Combating Gender Inequality: The Status of Women in Missouri

Recently, the Institute of Public Policy partnered with the Women’s Foundation to create The Status of Women in Missouri. This report lends insight into the condition of women, delving into the economic and social conditions impacting their lives. When looking at the economic branch, the study compiled data on women in the labor force, the wage gap, unemployment rates, and income rates. The study, combined with additional context, can clarify the wage gap as a result of inequalities in the workforce.

The Status of Women in Missouri found that women make up 48 percent of the overall workforce while making up 50.4 percent of the United States population[i], according to the World Bank Database, which leaves an approximated 2 percent gap in the ratio of women in the workforce and women capable of being in the workforce. Hypothetically, since women have a higher population percentage, there should be an equally high percentage of women in the paid labor force.

WageGapEquationStrictly relying on the population can lead to misassumptions and misconceptions, so analysts rely on tracking the wage gap. The pay gap is the difference in median earnings between men and women. The pay gap can be calculated by dividing the difference of earnings between men and women by men’s median earnings. While the gap has grown smaller in the recent decades, it is currently at 79 percent which is up from the initial calculation in 1974 of 59 percent.[ii]

There is a quantitative difference between the median income earnings of corrected-CLERmen and women. This can be put into context by looking at how the wage gap affects annual income. Women working full time earn $23,260 on average annually compared to the male equivalent of $32,824. With the income ratio 0.71 to the dollar, women’s earnings ratio is approximately 29 percent less than men.[iii] If this trend in wage disparity continues, women in Missouri will not achieve equal pay until 2066.[iv]

When looking at the wage gap, it is necessary to remember the context. According to “The Simple Truth,” a report published by the AAUW, personal choices do effect the wage gap calculation.[v] These choices vary but, for example, women typically chose majors that get paid less. So “after accounting for major, occupation, economic sector, hours worked, months employed, GPA, type of undergraduate institution, institution selectivity, age, geographical region, and marital status”[vi] there is still a 7 percent- 12 percent difference in pay that remains unexplainable.

While considering all of these factors, there are still nuances to the gendered wage gap. According to “Gender Wage Gap May Be Much Smaller Than Most Think” Women are more likely to temporarily leave jobs to start a family and are thus assigned positions where turnover is less costly.[vii] Furthermore, women who do enter the workforce after having a child often suffer the motherhood penalty. According to “Policy Options for Closing the Gender Gap,” “employers are less likely to hire women with children and generally pay lower salaries to those mothers who are hired.”[viii] As a way to combat this, some women forego motherhood and continue in the pursuit of higher education. Unfortunately, there is research, mentioned later in this report, which suggests not only that women earn less than men at whatever level of education, but in some cases the pay gap is larger the higher the level of education.

Traditionally-male associated jobs tend to pay better than traditionally-female jobs even with the occupational gender segregation decreasing within the last four decades. According to “The Simple Truth,” the increasing number of women in traditional male fields are likely to improve wages for women but will not likely eliminate the wage gap.” By looking at the fundamental differences between gender associated jobs, perhaps the structural issues will become apparent.

Only 29,148 of the total 155,688 job openings are in the traditionally female occupation field.[ix] So with more women joining the workforce, it is only logical that they would have to expand into traditionally-male fields to be employed. The fields typically consist of manual labor, tech/STEM, or higher level management positions. According to a study conducted by the US Department of Labor, the highest percentage of women in a non-traditional field is 23.2 percent who work in the laborers, freight, stock, and material movers group.[x]  Typically physical labor is the cornerstone of the male dominated fields.

Women when challenging these gender roles, have reported that in order to be perceived as equal by their male counterparts, must prove more competent, proficient and accomplished. Even after proving themselves capable, they are often looked at needing to fulfill a more feminine role. This difference has a significant impact on women’s lifetime compensation. By initially undervaluing women, their starting salary is lower-which determines future benefits and raises- thus potential compensation and benefits are downsized.

Economically limiting close to half the workforce hinders potential growth. There are economic, social and developmental benefits for bringing women into the conversation. “There is a lot of research out there that shows that teams work better when women have a seat at the table” says Catherine Jones, a student at the Truman School of Public Affairs, who has worked closely with organizations who focus their attention on combating gender inequity.

Challenging the male stereotype in the workplace is a movement that appears to be gaining steam. “I think people are becoming increasingly aware of gender gaps that exist and are making efforts to address them, but the reality is that many people don’t recognize the barriers that prevent women from obtaining leadership positions or entering male dominated industries” adds Jones. The obstacles often go unnoticed due to the normalization of privilege. In his TED talk on women in the workforce, Jackson Katz, said a reoccurring opposition to including women in the workplace results from some men feeling as though women were taking their jobs.[xi]  The word “their” implies a sense of entitlement over an equal opportunity. Though this mental tendency seems minor, it indicates a step in normalization.  Some would argue that women’s equality in the United States is a battle already won but as gender expert and author, Michael Kimmel would argue: Privilege is invisible to those who have it.[xii] Furthermore, research like the Status of Women report helps to see what degree of the problem still needs to be addressed. At this point, the problem of gender inequality seems to be structural. In current society, it’s standard for more men to procure a position of power than a woman. So when women try to break the mold by securing a high power job, working in physical trades or even becoming CEOs they report facing a greater amount of resistance.

“Missouri needs a systematic change to address workplace inequality,” explains Jones. “In order for this to happen, we need more women represented in leadership positions so that women have a voice at the decision making table. Women are largely underrepresented in leadership positions, including leadership roles in the Capitol, and that lack of representation creates a domino effect where decisions are often made that are not in the best interest of women.”

The research has publicized the numbers but even so, there seems to be some level of disconnect as to why societies should care about increasing women’s rights and overall wellness status.  According to multiple studies, most countries that have higher gender equality have higher levels of happiness, higher rates of retention, productivity, and job satisfaction. Even on a personal scale, comparatively, the more egalitarian relationships and marriages are more likely both partners are happy, according to Michael Kimmel.[xiii] There are global campaigns fighting for women’s equality, more notably the UN’s campaign- HeforShe is attempting to raise awareness to the situation. The UN’s campaign is championed by world leaders and important figures… Sauli Niinisto, President of Finland and Head of State HeforShe champion, explains that “gender equality benefits all of us. It is a human rights issue, as well as a prerequisite for sustainable development. It is for the benefit of the whole society when the full potential of both women and men is put to use.”[xiv]  As the issue is being addressed, it is also important to monitor and analyze the current situation in the local sector.

By looking at the wage gap and gender imbalances at the University of Missouri specifically, a more intimate understanding of the current status of local women can be had. The study, completed by an outside third party, found that there was “no evidence of systematic problems at this level.” Although there was uneven distribution of men and women across academic ranks, when their ranks, personal and work related statistics were discounted there was only a .3 percent-1.5 percent unexplained gap which isn’t statistically significant.[xv] Although there may be a lack of inequality at the university, the state of Missouri as a whole cannot claim equality and therefore the status of women still remains in need of monitoring.

The Status of Women Report provides the needed data and context to inform the public and public officials so that they can work in conjunction to face this issue. Additionally, the report recently contributed analysis and leverage for the proposed legislation: House Bill 44. Although addressing pay equality for gender the bill does not propose regulating pay, instead, it provided a platform for an official investigation into pay equality.[xvi] While this legislative step didn’t make it all the way to the Governor’s desk, on December 4th, Governor Jay Nixon signed an Executive Order in Kansas City at the annual Women’s Foundation Luncheon directing state agencies to examine their pay standards in order to close any existing gender pay gaps within Missouri.

In “Policy Options for Closing the Gender Wage Gap,” Erickson outlines several tangible steps to aid in closing the wage gap. From raising the minimum wage to instating paid family leave and sick days to fair work schedules or even affordable high quality day care, there are options for helping empower working women.[xvii] These tactics rely heavily on changing public policy on a systematic level and on a more corporate level through legislation.

However, legislation isn’t the only avenue for promoting equality. “Women must be advocates for themselves and advocates for one another. There is research that suggests that women are more likely to doubt themselves or their qualifications for a job than their male counterparts – so for me, it starts with empowering yourself and your friends to go after the positions you deserve,” Jones reveals. She adds, “Personally, this means always recognizing the incredible things the women around me are doing, introducing them to one another, and building a network of women to surround myself with that inspire me to be my best self. When you’re constantly surrounded by a supportive environment, it’s easier to recognize your own strengths and feel empowered when tackling some of the challenges that women face.”

[i] World Bank Database: United States Population (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL.FE.ZS/countries/US?display=graph)

[ii] The American Association of University Women (AAUW) (Fall 2015) The Simple Truth about The Gender Pay Gap: www.aauw.org/(The-Simple-Truth-Fall-2015.pdf)

[iii] The Women’s Foundation: The Status of Women in Missouri: http://www.womens-foundation.org/ (http://static1.squarespace.com/static/545815dce4b0d75692c341a8/t/54c91763e4b0b2877e1b9e8d/1422464867933/Status-of-Women-in-MO-Comprehensive-Report.pdf)

[iv] The Women’s Foundation: The Status of Women in Missouri: http://www.womens-foundation.org/ (http://static1.squarespace.com/static/545815dce4b0d75692c341a8/t/54c91763e4b0b2877e1b9e8d/1422464867933/Status-of-Women-in-MO-Comprehensive-Report.pdf)

[v] The American Association of University Women (AAUW) (Fall 2015) The Simple Truth about The Gender Pay Gap: www.aauw.org/(The-Simple-Truth-Fall-2015.pdf)

[vi] The American Association of University Women (AAUW) (Fall 2015) The Simple Truth about The Gender Pay Gap: www.aauw.org/(The-Simple-Truth-Fall-2015.pdf)

[vii] The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis: Gender Wage Gap May Be Much Smaller Than Most Think: www.stlouisfed.org/~/media/Files/PDFs/publications/pub_assets/pdf/re/2011/d/gender_wage_gap.pdf

[viii] The Institute of Public Policy: Policy Options for Closing the Gender Gap: (https://ipp.missouri.edu/publications/policy-options-for-closing-the-gender-wage-gap/)

[ix] Missouri Department of Economic Development: Women in the Workforce: (https://www.missourieconomy.org/pdfs/women_in_workforce.pdf)

[x] US Department of labor: Nontraditional Occupations of Employed Women in 2010 (http://www.dol.gov/wb/stats/NontraJobs_2010.htm)

[xi]Jason Katz: Violence Against Women, It’s a Men’s Issue (https://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue)

[xii] Michael Kimmel: Why Gender Equality is Good for Everyone, Men Included (https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_kimmel_why_gender_equality_is_good_for_everyone_men_included?language=en)

[xiii]  Michael Kimmel: Why Gender Equality is Good for Everyone, Men Included (https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_kimmel_why_gender_equality_is_good_for_everyone_men_included?language=en)

[xiv] HeforShe: Sauli Niinisto (http://www.heforshe.org/impact/sauli-niinisto/)

[xv] University of Missouri Office of the Provost: Internal Salary Equity Study for the University of Missouri (http://provost.missouri.edu/documents/SalaryEquityStudyWithCoverLetter2015.pdf)

[xvi] The Institute of Public Policy: IPP Research Lends Insight into New Legislation (https://ipp.missouri.edu/2015/04/ipp-research-lends-insight-into-new-legislation/)

[xvii] The Institute of Public Policy: Policy Options for Closing the Gender Gap: (https://ipp.missouri.edu/publications/policy-options-for-closing-the-gender-wage-gap/)