Women's History Month Kick-Off: Reflections on Wyoming's Gender Wage Gap

This morning, the Wyoming Women's Action Network finished up an interview with the editor of a college paper here in Wyoming. When we started the exchange, she asked a host of questions:

  1. Do you think that the “Study of Disparity in Wages and Benefits Between Men and Women in Wyoming” study properly addressed all the problems from the gender wage gap? 

  2. Why do you think Wyoming has the widest pay gap in the country?

  3. Why do you think more women can’t or aren’t work in the higher paying industries such as coal and oil?

  4. Do you think that tax based crypt o currently will have any effect on the gender wage gap?

  5. Do you have any new initiatives outside of the three proposed bills that have potential to even out the wage gap?

  6. What do you think of the findings in the Study of Disparity in Wages and Benefits Between Men and Women in Wyoming?

  7. Why do you think people were opposed to the other two bills?

  8. Do you think the way that we treat girls at a young age has an effect on what jobs they pursue when they grow up (ie do you think that toys that are based on gender stereotypes have a negative effect on our children and youth and had a negative effect on us?)

The best place to start was a recap of all five wage bills from the 65th Legislative Session.


There were three gender wage gap bills that came out of the Interim Study and were put forward by Joint Labor/Health. Those were HB0071 Equal pay - penalties, HB0072 Wage transparency, and HB0084 Wage equality - state employees and programs


As you know, HB0071 passed both chambers, was signed by Gov Gordon and has been enacted!


Wage transparency is well supported by data (this is a great, recent piece on the topic: Want To Close The Pay Gap? Transparency Will Help). In fact, the research shows that transparency not only helps with the gender wage gap, it also leads to more motivated and productive workers. I can send you a lot more research on this. HB0072 would have addressed this by prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who share their compensation.


Wage equality is based on the research showing that companies often don't know that they have gender wage gaps (Salesforce is a high profile, recent example) and that annual or biannual audits can help address this by providing more information. They're relatively simple to do and tend to be cost effective. A recent study in Denmark demonstrated that businesses saw no damage to their bottom line when they audited and corrected for gender wage gaps (the Salesforce experience shows the same, at least anecdotally). HB0084 would have addressed this for state employees - and asked that start up businesses receiving state funds followed suit.


It is important to note that, in addition to these three bills, Minority Floor Leader Connolly put forward two other wage bills: HB0178 Prospective employees - salary history and HB0273 Minimum wage. Both of which are incredibly important (both of which failed this session, unfortunately.)


There is research that shows that when employers base the salary of an employee on that employee's salary at previous job(s), there is a likelihood of perpetuating past wage discrimination. That same research shows that among the best ways to combat gender wage gaps is to publish salaries, promote transparency, and base salaries on skills, experience, and education not past pay. HB0178 would have addressed this. 


Minimum wage affects women - and, by extension, the gender wage gap - because women are disproportionately likely to be working in low wage jobs. The R&P Report from Dept of Workforce Services on wage disparities notes that a raise in minimum wage would be a potential legislative solution to address the gender wage gap in Wyoming. (Page 7: "Raise the minimum wage and raise or eliminate the tipped minimum wage - approximately 2/3 of minimum wage and tipped workers are women.) HB0273 would have addressed this.


We need to work on these issues in the interim - with Legislators, with the Governor, with private industry, with individual women - and educate our state about what we can do together and why these pieces of legislation are part of a bigger picture, one that results in a stronger economy for Wyoming and more economic security for women.


And then we asked the good reporter: If you had to prioritize, what are your top three questions? She said she could distill it to this: Do you think there are any real solutions to this and what are they?


So we'll tell you what we told her:


The gender wage gap is real and, by acknowledging that, we can take steps across sectors to address it. 


It will take a suite of solutions - more than one thing - to address the gender wage gap, but it can definitely be done. Some of those changes will be personal and some systemic. This is where the report did a great job: If you check out page 7, it describes what government and legislators can do, what businesses can do, and steps that individuals can take. 


These are changes that can be made at all levels of our lives. 


Teaching negotiation to women who aren't experienced in negotiating can be part of the solution. But that has to be accompanied by voluntary changes in the private section combined with legislation that supports women and executive actions and decisions that expand women's roles. Overall, it will have to be a combination of decisions and actions taken together to move us forward. The Wyoming Women's Action Network exists to advocate for all types of solutions: personal, private sector, and government. 


A really simple example - that requires both governmental changes and individual responsibility (and isn't listed in the report because it isn't wage gap specific but has been successful as an early step in other states) - is to ensure that the gender composition of members of the state's appointed boards and commission's reflects Wyoming's population. That can be done by executive order, as it has been in other places, as well as by conscious decision making by those in leadership roles. And it requires more women to step up and apply to those roles. The research shows that having more diverse boards improves outcomes.


The added benefit is that a simple action like adding women to appointed boards and commissions creates a larger pool of women who are well-versed in issues facing the state who can then potentially run for office. In turn, having more women running for and elected to office changes the conversations that are taking place. The more that women are at the table as decision-makers, the more that women's experiences are represented in the decisions that are made. 

There are reasons for optimism. Over the course of Women's History Month, we'll detail some examples from other states and talk about their successes and obstacles. Together, we can chart the path forward!

 

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