By Olivia Neal and Joy Ayioka
According to the Council for Women and Youth Involvement, the gender wage gap will not close until 2060. That is another 42 years before women are finally able to be on a level playing field as their male counterparts.
The council released a new report on the Status of Women this month. We were able to attend the launch of the report and listen to many bright policy makers speak to the way women’s status has been improving and stalling in the last few years. North Carolina ranked 31st in the country on the employment and earning composite and received a grade C, which is an improvement from the grade D from the 2004 status of women.
The number of women participating in the labor force increased significantly from 47% in 2010 to 57% in 2018, with the unemployment rates going down for women from 9.1% to 5.3%. Among the different ethnic groups, Hispanic women had the biggest unemployment rate at 14.1% in 2010, but in the recent report from 2018 Hispanic women had the biggest increase in labor force participation with an increase of 4%. Women owned businesses are also on the rise with 35.6% of the businesses in North Carolina being owned by women, which is an increase from 28% in 2010. Women who work in managerial or professional positions have also risen in comparison from the data in 2010.
Although there seems to be progress in the employment and earnings report, women continue to face unjustified challenges. According to the 2010 status of women’s report, the gender wage gap was at 17.5% with the median annual earnings for women being 82.5% that of men’s. In 2018, the gender wage gap has increased to 19.1%, with the gender earnings ratio standing at 80.9%. The gender wage continues to increase, indicating that there is still a lot of work to be done.
In the 2018 report, the median annual earnings for women are 36,400, while men make 45,000. North Carolina women and men both have lower earnings than the national average of 40,000 and 50,000 respectively. However, we have seen an increase in median earnings from 2010, when women made 33,000 and men made 40,000. We can take away from these numbers that while women have made improvements in median earnings, men’s wages are also increasing, and at a higher rate, so the gender gap persists.
Although women are progressively moving towards equality in the employment and earnings sector, there is still a wide gap between the earnings of women and men. While it’s a common misconception that education eliminates the wage gap, these recent findings show that the gender wage gap actually increases in higher education levels. In fact, women often make less than men with less education make. The lack of improvement here is alarming because although women in North Carolina are progressing, there is still no equality in the gender wage gap.
In their 2013 report, the council made some policy suggestions in their section on employment and earnings. They wanted to see employers monitoring their hiring and promotion process to detect gender disparities, policymakers recognizing the importance of women to the economy, and policies that promoted young women’s involvement in STEM.
From the new report, we can deduce how those suggested improvements for the state are going. The increase in the gender wage gap indicates that employers have not effectively reduced the gender disparity in their own organizations on a large scale. The percentage of women in managerial or professional roles (such as STEM fields) however, has increase slightly from 40% to 41.6%. But of course this is still low compared to men, and needs to continue rising in order to make a real, lasting difference.
With that in mind, this new report has some updates suggestions on how to move forward as a state. First, they’d like to see the existing legislation we already have in place enforced more regularly. They’d also like more transparency from employers on their hiring process and salary negotiations so that we as a public can take note of any gender disparities. These same companies can also be doing more to reach out to women, including training, recruitment, and internships. The report also suggests a move towards policies that promote a positive and healthy work-life balance, especially with regard to paid family leave and sick days. It would also be helpful for mothers to have access to public-funded child care and early education. The council also wants us to support women business owners and invest in their start-ups.
Women can be incredibly smart and effective leaders in every field if they’re given fair opportunities and resources. This report shows us that in many categories, women are pushing forward and making improvements for themselves and their families in North Carolina. However, we cannot wait until 2060 to see real change. Jennifer Clark, the Director of Communications for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, who partnered on this year’s report, spoke at the launch. She pointed out that many scientists are predicting we’ll have flying cars in the next few decades. We should not have to wait until a world with flying cars before we see gender equality become a reality in our state.