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Jeff Jones: The wage gap differs by study, but exists nonetheless.
Jeff Jones: The wage gap differs by study, but exists nonetheless.

Gender wage gap plateaus — now what?

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Studies on the subject can be polarizing and may contain differing conclusions, but the end results tend to be the same.

A wage gap between men and women exists on state, national and international levels, and fixes tend to be long-term. With a current U.S. ratio of 80 percent, some forecasts show the gap may not close for at least 100 years.

What can the business community and society as a whole do to close the gap?

Propped up by data-driven reports, experts know there’s a problem but differ on how to fix it.

Data driven
A study released in January by the University of Missouri Institute of Public Policy and commissioned by the Women’s Foundation found Show-Me State women working full time earn 78 cents for every dollar a man brings home. That rate has held fairly steady since 1997, with U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing female workers in Missouri earning between 74 and 81 percent of male workers’ pay in that time.

“This earnings gap has decreased over time but has reached a plateau and remained at or around this percentage for years,” said Emily Johnson, the MU institute’s chief operating officer in a webinar discussing the report.

Johnson said the report reviewed five areas: employment and income; education and child care; health care; social and economic indicators; and leadership and public engagement.

Comparatively, the 2010-14 wage gap in Greene County came to 79.9 percent, according to The Status of Women in Missouri: 2016.

Pointing to a 2016 study by labor market research firm Glassdoor Economic Research, Missouri State University finance professor Jeff Jones said such studies could be misleading because they leave out certain factors.

Another report, Demystifying the Gender Pay Gap, takes into account differences in education, experience, age, location, job title and industry to arrive at an adjusted gender pay gap level. With those factors, the report found women earn 94.6 cents per dollar compared with men.

“Even after controlling for all the common explanations, it still exists,” said Jones. “A study like that is incredibly valuable.”

First steps
Experts agree a solution to the wage gap isn’t easy, but early steps have been taken and signs of progress exist.

Wendy Doyle, CEO of the Kansas City-based Women’s Foundation, said the organization commissioned the latest report – its second – to create a comprehensive study that hadn’t been performed for Missouri in a couple decades. It also establishes a baseline report on which progress can be tracked.

“There is lots of work to be done,” she said in the webinar with Mizzou’s Johnson. “We want to continue to build awareness of the issues and what the findings are telling us.

“We want to develop policy solutions and really develop partnerships around Missouri and share this information so that we can start to move forward as a state and see some results for women and their families.”

Since the first study in 2015, Doyle said the Women’s Foundation has created a program to equip women around the state to join boards and commissions. She also pointed to an executive order and directive by former Gov. Jay Nixon calling on the Missouri Office of Administration to implement best practices intended to close the wage gap for state employees. Now, that state office has a female running it, after Gov. Eric Greitens’ appointment of Sarah Steelman.

“We hope to continue that under the new administration,” Doyle said.

In Greitens’ first weeks in office, four out of his first five cabinet appointments went to women, and this month he appointed Lt. Col. Sandra Karsten as Missouri’s first female superintendent of the State Highway Patrol.

Rosie view
In Springfield, the newly created Rosie organization is forming initiatives to make women feel more included in the local workforce.

“It seems so overwhelming; some people think it’s never going to change,” said Rachel Anderson, a co-founder of Rosie and an entrepreneurial specialist for The eFactory at MSU. “With Rosie and the approach we’re trying to take, it’s more about individual empowerment.”

Anderson said the onus for wage gap changes is on the individual.

If a woman feels she deserves a pay raise or is not being treated fairly at work, Anderson recommends she have a conversation with her employer.

That kind of determination doesn’t always come naturally and isn’t necessarily easy.

That’s where Rosie comes in, she said.

Through quarterly events, Rosie is developing a support network where women and men can converse. Anderson meets with members nearly every day to set up contacts and serve as a liaison between the women and potential workforce opportunities, such as joining boards.

Rosie, funded by a $10,000 grant from the Women’s Foundation, kicked off in April and launched to the public in November. Since then, it’s gathered 350 female members.

“For females, we want to make sure you have that social capital or that political capital,” Anderson said.

Next up is an initiative dubbed “Brosie,” a version of Rosie aiming to include more men in the process of equalizing the workforce. Rosie also is open to members of all ages, including high schoolers to get their feet wet early.

“Male or female, you look back on how you chose to care about what you care about,” she said. “A lot of people attribute that to an experience or a person.”

MSU’s Jones said government intervention is an option. In 2016, President Barack Obama unveiled rules meant to stop discriminating wage practices, but the dial hasn’t appeared to move much. However, with Greitens and President Donald Trump freezing regulations to examine their value, educational solutions may be a better fit – even if they take longer.

A shift in ideals can start early by teaching children an equal society is better for the economy, he said.

“Let’s just deal with one of the stereotypes: ‘Men are good at math. Women are not.’ It’s not necessarily true,” Jones said. “If young girls believe that, then they may be naturally predisposed to not enjoy math.

“It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

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