At current rate, equal pay is decades away, St. Louis women's advocacy group says | St. Louis Public Radio

At current rate, equal pay is decades away, St. Louis women's advocacy group says

Apr 10, 2018

While pay for most Missouri women lags behind that of men, leaders at the Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis say some local businesses are leading the way in compensation as well as hiring and promoting women.

The organization released results from a 2017 Employment Scorecard survey ahead of Equal Pay Day, April 10, a symbolic date that draws awareness to pay inequality between men and women, and some cases among women themselves. 

According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, full-time, year-round women workers in Missouri earn about 80 cents on the dollar, compared to white men who also work full-time all year. 

In a 41-question survey, the foundation asked employers in the region about their workplace practices. Foundation board member and scorecard creator Kate Kerr hopes the survey will generate discussion around solutions.

The scorecard "is focused on how do you overcome barriers for economic dependence for women,” Kerr said. “In thinking about that, we’re thinking about what are the barriers that exist in the workplace and looking to analyze that.”

Questions on the survey addressed hiring and retention as well as compensation and family leave practices. Kerr says the foundation will use survey information to further the organization's mission to help women become company leaders and earn higher wages.

Among the companies honored by the foundation for workplace equity is St. Louis County accounting firm Brown Smith Wallace. The company reported in 2017 that women make up 57 percent of its staff. The report also notes that 35 percent of women there are partners or principals.

Accountant Karen Stern said Brown Smith Wallace implements modified work schedules and training to ensure women rise through the ranks.

“We’ve put a great amount of effort and budget dollars from Brown Smith Wallace into assisting our women,” Stern said.

As an employee of the company for more than 30 years, Stern said she benefited from flexible work hours that allowed her to care for her children. The company also provides management training for women.

Top Missouri Employers for Women in the Workplace (WFSTL Scorecard):

  • Anders
  • Brown Smith Wallace
  • Bryan Cave, LLP
  • Saint Louis Zoo
  • Doorways
  • The Missouri Foundation for Health 

Mind the pay gap

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Statewide population data shows that females in Missouri ages 16 and older who work full-time jobs all year won’t earn as much as men until 2066, according to a March report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The estimate, projected from census records and American Survey Community data, is a striking statistic to Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis Executive Director Lisa Picker.

“My five-year-old will be in her forties by then,” Picker said. “I want to do better by for women and girls in Missouri.”

Picker believes several waves of women’s movements have helped women advance in the workplace in general, but emphasized there is much room for improvement, particularly in Missouri.

“We know what’s good for women, is good for families. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for the community,” she said. “I encourage women to speak up, to find each other, to lock arms together and we can create change and positive outcomes for women and children in our community together.”

Diversity divide

While there is a gender disparity in pay, there is also a racial/ethnic one.

Black and Hispanic women in Missouri earn 67 cents and 61 cents on the dollar, respectively, compared to white men, according to the study. Asian men and women in the state earn more than any other racial group, at medium incomes of $55,809 for men and $37,921 for women.

Gabriela Ramirez-Arellano of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce says said hurdles that keep Hispanic women earning less than other women could include late entry into the workforce.

She said that was her story. She was married with kids and a stay at home mom. She didn’t reenter the labor market until 40.

“Sometimes making those personal sacrifices for our families, we get either later in the market or by the time we get in the market some of those skill sets are outdated,” she said, adding says that sometimes education or citizenship can also prevent some people from earning more.

“I could be a doctor, attorney or some other profession in my country and then come to the United States where I can’t practice law and have to be a bartender or waitress,” she said.

Ramirez-Arellano helps women at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in St. Louis learn how to start their own businesses.

Ask for more

Aside from hiring practices, education and job sector play roles in the pay gap.

The National Women’s Law Center reports that women make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers. They say higher minimum wages and tipped wages could close the gender pay gap. Workers are advocating for initiatives across the country to increase minimum wage to $15. Kerr says women in every sector shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a raise.

“Even if you ask for a small increase, the impact over time that that makes in the course of your career is significant and astounding,” she said.

Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative “Sharing America,” covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.