State sees large gender pay gap

September 24th, 2018

By Ron Shawgo | The Journal Gazette

After years of leading a business that places workers in jobs, Rae Pearson says she is still unsure why women are paid less than men.

“I have never figured it out,” said Pearson, founder and president of Alpha Rae Personnel. “But I know it is a reality.”

With women making 73 cents for each dollar a man earns, Indiana has the third largest gender wage gap in the nation, according to recent census estimates. Only Louisiana (68.8) and Utah (71.3) had lower rates.

Last year, median earnings of Hoosier women working full time was an estimated $37,167, about 73 percent of what men earned. The gap has narrowed by only a point since 2007, as Indiana slipped in state rankings.

The national rate is 80.8 percent. Florida has the best rate at 87 percent.

In Allen County, women made about 70 percent of what a man earned last year. Within the city of Fort Wayne, the rate is a little better at 74.6 percent.

Women in Porter County, home to Valparaiso, fare the worst in Indiana, making only 59 percent of what a man earns. Boone and Hamilton counties, north of Indianapolis, are second and third worse, at 61.3 percent and 64.5 percent respectively. Hamilton has the highest median household income in the state and Boone has the third highest, according to census figures. 

Patricia Hays, co-founder of Advancing Voices of Women in Fort Wayne, believes several things are in play. For baby boomers, pay reflects how boys and girls were raised, she said in an email. “Occupational segregation,” in which male-dominated professions such as engineering and information technology pay more than traditional female jobs such as nursing, could contribute to the gap, she said.

Still, Google, a technology company that hires men and woman, was sued this year over alleged gender pay disparity, Hays added.

“There is clearly a bias,” Hays said. “In the UK large companies are required to evaluate for disparity by gender and disclose the pay gap findings. I think companies should routinely look at pay disparity by both gender and race for people in the same jobs, disclose their findings and make adjustments.”

Requiring companies to have mentoring programs for employees that measure success would have men advocating for women in the workplace, said Leslie Hill, director of the Women's Entrepreneurial Opportunity Center in Fort Wayne.

“I do believe a mentoring program and more flexible schedules would really help reduce that wage gap,” she said.

John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, said the group has no specific initiative to address the gender pay gap but has “known for many years economic development isn't just about job creation. It's about prosperity for the region.”

The partnership, whose goal is to increase business investment, has long emphasized increasing the average northeast Indiana wage.

“We would hope that would benefit all residents, a very diverse population, for sure,” Sampson said. With a focus on growing the population and filling the need for more workers, “I don't think the employers are going to discriminate in terms of their access to that talent base.”

With social media and mass communication exposing the pay discrepancy, Pearson said she's hopeful it will narrow in the coming years. 

“We're finding these things out, which it was once in the dark, now has come out to the light,” she said.

In a December 2017 report addressing the wage gap, the Indiana Institute for Working Families touches on its sources. “Gender norms, education, occupational and industry segregation, discrimination, lack of family-friendly workplace and social policies, and the division of labor in caregiving all play a role in gender wage and wealth disparities,” it states.

The report points to ways the state could strengthen its equal pay law: Broaden the standard to compare substantially similar jobs, in addition to precisely “equal” jobs, so “minute differences in responsibilities cannot be used to justify different pay rates for men and women.” It also suggests prohibiting any adverse action against employees for discussing pay, and “eliminating questions regarding prior salary history in the job search and hiring process.”

A state Senate bill this year that would have made it unlawful for employers to pay wages that discriminate based on sex, race, or national origin for the same job, and give the civil rights commission jurisdiction for investigating complaints failed to get a hearing.

Hays is optimistic that pay for women will improve. More girls are being encouraged to go into science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields, which offer good pay and have traditionally been male jobs, she said.

“Families are more often planned,” she said. “Men are taking more active roles in parenting. Girls have increased participation in competitive sports. Each of these can make a little difference.”