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What issues confront women in Missouri?

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Social Security Administration
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What progress have women made in our society and what work is still to be done?

In January of 2015, the Women’s Foundation, headquartered in Kansas City, MO, published a report called “The Status of Women in Missouri.”

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Wendy Doyle, President and CEO of the Women’s Foundation, and Sonja Erickson, senior analyst at the Institute for Public Policy, joined host Don Marsh to discuss the report, its findings and what measures are being taken to help solve the issues highlighted in the report.

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Credit Kelly Moffitt
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Wendy Doyle, President and CEO, Women’s Foundation

In 2014, the Women’s Foundation spent time in St. Louis, Springfield, and Kansas City gathering research. They profiled low-income women and mid-to upper income women to clearly hear and understand the issues from a variety of perspectives. The foundation also spoke to men to hear what their perspectives were regarding issues confronting women.

They found that the number one concern most Missouri women had was over child care—accessibility and quality. Next was health care accessibility. Women want access to preventative health measures, said Doyle.

“The most important aspect of that initial research project was really to identify the five main areas that women in Missouri were concerned about,” said Erickson. The five main areas were child care, healthcare accessibility, aging and economic security, income and employment, and civic leadership.

The objective of the project was to establish a baseline of action for the state of Missouri. As the Women’s Foundation begins to update the information and data gathered last year, the 2015 report will help to indicate whether or not the state is making progress in these areas.

These problems are not unique to the state of Missouri. Issues such as the pay gap are consistent on a national level. However, Missouri women only earn $0.71 for each dollar a man earns for the same work. This is slightly lower than the national average in which women make $0.78 for each dollar a man earns.

The Women’s Foundation invited Governor Jay Nixon to discuss this issue in December of last year. Nixon then signed Executive Order 15-09 on Dec. 4. The Women’s Foundation will again partner with the Institute of Public Policy, located in Columbia, MO, to release best practice guidelines aimed at closing the pay gap between men and women in the coming weeks.

The pay disparity between men and women is a complex issue with many nuances, said Erickson. “But how do we change it? How do we fix it? And that’s what the best practices are really focusing on.”

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Credit Kelly Moffitt
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Sonja Erickson, senior research analyst, Institute for Public Policy

“Only 25 percent of Missouri’s general assembly represents women, so we look at that as opportunity,” said Doyle. One of the solutions the Women’s Foundation has come up with is the Appointments Project, an opportunity for women to become civically engaged. The project is a solution that is based on a research study that looked at the barriers that stop women from becoming civically engaged. The number one reason is that women want to be asked to serve.

The project has been launched here in St. Louis with Mayor Slay and seeks to get women appointed to boards and commissions. The project has even been elevated to the state level as well. Governor Nixon has recently appointed two women who have already been senate confirmed.

The Women’s Foundation also has a philanthropic component. The organization’s endowment allows it to allocate funds to support other nonprofit organizations through grants. The foundation seeks to invest its funds based on improving the five key indicators that its research has shown to be most important to women in the region. According to Doyle, it had been about 15-20 years since such research had been completed for the state of Missouri.

“Anything we do is driven by data,” said Doyle. The foundation wants to focus on policy fixes to make real change in the state of Missouri. This is where they have the ability to have the greatest impact.

If a woman finds that she is being paid unequally, she can file a complaint with the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations and they will take her case. However, the woman must then prove that the pay disparity is due to gender bias, which is a very difficult task.

Child care is an issue for Missouri women for many reasons. The state of Missouri is the only state in the country that does not have a quality rating system for child care. “Four of the counties with the largest number of children under the age of four have no accredited child care centers,” says Erickson. Another challenge in this area is the cost of child care. Because the cost of these services is market-driven, legislation cannot decrease childcare costs.

On a day-to-day basis, women can help resolve these issues in a number of ways. Doyle said that it is important that women educate themselves on the challenges they and other women face. Women can also serve as civic leaders to gain more influence in their community as well as exercising their right to vote.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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