SHERIDAN — In an era highlighted by the constant striving for gender equality, Wyoming women still receive less wages overall than men. Women earn $0.68 for every dollar a man earns, though a recent study suggested possible solutions to continue closing the gap.
Wyoming is the second worst state for continued wage gaps between men and women, coming in just above Louisiana. The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services research and planning section prepared a report in response to 2017 House Bill 209, which sought to better understand disparity in wages and benefits between men and women. The bill allowed the department to update and expand on a similar 2003 study.
The 2003 study found women earned 66.8 percent of what men earned on average in the state, translating to around $0.67 to the dollar. The updated study found Wyoming women earning $0.68 to the dollar.
The updated study’s introduction said the gender wage disparity is often attributed to differences in occupations, industries, hours worked, experience and gender discrimination. The 2002 study estimated between 2 and 12 percent of the wage gap can be attributed to discrimination.
The Wyoming Women’s Foundation invests in the economic self-sufficiency of women and opportunities for girls in Wyoming. Over the weekend, the nonprofit hosted its annual women’s antelope hunt, and while director Rebekah Smith said she hadn’t had a chance to look over the entire study, she said in an interview with The Sheridan Press last month that there are several policy areas that could help improve Wyoming’s gender wage gap.
For example, Smith said, passing laws that create consistent work schedules — because many low-wage jobs require inconsistent availability — and requiring employers to provide sick leave — because often women must care for children who are sick and without sick leave that becomes difficult.
For the updated study, legislators asked that the study focus on disparities by county and occupation, comparisons to other states, causes, impacts on Wyoming’s economy and possible solutions.
The study compared reasons why women might receive less wages than men by life variables. Women and men who had both earned a bachelor’s degree came in with the narrowest wage gap, with women earning $0.95 to the dollar. Those at a younger age tend to receive less than those with more experience in the workforce, but women 25-34 years old earned $.80 on the dollar compared to men.
Potential solutions may take time, though.
“Certainly something like the wage gap is a really complex problem that can’t be solved by any one entity, whether public or private,” Smith said in an interview with The Sheridan Press last month, before the study was released. “It really is a community conversation that needs to happen.”
The original bill co-sponsor, Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, told The Sheridan Press in 2017 the bill would possibly give incentives for private sector employers to initiate efforts to recruit more women for jobs that pay the same wages men receive.
Sheridan does not claim the narrowest wage gap among Wyoming counties, but has the fifth lowest gap in the state. Niobrara County women workers are closest to men in wages at $0.99 to the dollar. Coming in closely to Sheridan is Natrona County, with women earning $0.82 to the dollar.
In terms of industry, financial activities were found to have the widest disparity at $0.65 to the dollar, and health care and social assistance at $0.66 to the dollar.
Christine Dieterich has been Habitat for Humanity of the Eastern Bighorn’s executive director since June 2015 and said she sees the disparity in her day-to-day work at the nonprofit.
“I see it on the homeowners side because we look at everyone’s finances and income,” Dieterich said. “You can definitely tell there’s a discrepancy there. For a male that holds the same position as a female, generally the income is higher.”
Although she believes the nonprofit world is more transparent than other businesses when it comes to knowledge of others’ wages, Dieterich said women often don’t want to “step on people’s toes” after receiving a position like hers.
“I can’t speak for a lot of women but I can speak for myself and when you’re offered a job in leadership as a woman, you want to take that opportunity (and utilize it),” Dieterich said. “You feel lucky enough to have the opportunity that we don’t want to step on toes and fight for our worth, even though we recognize (we might be worth more).”
The study suggested possible solutions from prohibiting employers including requiring applicants to share salary history, which would perpetuate pay gaps; prohibiting retaliation against employees that discuss salary with coworkers; raising minimum wage or the tipped minimum wage, as approximately two-thirds of minimum and tipped wage workers are women; addressing pay equity for public employees; and requiring employers to demonstrate that wage differentials are based on factors other than gender.
Other ideas included teaching women negotiating skills and offering pay equity training or certifications for businesses and human resources professionals.