaches to 40% for women of color.
The event gathered steam as we broke into small groups for facilitated discussion on topics including gender dynamics in the workplace, wage negotiation, exploring notions of gender difference, and being an effective ally to others. The group shared tips on how to effectively navigate wage negotiation, how to question our own ingrained assumptions on the roles of women and their competence in traditionally male-dominated fields, and the daily impacts of these assumptions on the opportunities available for women. These assumptions and expectations can impact hiring choices, but also the more intangible beliefs that our young women hold about their own abilities. On average, high school girls match male performance in science and math coursework, but don't perform as well on high-stake pre-college tests, which demonstrates the power of these assumptions. Pushing this analysis further, the group also discussed the false dichotomy of traditional gender roles and exclusion (and discrimination) of people who are transgender or who do not identify with either gender.
What can you do to help improve gender economic equity in Minnesota? For starters, you can advocate for regular wage reviews at your organization or company. This can encourage institutional responsibility for equitable wages, and not leave the responsibility lying solely on the shoulders of individual women at the negotiation table. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofit publishes a Salary and Benefits Survey every two years to help organizations maintain fair and competitive compensation practices. You can also take an online assessment to learn more about your own gender assumptions.
Right now, you also have a political opportunity let your voice be heard on the topic! Legislation is currently proposed to comprehensively address these issues in Minnesota. Gender Justice and the Center on Women and Public Policy are two of the founding members of the Minnesota Coalition for Women's Economic Security, which is advocating for the adoption of the Women's Economic Security Act. The Act is a set of bills that will improve economic security of women in Minnesota, and ultimately improve the lives of all Minnesotans. Specifically, the legislation includes bills to: close gender pay gap; increase the minimum wage to $9.50; expand access to high-quality, affordable childcare; expand family and sick leave for working families; protect women from discrimination in the workplace; enhance protections for victims of violence; encourage women in non-traditional, high-wage jobs; help women-owned small businesses succeed; and help older women be economically secure. Take action and contact your legislators to express your support of this legislation.
Don’t forget to check out the #ynpnwagegap Twitter feed from the event.