Gender wage gap persists in Wyoming

Aug 31, 2012

The gender wage gap in Wyoming is the largest in the nation. And that’s not news, either…it’s been this way for years. Groups around the state are working to fix it through policy, training programs, and education, but Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov reports that it could be the state’s industries that keep the gap firmly in place.

Zhorov: The wage gap, when calculated using full-time, year-round wages for women and men, is 65 cents on the dollar in Wyoming. That means for every dollar a Wyoming man earns, a woman earns just 65 cents. The national average is 77 cents on the dollar.

Keinath: Jobs that are traditionally female, so for instance teachers or nurses, are paid below the national average and jobs that are traditionally male, for instance construction work, are paid above the national average.

Zhorov: That’s Executive Director of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation, Richelle Keinath.

According to a report the Foundation released in 2011, even in traditionally female professions, men get paid significantly more than women. That’s because even within a field, men and women are often not working the same jobs. 

Director of Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, Joan Evans, says there’s another big issue, too.

Evans: Some of it can be attributed to the types of occupations that we have here in the state. Because we are very industrial, very energy oriented, a lot of those positions are held by men and traditionally not held by women.

Zhorov: Traditionally male professions, like mining, construction, and manufacturing make up about 25 percent of the state’s jobs. And those are jobs, says Evans, that women often can’t do…

Evans: Let’s use truck driving as an example: if you’re a single mom, you are not going to be able to do over the road trucking. You may be able to take a job as a truck driver that is limited to a particular area but you’re going to want to not be on-call, you’re going to want to be close to home in case there’s an emergency with your kids…

Zhorov: Matt Garland, owner and partner in North Star Energy and Construction, employs 15 women among his 380 employees.

Garland: Our standard word day on truck driving is usually 11 hours a day and it can go up to 6 days a week and it’s not always at home. It takes a support system for their kids getting them to and from daycare, so it is very hard in this industry for ladies to fit that schedule.

Zhorov: Garland says he’d hire more women if they applied…

Garland: I know that the ladies we do have and the ones that come on are very good employees, they have a few issue maybe with kid care and stuff like that, they do a heck of a good job. 

Zhorov: He also says only his female employees come to him with child care issues.

Most of the women Garland has hired completed a training program through Climb Wyoming, a non-profit that helps single mothers get well-paying work. Climb Wyoming focuses on workforce needs in specific areas and trains women to fill those gaps.

Garland: Until these training programs started up to train them in this heavy equipment and also truck driving and stuff they just didn’t have the experience to do it so they usually didn’t apply.

Zhorov: There are other initiatives, too. The legislature has increased teachers’ wages, which is a field dominated by women. There’s a Nursing Work Force Center in the works to help nurses – also a predominantly female occupation – streamline their education. There are Leap into Leadership workshops to help women get into leadership positions and STEM education to encourage women to pursue high-paying fields, like engineering, while they’re in school.

But the child care issue is an important one. Richelle Keinath, of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation again:

Keinath: The cost of child care is prohibitive for some, so it just makes more sense to stay home than to be able to work and have their child cared for in a facility where they feel like they’re getting the education or the care that they need. So access to quality child care, affordable quality child care is a huge piece of the issue for women’s access to work. 

Zhorov: The Foundation did a study that found that just the extractive industries, along with support industries, widened the gap by 7 cents. Making those work places more flexible could help narrow it.

But some of the work rests with women themselves.

Workforce Services’ Joan Evans says this:

Evans: I guess if I had any advice it would be that as women, if we’re in a position to say I am a value to you, employer, please value this service that I can contribute equally to what you would value a male’s contribution and take that opportunity to negotiate.

Zhorov: The WAGE Project runs workshops to train women how to negotiate effectively. Katie Boysen used to give these workshops all over the state.

Boysen: Women simply don’t ask for raises. And that’s a large part of why we have this wage gap.

Zhorov: Boysen says that’s an attitude that has stagnated in the state along with the wage gap.

Boysen: I did it with a group in Casper College with both boys and girls. It was really interesting because you think we’re really modern, college age girls they’re not going to have any problems, but they did. And to the boys, it was almost like a joke, they had no problem.

Zhorov: Boysen says women are socialized not to talk about money.

In Wyoming, the wage gap now is where the national average was in the 1980s. During a recession, like now, it tends to narrow. But that’s because men are getting fired more, not because women are getting paid more. When hiring starts up again, the state may see if it’s progressed any closer to where it should be.

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Irina Zhorov.