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Potholes on Road to Women’s Equality

Rocky Road to Women's Equality

The measurable obstacles on women’s road to equality cause set backs for our children and families, too.

When I attended a Women’s Foundation of Minnesota “Road to Equality Tour” event last week, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a boss many jobs and many years ago.  It went like this:

Me: “Why is John paid more than I am?  We have the same title, work the same hours and produce the same amount of copy every week.”

Boss: “Because John has a wife and kids to support.”

Me (out loud): “Okay.”  Me (silently): “That doesn’t sound right, but I better not say anything more or he’ll fire me.”

True story.

The Unexplained Women’s Pay Gap
Supervisors today may not be so blatantly biased, but discrimination still causes a significant pay gap for women.

According to the latest “Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota” research, published by the University of Minnesota Humphrey School’s Center on Women & Public Policy in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota,  white women earn 20% less than white males.  Asian American, African American and American Indian, and Latina women earn 26%, 38% and 43% less than white men.

Why is this data so important and so alarming?  Because working mothers are increasingly the primary breadwinners for their families.  Nearly half of white moms are the  main wage earner in their families, and 60 to 80 percent of Latina, African American and American Indian moms bring home most or all of the bacon.

So, maybe we should put an ironic twist on my  former boss’ (convoluted) logic:  Women today should therefore earn more — not less — than men, right?

Underpaying Women Hurts the Kids, Too
Another report finding I found shocking is that over the last decade the number of Minnesota families with children living below the poverty line rose 64%.

That means more than 80,000 families struggle to cover essential needs . . . food, housing, transportation, child care and more.  Hmmm.  It’s not hard to see the connection between the poverty rate and another research fact:  That 36% of Minnesota’s homeless population are children with parents and unaccompanied minors.

More on Women and Leadership, Health, Safety and Economic Status
The 2014 “Status of Women & Girls” research is rich with eye-opening economic data, plus much more on safety, health and leadership.

I found the statistics on women in leadership particularly compelling because of their potential correlation with women’s diminished economic status. For instance:

  • Since 1998, gains in women’s political representation has flat lined in Minnesota.
  • In female-dominated sectors (e.g., nonprofits and education) where 70% or more of the workforce is women, more than 70% of the top leaders are male.
  • For every 50 new independent directors who are added to Minnesota’s corporate boards each year, only about a dozen are women and virtually none are women of color.

We Can Smooth the Bumpy Road
I admire the Women’s Foundation and the Humphrey School for raising up these data that mark the giant obstacles on the road to equality.  And I also commend their unflagging efforts to create pathways to prosperity for women and girls.

Be sure to read the last section of the research report (pdf).  It features practical, actionable steps you and I can take to change outcomes for women today.  Think of our actions as filling the potholes on the road to equality.  Together we can build a smoother road that benefits everyone —  women, our families and our communities — here in Minnesota and beyond.

Photo cc Amanda Slater


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