On Men, Women, Legislators, the Governor, and Sins of Omission

Governor Gordon was one of seven governors who met with President Trump and Secretary of Labor Acosta today in DC. According to a press release from Gov. Gordon's office, "Governor Gordon highlighted the Wyoming Works program, which was created through legislation passed earlier this year. The program will help expand technical and trade programs at Wyoming’s community colleges. It is intended to help address immediate and anticipated demand for a skilled workforce to fill identified occupational needs in Wyoming."


At the same time, the fourteen members of Joint Labor/Health were meeting in Riverton, WY to discuss other pressing occupational needs: shortages in caregiving professions, roles disproportionately filled by women. (In fact, when they attempted to disaggregate the data about the employment of certified nurse's assistants (CNAs) by gender, there were simply too few men to do so.) Unfortunately, in spite of gender's central role in the discussion, at no point in the proceedings was the role of gender made explicit. No one mentioned the gender wage gap. The committee spoke about turnover and lack of trained staff, but they did so in a context that deliberately overlooked the value of trained female workers doing specialized skilled work and the importance of their work product (caring for vulnerable humans). Instead, the committee spent time on how to reduce costs when the *women* performing this work as paid caregivers are *already* doing physically and emotionally taxing work for very low wages.


The Committee missed the opportunity to foreground gender and apply a gender lens for positive effect. They missed the opportunity to say what the Governor said from his platform in DC: "My goal is to help Wyomingites gain the skills needed to improve the quality of their work, their take home pay, and ultimately to create better lives for themselves and their families." But the subtext is that we care what happens to the men and the jobs that men do. We care that they have them, that they are trained for them, that those jobs pay them well. In contrast, the absence of any similar remarks - either by the Governor or members of the Committee - reminds us that our state's leaders continue to be unwilling to discuss the same economic expansion and opportunity for women.


Wyoming has among the most sex-segregated workforces in the nation (along with one of the worst gender wage gaps and highest worker death rates). We continue to laud the jobs that men take - even as we put their lives at risk to justify their high wages - while systematically devaluing the work that women do.


But there is a win-win in front of us: The state has the opportunity not only to improve care for our aging populations but also to improve the economic prospects for thousands of women who work in the field as CNAs and paid caregivers.


We encourage you to contact your Legislators and make public comment in Riverton tomorrow at 10:15am.

 

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