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Omaha Magazine

Building Pay Equity: Pandemic Threatens to Set Back Women but Offers Opportunity for Businesses

Nov 23, 2020 06:34PM ● By Scott Stewart
Sarah Moylan of Greater Omaha Chamber

Photo provided

Unless one wins the literal or metaphoric lottery, wealth is accumulated gradually.
Every investor understands that the foundation of the buy-and-hold strategy is compound growth. Money wisely invested today makes money for tomorrow, and tomorrow’s money makes even more the next day.

Investors seek to accelerate that growth while avoiding losses. Many, though, find financial growth—or even the prospect of financial independence—is dampened by lower earnings. Those who have less today will, statistically, have proportionally less tomorrow.

All too often, gender and race determine financial horizons in Omaha and elsewhere in the
United States.

“Ultimately, even when we factor in the meaningful indicators that could sort of justify pay disparities like experience, education, occupation, industry, etc., you still find that women are paid less than men,” said Tiffany Joekel, research and policy director for Women’s Fund of Omaha, a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of girls and women in the metropolitan area.

The average woman earns $82 for every $100 earned by a man in Omaha, according to the most recent census figures. Across Nebraska, the average woman only earns $77.70 per $100 earned by a man.

“When we break those numbers down by race and ethnicity across the state, the pay gap is much more pronounced,” Joekel said.

In Nebraska, the average Black woman earns $60.80 for every $100 a white man earns. The average Asian woman earns $68.90, while a Native American woman earns $59.90 and a Latina woman earns only $55.50. Those pay inequities stack up over time, and often carry across generations.

The average woman worker with a high-school diploma loses more than $530,000 over the course of her lifetime, and the average college-educated woman loses nearly $800,000, according to research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The gender pay gap is a multifaceted problem, Joekel said.

“The gender pay gap is a problem. It’s got lots of prongs and factors that contribute to it, and thus multiple solutions,” Joekel said. “When we’re talking about pay equity, we’re not necessarily just talking about pay practices within companies.”

Employers should consider basing pay for new hires on a salary range that reflects the value of the position and the person, Joekel said. They should not even ask for a salary history.

“Efforts to promote pay equity within a business is really valued by employees,” Joekel said. “To the extent that employers are actively working to ensure their compensation is fair and their treatment of similar situated employees is fair, there are payoffs in work culture that translate in lots of way—to increased retention, better attraction of talent, and better workforce productivity.”

While overall the gender pay gap is persistent and pernicious, there are industries where it’s less prevalent, according to a review of 2019 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many occupations where women are paid slightly more than men—such as paralegals and legal assistants, court or municipal clerks, preschool and kindergarten teachers, and flight attendants—are “pink collar” jobs dominated by women. Other fields where the pay gap is small include housekeeping, food preparation and servers, hairdressing, and child care.

According to the BLS data, only female veterinarians are typically paid significantly more than their male colleagues, an average of $103,300 versus $92,200 annually in 2019. The largest gap between men and women was among physicians and surgeons, with the average male doctor making $130,000 versus a female doctor’s $97,650. Legal professionals, web developers, and chief executives are also among the top echelons of gender pay inequity.

Certain industries are also feeling the effect of the pandemic-induced recession, and most of them are industries where women are overrepresented, Joekel said. Those industries include personal care, administration, travel, hospitality, child care, and teaching.

“It’s unclear what extent to which they have recovered or will recover,” Joekel said.
Sarah Moylan, senior director of talent at the Greater Omaha Chamber, said that Nebraska women already faced higher unemployment than their peers. This summer, the Nebraska Department of Labor reported that 59% of the state’s unemployed population was female.
The stresses of the pandemic makes it likely that Nebraska’s gender pay gap will become worse,
“The pandemic is having an adverse effect on women,” Moylan said. “Regardless how long these factors have persisted, workplace inequities are connected.”

The recession that’s followed the onset of the pandemic has hit women so hard that the nonprofit news outlet The 19th dubbed it “America’s first female recession.” Researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research estimate that it could take 20 years for the gender pay gap to return to pre-pandemic levels.

“The pandemic simply exacerbated all of those existing challenges and barriers,” Joekel said.
Shifts in workplace culture as a result of the pandemic do offer some hope.

Many employers are dealing more directly with the caregiving responsibilities of workers, especially those who spent months working at home. Telework could shift traditional gender roles for some families, as men take on more caregiving.

The opposite is also possible, as families forced to choose to have one parent stay home with their children often end up forfeiting the mother’s job. Joekel said employers seeking workers would do well to bring some of those women back into the workforce.

“The reality is that there are a lot of women that are ready and willing and would like to stay in the workforce, but the jobs just don’t fit the needs of their family,” Joekel said.

On a broader level, raising minimum wages, or wages altogether, can help reduce inequity, according to the Economic Policy Institute. “This is because gender wage parity does not improve women’s economic prospects to the greatest possible extent if wages for men and women remain equal but stagnant in the future,” according to a 2015 EPI briefing paper.

Increasing access to child care is also critical to the economy, Joekel said. Advancing policies such as paid family and medical leave that are supportive of caregiving, along with expanding early childhood education, could pay significant dividends.

“We’ve seen how difficult that is when child care is not available,” Joekel said. “We could make Omaha the best place to work if we think more broadly about these supports.”

This article was published in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of B2B.