Guest post by Hilary Morgan, CEO, YWCA Alaska
In 1963, the U.S. Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, prohibiting pay discrimination on the basis of gender. More than 50 years later, the pay gap has narrowed at a dismal pace. Nationally, women are currently paid an average of 78 cents for every dollar men make. In Alaska, that rate drops to 67.8 cents for every dollar and the gap closed just 5 cents between 1990 and 2014.
In a state where 48% of workers are women, the gender pay gap has a large economic impact. As a group, women who are employed full time in Alaska lose approximately $1.2 billion every year due to the pay gap. The gap exists in every major Alaska industry and in all regions of the state. Families, businesses and the economy suffer as a result. Alaska employers commonly refer to Alaska’s labor “puddle” rather than labor pool. In a state already facing a shortage of qualified workers, gender pay inequity poses yet another hurdle for companies trying to attract the most talented employees, of all genders.
The pay gap is also increasingly important as women play a growing role in their families’ economic security. Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40% of households. Yet mothers are paid just 69% of what fathers make. For single mothers, it’s even worse. Single mothers in Alaska make 62.8% of what single fathers earn. And 20.5% of single mother households fall below the poverty line. Closing the pay gap would enhance financial stability for families across the state while providing businesses a much needed economic boost.
Without a large, community-wide effort, the gender pay gap in Alaska will not close until 2142. The personal choices of women cannot explain the persistence of gender pay inequity. The pay gap exists in all industries, is present within occupations, and persists regardless of educational attainment. In fact, Alaska women with bachelor’s degrees make almost $8,500 less per year than men with associate’s degrees or only some college education.
In May of 2014, the YWCA Alaska Board of Directors resolved to eliminate Alaska’s gender pay gap by 2025. YWCA Alaska’s Gender Pay Gap Initiative concentrates on the economic implications of the gap. Instead of promoting legislation, the initiative focuses on changing the societal, educational and economic dynamics that contribute to the gender pay gap. The YWCA is working directly with businesses, organizations and their leaders to create gender-balanced workplaces. We’re also working to further educate women and girls on career choice, salary negotiation and the subtle nuances of gender bias.
YWCA Alaska believes that by giving businesses the tools to build gender neutral policies and helping prepare women and girls to enter the workforce, the gender pay gap in Alaska can be eliminated. The Initiative is quickly gaining community support and momentum. By working with the statewide community, YWCA Alaska will be able to transform Alaska’s workplaces to not only guarantee equal pay and opportunity for working women, but to also ensure that Alaska businesses are able to find and recruit the talented workers they need to enhance the state’s economic growth.