Montana News

Dec 27, 2013 1:18 AM by Sanjay Talwani (sanjay@kxlh.com)

Task force addresses gender pay gap in Montana

HELENA - Studies show that women sometimes don't get paid as much as men for the same work, and Governor Steve Bullock's (D-MT) Equal Pay For Equal Work Task Force is addressing the issue.

Earlier this month, the Task Force heard from Jessi Smith, a professor of psychology at Montana State University, to get a view of what they're up against.

Smith took a look at her own employer, MSU - whose president, Waded Cruzado, is a Task Force member.

Smith's finding's: Female tenure-track professors make, on average, $4,000 less per year than their male counterparts.

The pay gap is true even when adjusted for levels of experience, she said.

And it's not just MSU - similar data can be found nationwide.

Smith said "shifting standards" keep the pay gap alive: "This is that notion that, ‘She makes a lot of money - for a woman. She runs fast - for a girl'."

Put another way, a woman is often considered successful when she makes the same salary that might not indicate success for a man.

The bias begins early. One experiment asked kids to draw pictures of scientists, and nearly all drew men.

It continues with the job application process. Smith referenced studies in which groups of employers were given job applications that were identical, except for the names. The fake applicants with male names got more - and better - offers than their female counterparts.

When the female applications added just one family-oriented item, such as involvement in a parent-teacher association, their situation got even worse. They received fewer offers at still lower pay and were held to greater standards of performance and punctuality than those without that resume item, according to a 2007 study cited by Smith.

Another study asked Ohio voters about two fictitious politicians considering running for president. Even with identical records of public service, the women were more often judged by the voters to be too inexperienced for the job than were the male candidates.

And even as women have entered male-dominated fields, such as medicine, the women haven't always joined the men at the higher pay levels. Instead, the overall pay scale of the field has lowered as women joined - except in specialties that remain dominated by men.

Smith said women are less likely than men to negotiate for higher salaries or to aggressively seek promotions. And when they do, it's often counter-productive.

"Here's the conundrum. If the woman self-promotes, she might experience backlash, not get the raise, not get hired," Smith said. "But if she doesn't, she's definitely not going to get the raise, or get hired, or get the scholarship money."

So what can the Task Force do in terms of policy to combat such deep social realities?

Pam Bucy, Montana Labor Commissioner and a member of the Task Force, said some changes can happen just by making people aware. But the Task Force, which has held only two meetings so far, expects to make some specific policy recommendations.

Some are simple matters of recruiting and retention policy, making application processes truly gender-neutral. Some might want to strengthen family-leave laws and policies.

Bucy said the Task Force will continue research, including outreach to business interests about what works and what doesn't work.

"There are ways to get rid of our ingrained and even unaware biases that we might have through some pretty simple practices." she said after the December meeting. "We can to talk to women about how to negotiate for pay and benefits and how to do it really transparently and address some of the backlash or some of the negative consequences of doing that."

There are some positive indicators: A recent study shows that the gender gap for pay is almost gone among men and women 25 and younger, Bucy said. But historically, the gap has always been less severe among younger people, and grows as workers age.

The Task Force plans a summit on the issue in April.

Its duties also include developing a pay equity self-audit for public and private employers. Bullock also called on the Task Force to "lead by example" by conducting a state employee workforce audit and making recommendations to ensure pay equity in state agencies and contractors.

Here is a list of people that Governor Bullock appointed to the task force in August 2013:

- President Waded Cruzado, Bozeman. Qualification: Higher Education. Cruzado is the President of Montana State University - Bozeman.

- Jen Euell, Helena. Qualification: Non-Profit Organization. Euell is the Program Director at the Women's Foundation of Montana.

- Dean Barry Good, Missoula. Qualification: Higher Education. Good is the Dean at Missoula College University of Montana.

- Amy Grmoljez, Helena. Qualification: Private Business. Grmoljez is a Partner with Crowley Fleck, PLLP, practicing in Government Affairs.

- Mayor Tom Hanel, Billings. Qualification: Local Government. Hanel is the Mayor of Billings, and a Realtor.

- Jacquie Helt, Helena. Qualification: Organized Labor. Helt is the State Director for SEIU Healthcare 775 NW.

- Deb Larson, Bozeman. Qualification: Private Business. Larson is the principal and owner of Interior Environments, Inc.

- Kim Rickard, Helena. Qualification: Organized Labor. Rickard is the Business Manager for LIUNA Local 1686.

- Amy Stiffarm, Polson. Qualification: Tribal Member. Stiffarm has been the Laboratory Manager for Salish Kootenai College and will be returning to school in the fall.

- Scott Wilson, Bozeman. Qualification: Private Business. Wilson is the President of CTA, an architectural and engineering design firm.

The Executive Order issued by Bullock that established the task force states:

WHEREAS, 60% of Montana women are in the labor force, making up an essential part of Montana's economy;
WHEREAS, nationally women earn 71.5% of men's median earnings;
WHEREAS, in Montana, women workers earn 67.1 %, putting Montana in 39th place for gender equity in the workforce;
WHEREAS, when considering fulltime workers only, Montana women earn 74.2% of the median earnings of Montana men, placing Montana 43rd in pay equity for fulltime workers;
WHEREAS, despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women have only closed the wage gap by 18 cents since 1970;
WHEREAS, Montana women are grossly underrepresented in high-paying fields traditionally dominated by male workers;
WHEREAS, institutional and cultural barriers have been identified that contribute to the wage gap in Montana and the country as a whole;
WHEREAS, narrowing the wage gap for Montana women will boost their earning potential, strengthen Montana working families, and open opportunities for a whole new generation of women in the workforce;
WHEREAS, it is the duty of the Governor of the State of Montana and his appointed Commissioner of Labor and Industry to support and foster economic growth in Montana;
WHEREAS, it is appropriate and beneficial to establish the Governor's Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force ("Task Force").

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